A Short History of the Oddly-Named Housekeeping Camp in Yosemite

Housekeeping Tent at Camp 16 from the Yosemite National Park Research Library

Housekeeping Tent at Camp 16 from the Yosemite National Park Research Library

Located on the Merced River in Yosemite Valley with an unusual name, Housekeeping Camp straddles the line between camping and hotel accommodations and inspires fierce loyalty among park visitors. With amenities not usually found in campsites such as three walls, a canvas roof, beds, electrical lights and outlets, as well as standard amenities of picnic table and campfire ring, Housekeeping Camp is perennially popular with visiting families. Many of these families return year after year to the same units for easy access to the Merced River’s sandy beaches and activities like rafting and swimming. By examining the origin of Housekeeping Camp and its odd configuration and designation, it is apparent that this particular type of Yosemite accommodation has had great influence on the evolution of national park campgrounds as we know them today.

In the 1860s, after the signing of the Yosemite Grant by President Abraham Lincoln, the State of California administered Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove as precursor to the establishment of Yosemite National Park. The state instituted the designation of numbered camps in Yosemite Valley to indicate where visitors were setting up camp during their visit. By 1878, the idea of a public campground had taken hold and The Harris Camp Ground located near the present-day hotel, The Ahwahnee, was the forerunner of the current configuration of a national park campground. By 1918, a map of Yosemite Valley indicates Camp 19 as the first Housekeeping Camp and by 1920, the park concession was charging a fee for supplies to be provided to campers who needed equipment. Visitors who brought their own went to the free campgrounds, and visitors who rented supplies stayed in a “Housekeeping Camp” – meaning you kept your own house with no maid service.

From the “1920 Guide to Yosemite” by Ansel F. Hall:

“The Housekeeping Camps Department supplies all kinds of camping or outing equipment at very reasonable rates…About twenty camp grounds have been prepared for the free use of the public by the Park Service. Water is piped to these localities and a sanitation system provided for. Applications for camp sites should be made at the National Park Service office in Yosemite Village. Those without outfits, who desire to establish camps, may arrange at the Housekeeping Camps Department of the Yosemite National Park Company (at Camp 17, a quarter mile east of Sentinel Bridge and north of the river) to rent all necessary equipment. This will be delivered and set up ready for occupancy. It is advisable to arrange in advance for the outfit desired.”

Housekeeping Camp was indicated at its present location as Camp 16 on a map in 1921 and remained designated Camp 16 until the 1970s. In 1923, Yosemite’s most influential concession operator, the Curry family, established Yosemite’s first lower-cost Housekeeping Camp with unfurnished lodging and no meals. This iteration included 10 units and was located in the current employee housing area known as Tecoya dormitory at Yosemite Village. In 1943, a Yosemite park map stated that Housekeeping Tents at Camp 16 come completely furnished from $2.25 daily and $10 weekly – what a deal! Ten years later, Housekeeping Camp was no longer considered a Yosemite campground, instead being listed as accommodations similar to Curry Village tent cabins. Amenities such as laundry facilities and a store were also available by the 1950s.

Yosemite’s housekeeping camps were the beneficiaries of the Mission 66 program where significant funds were invested in the infrastructure of national parks from 1956 to 1966. As a result, in the 1960s, the units were constructed as we know them today with concrete slabs. Two units were built back to back as a duplex. The dividing walls and two side walls were concrete slabs mixed with a conglomerate of Merced River stones. The ceiling, front walls and two side walls were canvas with a nylon fly for protection from sun or rain. The patio kitchen was furnished with a wood-burning stove referred to as a ‘sheepherder’ stove. This experimental design for improvement of guest accommodations in Housekeeping Camp was developed with much thought by Yosemite Park & Curry Company’s Gordon Warren, responsible for the construction of the new units, and architects from the firm Spencer and Lee, among others. In 1964 the ‘laundromat’ building was added to house coin-operated washers and dryers, along with a new shower house.

By 1976, the rest of the campgrounds in Yosemite were operated by the National Park Service. As the only remaining example of a ‘housekeeping camp’, Camp 16 was renamed accordingly and continues to be known as Housekeeping Camp to this day. Sometime in the 1990s, the old sheepherder stoves were replaced by campfire rings. Over time, the number of units have been reduced and the current Merced Wild and Scenic River Plan calls for the removal of more. But for now, you can enjoy 266 units in the heart of Yosemite Valley for a camping experience without all the gear. Housekeeping Camp opens for the 2014 season on April 17th and still offers supplies in the form of bedpacks consisting of 2 sheets, 2 blankets and 2 pillows rented for $2.50 per night – subject to availability. Make reservations online or call 801-559-4884 to speak with a reservation agent.

