Summer Memories: A History of Summer Camps on Lake Owasco


Hands on History Camp (at home!) is happening this week!

Campers have learned about gardening, time capsules, cursive writing, the constellations, the importance of letters and journals to historians, preservation techniques…and it’s only Wednesday!


While daily zoom meetups have taken the place of spending time with fellow campers in person, the kids have been having fun learning with Auburn’s historical sites, and sharing the results of activities completed at home.

While preparing for camp activities this year, we came across some mementos in our collection from YMCA camps in Cayuga County. 

Edgewater Camp

The Edgewater Camp, located on the west side of Owasco Lake, was founded in 1911 by the YMCA-WEIU. Girls from the Women’s Education and Industrial Union went out to Edgewater in the summers to learn to cook, swim, fish, and take care of the camp buildings. 

The Auburn WEIU building and endowment were a gift from Eliza Wright Osborne, Thomas Mott Osborne’s mother. Rooms were rented to wage earning women who worked in the surrounding factories, and numerous classes teaching basic home and life skills were available. The camp at Edgewater was used to offer the young women an escape from the city and a chance to have fun while learning additional skills.


An August 1916 article in the Citizen paints a happy picture of camp life: “Yesterday was the first day of camp life for most of the girls and it was a busy one as in the afternoon they tramped up and down Edgewater Glen and in the evening there was a rowboat-moonlight-serenade party on the lake.” 

One of the most popular days of camp was visitors day when residents of Auburn and Cayuga County could enjoy some of the camp’s offerings and be entertained by the campers. An excerpt from the Citizen August 25, 1916 reads: 

“On a stage of evergreens with a background of four trees was performed a merry little playlet presenting Little John (Janet Rust) and Robin Hood, (Mary Gibb) a-Begging in the Greenwood. An audience of about 50 men, women and children sat under the trees and watched the performance. People came by train, motor, row boats and motor boats to see the affair. The ones who came by boat were for the most part landed behind the scenes which didn’t seem to bother the young actresses in the least.” 

Edgewater Log Page 1
Edgewater Log Cover

While camp life was meant to be a fun and relaxing time for these hard-working young women, they still took time to contribute to important needs such as making surgical bandages for the Red Cross. 

Various other groups used Edgewater when the girls from the WEIU weren’t in residence. From 1918 to 1940 the Cayuga County chapter of the Girl Scouts spent time at the camp. This log from their stay in 1921 features entries by each camper detailing their activities for the day. 

And beginning in 1920, it was occupied for several weeks each summer by undernourished city children chosen by clinics and school teachers who felt they could benefit from good food and the country air.


July 31, 1924 Citizen Article


In 1965, Edgewater Camp merged with another YMCA camp, Camp Y-Owasco, on the east side of the lake. 

Camp Y-Owasco, located on the opposite side of the lake from Edgewater, allowed boys as well as girls to attend. Hiking, swimming, crafts, canoeing, fishing, team building, drama, dance, and sailing are just some of the many activities campers could (and still can) enjoy at Y-Owasco. Camp Y-Owasco is still running and remains one of the most popular camps in the county. 

YMCA Camp Box Front
YMCA Camp Box Back