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A Look Back: The Olmsted Summer Camp

05-17-look-back

By Jolene Hawkins

Looking back to the year 1999, when Olmsted summer camp was placed on the National Register of Historic places, let’s learn the history of the place that was popular then and now.

It is a site that has 188 acres, a pre-Civil War Farmstead and a turn-of-the-century private family home, where the Olmsted family spent their summers. The Rider Hopkins farm is a rare example of a Western New York settlement farm that has retained its original boundaries as purchased from the Holland Land Company in 1827.

Horace Rider, came to Sardinia in 1811, he bought the land from the Holland Land Company in 1827 and built the farmhouse in 1840. The farmhouse, a fine example of a Greek Revival house, is unusual in the fact that it is built of brick in an area where most pre-Civil War houses were made of wood.

He also served as a Highway Commissioner for five terms and the Town Assessor for two terms in Sardinia. Horace Rider’s daughter Abigail married James Hopkins and they continued to farm the land. James and Abigail’s granddaughter met John Bartow Olmsted while on one of his trout fishing expeditions down at Hosmer Brook. John asked if he might be about to bring his wife and six sons Seyour, Allen, Harold, Remington, Charles and John for a visit, which became an annual summer outing for the Olmsted Family.

When the family first started coming down, they camped in large Civil War surplus tents until 1902, when a lease was agreed upon and the camp and cabin buildings were constructed.  Harold Leroy Olmsted, the fourth son and a Buffalo architect and artist designed the buildings keeping them in harmony with its natural surroundings. Another building was a garage, to which a second floor was added. Then came sleeping cabins all complimented the large camp house.

For many years and for many generations, the camp was used every summer for picnicking, fishing, swimming and seeing the kids put on plays for their parents.

Family activities would gravitate to the big porch where hammocks were set up for relaxing, while ice cream was churned and bowls of it were handed out. There were even tennis courts that were added and trails through the beautiful countryside to walk down to the Cattaraugus Valley and gardens.

An English country garden was put in around 1912 and was designed and planted by Olmsted’s sister-in-law Marguerite. His daughter Emily Roderick purchased the entire farmlands in 1944, including the farmhouse and all camp buildings, thereby keeping the original homestead intact.

Emily was an avid and skilled gardener and landscaper and kept a detailed record of the family legacy and home, providing us now with much of the history over the years.

Due to her work and efforts, she, along with others were able to get the land on the National Historic Register. I personally enjoyed talking to her and learning the history of the family members and the camp as it became and grew. Sadly she died in 2017.

Harold Leroy Olmsted moved to East Main Street in Springville and was known as Grandpa Olmsted, wearing wooden shoes and a cape of Llama wool walking around town and many of his friends called him the “Sage of Springville.”

In his retirement years, Harold helped area residents to restore their homes and design new summer cabins. He enjoy the camp in Sardinia for many years with friends and family. Throughout his long career, he practiced both architectural and landscape design, known for watercolors of landscape scenes and historic buildings. In 1970, he received the Buffalo’s Red Jacket Award. He died in 1972.

The Olmsted Camp can still be seen today, and you can walk among the trails, sit on the porch, enjoy the hammock and look out over the Cattaraugus Valley. You might hear laughter from the past as kids or parents put on a play, hear the ball as it bounces back and forth on the tennis courts. Craft shows, art shows and more still go on each summer. Go to the website olmstedcamp.com for more information and events that occur there. Maybe we will see you there.

Is there a place around here you like to go to? Share it with me and we can create a story for others to read and go to.

Stop by and visit us at the Lucy Bensley Center on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Give us a call at 592-0094 or send us an email at lucybensleycenter@gmail.com.

You can hear some great music on Tuesday and Thursday 7 to 9 p.m. at the Mercantile/Heritage Building, located on Franklin Street and maybe walk across the street and get some ice cream. Summer is coming and there are so many places to go to and see.

Volunteers are always welcome to help us keep the buildings open for folks to come and see us!

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