In 1908, city kids didn’t have many opportunities to escape Pittsburgh’s stultifying summer heat and throat-choking pollution. Many of them were new arrivals to America living in crowded conditions, suffering from asthma and malnutrition.
That summer, the countryside became accessible when a group of social reformers in the Jewish community founded the Emma Farm Association, a health-and-wellness facility in Harmarville.
Children, and sometimes their parents, would travel by train into the great outdoors and spend a few weeks breathing clean air, bulking up on nutritious food, hiking, swimming, playing sports and enjoying nature.
One of the nation’s earliest “fresh-air” camps, Emma Farm and the Laurel Y, operated by the Young Men & Women’s Hebrew Association (who merged with the Irene Kaufmann Center to form the JCC) were the precursor of today’s Emma Kaufmann Camp, or EKC, operated by the Jewish Community Center of Pittsburgh and located on Cheat Lake near Morgantown, W.Va.
Along the way the camp moved to Harmony, Butler County, and absorbed children from two other primarily Jewish camps — the Laurel Y in SomersetCounty, which closed in 1961, and Camp Lynnwood, a 200-acre campus that the JCC bought in 1972 to serve as EKC’s new home.
Camp Lynnwood, originally a rustic YMCA camp with lanterns and outhouses, was purchased by four Jewish families from Pittsburgh who installed electricity, hot showers, flush toilets and a swimming pool. Since taking over the property, EKC has continued to update the facilities.
The Camp Song
The camp song, “Sit By The Fire”, was actually a song titled, “Changes,” by a folk artist named Phil Ochs. Not sure who changed the lyrics, but according to camp musicologist Roy Goldberg, the song debuted when Emma Farm moved to the Morgantown site.
Sit By The Fire
Sit by the fire stay close as the air
Sharing our memories of camp
The beauty of the woods
the coolness of the water in the lake
We share together
Memories of camp stay close in my mind
feelings of joy that I’ve known
People that I’ve met
and the friends I know I never will forget
at Emma Kaufmann
Walk down the hillside or sail in the cove
Ride in the forest so free
Gathering our thoughts
and sleep beneath the starry skies above
we’ve seen together
Emma Kaufmann will always be near
as far as I may go
remembering the joys
and knowing I’ll return to EKC
again next summer