The Olmsted Camp History


The site of the camp was originally pasture land for the Rider-Hopkins farm which was one of the first Holland Land Company purchases in the Town of Sardinia.

At the turn of the century, John Bartow Olmsted, arrived in Chaffee on a fishing expedition out of Buffalo on the B&O railroad. He walked the Hosmer Creek from Chaffee, south to the Cattaraugus Creek. At that point he spotted the lovely red brick, Greek Revival farm house and climbed the bank for a better view. The senior Olmsted was so taken by the beauty of the site and the clean, clear water that he asked if he could bring his family from Buffalo for a visit.

For several summers Olmsted, his wife and six sons rented the north wing of the Hopkins home for vacations. They became friends with Mrs. Eva Hopkins and her daughter Mazie who said, in later years, that though the six Olmsted brothers were rather inept at helping on the farm, their sense of humor and fun made their visits special occasions.

In time, Olmsted, Sr. leased the east boundary of the pasture land as a family campsite. The Olmsted family would board the B&O in Buffalo and travel to Chaffee. There they would be met by horse and cart and delivered to the site. For the first few years canvas tents were pitched where the small cabins now stand: a cooking tent, a men’s tent, a women’s tent and one for Olmsted, Sr. and his wife, Clara Amanda Morgan. The tents were furnished with cots, dressers, tables, chairs and had wooden platform floors with carpets. A privy was constructed just over the east bank. Water was retrieved from a pump on the farm house porch.

In 1908, John Olmsted’s fourth son, Harold LeRoy Olmsted, graduated from Harvard with a degree in architecture, and the Hopkins family agreed to his brother John’s request to build the present 6-bedroom camp structure on the rented grounds. Harold was asked to draw up plans and construction began in August, 1909.

We can only surmise what influenced the young architect’s design for the camp house. There is definitely a touch of Frank Lloyd Wright in the roofline and window design, but the floor plan and building materials resemble the Adirondack style. The Arts and Crafts movement of the Roycrofters, a Spartan reaction to Victorian frills based in East Aurora, is also evident. The carpenter-built furniture designs are derivative of England’s William Morris and the American brothers, Gustav and Leopold Stickley, all of whom were in vogue at this time.

A second building, a garage, was also built in 1909, north of the camphouse. It was a one-story, board and baton “barn” with two horse stalls and two box stalls. This building was raised around 1921, to add a second floor dormitory.

Two small sleeping cabins which complement the design of the large camphouse were later added as well as a tennis court, built with clay mined from the banks of the Cattaraugus Creek.

In 1944, Harold’s daughter, Emily Roderick, purchased the camp buildings as well as the Hopkins farm and its 188 acres, thereby keeping the entire farm intact.

From 1991 to 1997, the newly founded Western New York Land Conservancy used the farmhouse as its first headquarters. For several years musical events were held on the campgrounds to raise funds for this not for profit organization.

In 1998, Rider-Hopkins Farm and Olmsted Camp were placed on the National Register of Historic Places by the United States Department of The Interior.