Forgotten New York: Camp Sanita Hills

by John Delach

Late last year, I published a piece about a 1956 weekend camping trip to Camp Sanita Hills in upstate New York. What made the trip special was having my father join my scout troop as an adult adviser. (My father left my mother before I was one-year’s old.) Having my father there was very important to me as it validated his existence proving that I actually had a father.

Shortly after I published that piece, Ria called to tell me that George, her long-time friend from the East End of Long Island, had told her that he was going to head upstate to find out what had happened to the summer camp where his family vacationed during the early 1950s. He told Ria that those summers were the happiest vacations of his life. The place was owned and operated by the city’s Department of Sanitation for use by the families of their employees.”

“John,” Ria continued, “I am not certain about his details, but it seemed to be the same place you wrote about. He was quite sure his family lived in old railroad cars, but other than that, he can’t discover anything else about that place”

“Ria, that’s Camp Sanita.”

“He can’t find anybody who can confirm any details.”

“Ria, I can. Give him my number,”

George telephoned me a few days later. I told him everything I knew about the camp, but it became obvious that I knew very little. He asked why the NYC Sanitation owned the camp, why they lived in railroad cars instead of cabins and other questions.

I told him what I remembered as best I could. He asked where it was located? I told him that I had learned that it was in Holmes, NY.

 “Sorry, John, that doesn’t mean anything to me. I do remember that we made trips for groceries and treats to Pauling, NY.”

“Let me look that up on my I-Pad.” Sure enough, I discovered that Holmes is part of Pauling.

That mystery solved: George wanted to know when his family actually vacationed there. We are contemporaries, so that helped me to zero in. “That trip with my dad in 1956 was the only time I stayed in Camp Sanita.”

He asked how old I was and I replied, “Twelve.”

George now knew the basic facts about his family vacations to understand the location of the camp and the time frame for those vacations.

“John, What I do recall is that when my family vacationed there, the camp was part of the NYC Department of Sanitation. My father was in the FDNY, but my grandfather had a career with Sanitation. He booked our vacations at Sanita.”

George, shared some of his other experiences with me, but it became obvious that there was much about Sanita that I didn’t know. “George, so far, that’s all I can tell you, except for the fact that ‘Sanita’ is an abbreviation for ‘ Sanitation,’ but, leave this with me. Let me do the research and I’ll get back to you.”

I already knew that George has a place in the Virgin Islands where he escapes winter on the East end of Long Island. I’m sure the storm that struck the East Coast on December 23rd reinforced George’s desire to escape winter’s discomfort. This would give me time to complete my research, but I also needed this delay to recover from my knee surgery that was performed on January 9, 2023.

(To be continued.)