Housekeeping Camp River Units

Housekeeping Camp River Units

Housekeeping Camp Front Office and Store

Housekeeping Camp Front Office and Store

 

 

 

 

 

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27 comments on “A Short History of the Oddly-Named Housekeeping Camp in Yosemite

  1. i use too wok in the park(2002-2003) in the roomskeepers dept..just like too know if the teneya dorms..behind the “garage” is still there or not?thanks!

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  2. My husband and I have been camp hosts at Housekeeping Camp for the past several years. True to the article, the allure of Housekeeping Camp brings families back year after year. Many families are proud to boast they have been coming for 30+ years! Great piece on the history of how it got started!

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  3. I was a patrol ranger in the early 60’s. Lots of activity back then, especially with the black bears and the beginning of the ‘pot-heads’ from San Francisco who liked to ‘camp’ in the meadows! Ansel and Virginia Adams had breakfast in one spot in the Ahwahnee hotel dining room, I visited with them almost daily when on patrol. It was a great time back then, now it is really too crowded to enjoy the ambiance of such a great National Park. I feel the Curry family should have kept going and stayed with the company, they were a great outfit.

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  4. My parents took us to Yosemite for three weeks in 1964. We first stayed at Camp Curry and then moved to the old “Housekeeping Camp”. Still remember my father hurling a Coleman lantern away from our camp when it caught on fire. The next summer we went to the new housekeeping camp, and I have wonderful memories of going to the camp store, buying Superman comics and candy and spending many relaxing summer days in the Merced river.

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  5. I Worked as Manager of The Store in Late 80s. It was Always Nice Seeing Families Bond, and Families Come in From Around The County To Re-Unite as One, Every Year! It was Amazing!

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  6. Pingback: What Does the Name of Housekeeping Camp in Yosemite Mean? | Fuck Yeah, Camping! | A Car Camping Blog

  7. I started working in Yosemite in 1972. I don’t know what Housekeeping Camp was called that year, but I know that by the time I started work in the Reservations Office in 1973 (which was in the General Offices in Yosemite Valley where the Training Department is now) it was called Curry Housekeeping Camp. Somewhere along the line the name Curry was dropped from the name.

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  8. Pingback: Your Yosemite Stories: Housekeeping Camp | Yosemite Park Blog

  9. Great story on the history of HK. I too have been staying there every year for over 20 years now. Unfortunately, it is getting nearly impossible to get a reservation during summer. Unless of course you are one of the chosen few who get the same prime sites along the river-bend entering HK from Curry EVERY YEAR. The reservation system is completely flawed, particularly when Groups can bombard reservations and acquire these sites en-mass. Even worse is the refusal to enforce camp rules, particularly the max number of occupants per site. Finally, HK has truly become the GHETTO of Yosemite Valley. Alcohol, loud music, drugs and overcrowding have ruined the natural experience of camping along the Merced River. I was told by front desk employees when I complained about the above that there is a fine line between enforcing regulations and offending folks who want to have a good time! See you there in June…

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    • Dave,
      I’m sorry you aren’t enjoying your visits to Housekeeping Camp like you did in the past. Though we cannot dictate how people choose to recreate in national parks, we don’t condone any illegal activities in the park. Hope you enjoy your visit in June.

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    • Dave, It is hard to enforce because Housekeeping camp is not ran by the park itself, but the corporation DNC. However, first talk to the camp hosts and let them know your concerns. They will be your best resource, not the front desk. As camp host, they try talking to the “offending” party. If the offending party continues to act against camp rules, then the camp hosts will contact security. If this action fails, we call the rangers. The rangers have the only ability to enforce! You may also call the main line and ask for security or the rangers yourself. The number is 372-0200. Hope you enjoy your visit in June!!

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  10. My Wife & I stayed there for the first time in the fall of 2012!!! It was quiet and peaceful at that time and we loved our stay which included a family of raccoons that wandered by our site every evening about 9 pm! We will be staying there again soon!!!

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    • well thanks for the stories of house keepin kamp. but what am looking for is to see if anyone knows of the tenya dorms that house yosemite employees -if it s still there or not..it right behind the car garage! if anyone got pictures of the tenaya employee dorms plz post em .thanks!

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  11. My wife and I have stayed at housekeeping a few times when we were dating. We have been there with our first son and he loved it too. We are going back this July and bringing our other son who is 3 yrs now for the first time. This is a beautiful place to stay, we enjoy it every time we stay there, its nice to be away from the big city and relax, it is peaceful and nothing like enjoying mother nature. We cook and grill and the kids can play by the river. Looking forward to many more trips to housekeeping and Yosemite overall. I like National Parks an Yosemite is at the top of the list.

