Thursday, February 12, 2015


Irvine Park in the early 1900s. (Photo courtesy Orange County Archives)
Q: Where was Camptonville? There’s a paragraph mentioning this old campsite on the OC Parks website, but I can't find anything more about it. Can you help?

A: References to Camptonville in the Santa Ana Register, in the early 1900s, referred to it as “above Orange County Park” (now called Irvine Regional Park) and “across the creek” from the main portion of the park. The description of Camptonville you found on OC Parks website is drawn largely from Don Meadows’ book, Historic Place Names in Orange County:
“…A favorite camping spot in Orange County Park… was on the left side of the road soon after it crossed the Santiago Creek for the first time. There was always water in the creek, and the sycamores and oaks were festooned with wild grapevines, and the road meandered through a shady tunnel of vegetation. The camping place, dubbed Camptonville, was as well known in the county as any town or village. Camping there was prohibited after 1917.”
Historian Jim Sleeper, who wrote the definitive book on Irvine Park, Bears to Briquets, wrote about the campsite as it was around 1903: “A settlement of squatters, (known as ‘Camptonville’) had sprung up on the north side of the creek.”

If this makes the place sound a little sketchier than the average family campground, you’d be right. It seems Camptonville’s reputation vacillated wildly over the years and the various shifts in the economy.

By 1910 the spot had gained favor as a legitimate place for families to camp.  In the 1911 edition of his History of Orange County, California, Sam Armor wrote that these “camping grounds are generally occupied by a few families or congenial friends in vacation time only.”

But by 1917 the problem with “permanent campers” had reached the point where camping at Camptonville was banned. That seemed to turn things around, for a while.

In the Summer of 1919, when twelve concrete and rock fireplaces were installed for picnickers at the park, two were built at Camptonville, which was again a popular place to spend a relaxing day.

When the Great Depression hit, the north shore of the creek again filled with squatters. Sleeper notes that, “Unlike the canvas palaces of the old Camptonville days, these makeshift tar paper shacks were not for recreation, but shelters for the truly dispossessed. Spawned by the Depression, they ended with it. Henceforth, ‘permanent camping’ was no longer permitted” anywhere within the park.

Today, the north side of the creek still holds a special appeal to those who enjoy the back country.  Less developed and framed by rugged bluffs, it retains an air of adventure that has been somewhat diminished in the more combed-and-curried parts of the park.

The old Camptonville site has most assuredly been heavily eroded by the many floods that have scoured the banks of Santiago Creek over the past century. So don’t expect to find any remains if you visit.


Mike said...

Hi Chris,
As a former docent for the Irvine Ranch Conservancy (you accompanied me to the Hanging Tree), I'm pretty sure Camptonville used to be in the area of today's Irvine Ranch Outdoor Education Center. The present facility was being built in 2009 when I left CA. Prior to that the area had also been used as a Boy Scout Camp. Here's a map:

We used to stage several hikes outside the gate to the area. From there we would proceed through the property on our way to various destinations.

Always enjoy your posts.


I have seen the remains of one of those stone fireplaces. It was covered by heavy brush until the 2017 Canyon 2 fire ravaged the area. And then, suddenly it was there. I know, as I tripped over it.

Mike Boeck said...

Also "above Irvine Park" (upstream, at the eastern end of the park) and "across the creek" from the main portion of the park was an area that was newly planted with lawn back in the late 1960s. Today it is fenced off from the rest of Irvine Park. I remember attending a "love-in" at this spot back in 1968. In the winter of 1968-69 it was completely obliterated by the flooding of Santiago Creek.