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  12. Loy Cutshall
    April 21, 2014
    My first experience at the HK campground, was in 1945. I was with two families. We had two sites. One, a large one with 2 large beds and 1small bed; The boys
    slept in the out of doors with large blankets and were enclosed in a small room made
    of walls of canvas (Dad brought them) The girls slept in the small tent..(kind of an
    L shape in set up.) It was such fun. My husband, (one who came in ’45) and I, stayed in Curry during our honeymoon and were written up for the San Francisco Calendar in 1951. We returned again with my Husband and our 3 kids and another family with 3 kids. It was 1960. The old routine of calling for ELMER, was still a familiar call every evening and early morning.
    We came often as our children grew and became teenagers. Brought them to the Ahwahnee for a wonderful “Brace Bridge Dinner” at Christmas time. Bob and I
    and our children came often to ski and reunite with our friend Nic Fiore. We hiked
    with Nic to “ALL” the high Sierra camp grounds. He taught each of us to ski.
    ** I came back as a teenager, of l9yrs. to work in Yosemite and was hired as a salesperson in the ‘old store’, across from the charming Yosemite church across the street. (Our choir rehearsed there with Glen) I met Nic at that time,when he came in for fishing tackle. The store has been torn down now. I later became salesperson at the “Gift Shop” at the Ahwahnee Hotel.
    I sang in the choir and was the soloist many times, and also sang the “indian
    Love Call” with a young man from Indiana. I returned in 1999 and sang with
    Tom Bopp for the Centennial Celebration on the stage at Camp Curry. What a
    thrill that was !! Tom and Diane are very dear friends now. I am 85yrs. old now.

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    • I first came to Housekeeping in 1957. I am looking for any pictures of Housekeeping from that specific time period. I have now stayed in housekeeping every year for the past 24 years.

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  13. The article states good points of Housekeeping Camp, and mentions how much people enjoy it, returning for many years. So, WHY does the article state that DNC/the Park has removed units and soon will remove more? Sounds like ‘This is great, people love it, so we’re getting rid of more and more of it’. Is the goal to return Yosemite to a pristine wilderness area? Or to remove simple, low impact accommodations that allow those on budgets to experience Yosemite, replacing them with high-cost hotel rooms?

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    • Hi Pat, the post states that more units will be removed as directed in the 2014 Merced Wild and Scenic River Plan. The plan is formulated by the National Park Service with the intent of managing the park by preserving and protecting it. We provided feedback – as all American citizens were encouraged to do – but the decision rests with NPS. You can learn more about the Merced River Plan here: http://www.nps.gov/yose/parkmgmt/mrp.htm As for the removal of units in the past, DNC Parks & Resorts has not removed any units as caretakers of Housekeeping Camp in the 20 years that we have operated as the park’s concession company.

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    • Housekeeping Camp has been our family vacation every summer the past 15 years and we would hate to see units dismantled, but the need to preserve and protect this national treasure is obvious. You can see the area where the units were removed along the north side of the river after you cross the bridge near the ‘J’ camp. I haven’t read the ‘Plan’ so I don’t know which or how soon they might remove more, but we’ll just have to make that compromise when the time comes. I agree the units are simple, but they certainly aren’t ‘low budget’ at over $120 per ‘tent’ per night. We’ll see you there in August, at the beach on a camp chair 🙂

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  14. My experiences with Yosemite was staying at the Housekeeping Camp called Stoneman Section, across from Camp Curry. Camp 16 was up the road. But I don’t hear any comments or history about Stoneman Section of housekeeping units. It was across the road from Stoneman Bridge. My mother and me spent quite a few summers there. From mid July to mid August. There was no time limit. In fact there was woman who was from San Francisco who spent from Memorial Day weekend through till the end of Labor Day….It was wonderful, magical…I will never forget it. We went from Stoneman Section that they closed down in, I believe in 1969 to the new units up at the store… where it was called Camp 16 then. Thank you Deborah Yost

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  15. I worked Curry Housekeeping in the 1974 season, best job in the park back then. a lot of jealous other workers in other positions around the park. Once we were set up and ready to go, our job became real easy, like flood watch, and bear watch, and lots of cards around the river!!!!

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  16. I remember you, Paul! I worked the 1974 season too, Bill Millner was manager and Greg Oddo was housekeeper. I remember riding in the truck over to the Lodge cafeteria for lunch because when we started setting up the Curry Village caf was still closed. I worked a lot of other jobs over the years but Housekeeping Camp was the best.

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  17. Spend 5 days at housekeeping, had a great time relaxing and hiking, and eating. Didn’t want to leave. Housekeeping is the best, full size bed and bunks with plug ins a covered patio and a table for six people. River is a few feet away. Can’t wait till next time.

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