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The area now known as Sequoia Lake was once a large open meadow encircled by forested slopes and frequented by Native Americans. Evidence of their presence is most apparent at the area now called “Indian Point” where there are several acorn-grinding mortars in the exposed bedrock. There are also pictographs in the same area that are now submerged by the lake.
California was inundated with white settlers and fortune-seekers beginning in the mid 1800’s after gold was discovered near Sutter’s Fort in 1848. Many came for the promise of wealth through gold mining. White settlements began to grow at a rapid rate in the San Joaquin Valley in the late 1800’s with the opportunity for employment in the newly booming logging industry. As knowledge of the “big trees” - Giant Sequoias – spread, people began buying mountain property as timberland investment. Many big timber companies acquired vast tracks of forested land illegally through the Federal Homestead Act of 1862 by paying individuals to file claims for the legal allotment of 160 acres and then turning their claims over to the timber company.
In 1888, two men named Smith and Moore purchased thousands of acres in the Sierra and formed the Kings River Lumber Company. As they began to develop their large operation, a method for hauling the cut trees appeared to be the biggest problem. The idea of building a railroad was regarded as impossible. They decided a flume was the answer. They chose Mill Flat Meadow as the site for their flume reservoir and formed the lake by damming up Mill Flat Creek. The dam was built in 1890 by Chinese laborers. The reservoir furnished water for the flume that ran from the sawmill town of Millwood to the town of Sanger. The town of Millwood was located about a mile below the dam in an area now called Millwood Flats. The flume was over 50 miles long and bridged deep canyons on trusses that were as much as 120 feet high. Very little evidence of the town or the flume exists today. The structures were dismantled and hauled to the valley to be used in the building of fences and barns after the collapse of the logging company.
Sequoia Lake became well known soon after it was created. During the time the lake was used for the logging operation it also served as a campsite where recreation took place during the warm summer months. While the logging companies were hard at work preparing to strip the forest of Giant Sequoias, another group of people were working just as hard to save them. John Muir, who was said to have visited the Sequoia Lake area, wrote an appeal: “Through all the centuries since Christ’s time, and long before that, God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand storms; but He cannot save them from the sawmill: this is left to the American People.”
President Harrison acknowledged the work of the conservationist group called The Sierra Club and others in 1890 by signing a bill that created Sequoia National Park. It protected just 252 square miles of the big trees near Giant Forest but more protection was to follow. Kings Canyon National Park, which originally only included the area we know today as Grant Grove, was created three weeks after Sequoia National Park. A federal act in 1891 authorized the President to reserve forestland at will for the public domain. In 1892 President Harrison set aside over 2,437,000 acres of forest reserve in the Sierra that paved the way for the beginning of the National Forest system. These important actions supporting preservation, however, do not tell the whole story. Between 1890 and the early 1920’s, thousands of Giant Sequoias were decimated; thousands of acres of Sierra forest were logged by clear-cutting. The Giant Sequoias were too large to be toppled and transported efficiently and there was considerable waste. Frequently during this period, companies attempting to log the Sequoias went bankrupt. In 1905 the Kings River Lumber Company sold out to the Hume-Bennett Lumber Company. Lake Sequoia was among the properties that changed hands in the transaction.
Thomas Hume was president of the company and resided in Michigan. Ira Bennett ran the operations but soon stepped down and let George Hume, the son of Thomas, assume responsibility. George reorganized and expanded the operation successfully. After a record profit-making year in 1912, a depression followed and the economic bottom fell out of sight. Other troubles followed, included the burning of the mill at Hume Lake in 1917 and the death of Thomas Hume 1918. Operations came to a standstill and in 1922 George Hume was looking for a buyer.
Valley YMCA’s had been offering summer camp outings for boys at Sequoia Lake since 1912. YMCA lore says that George’s son had camped with the YMCA group and had a profound and positive Y camp experience. The local YMCA’s had already been discussing the possibilities of finding a permanent campsite in the Sierras. George Hume offered Sequoia Lake as a suitable site. The original Sequoia Lake property of 628.5 acres was purchased from George and Anne Louise Hume in 1922 for $30,000. A reversionary clause in the original deed essentially states that the property shall not at any time be used for any purpose except to carry on the work of the Sequoia Lake Conference of YMCA’s or the property will revert to the heirs of George and Anne Louise Hume. Numerous attempts were made over the years to have the clause eliminated. Fortunately, they were not successful. The Reversionary Clause is now considered an important protection of the property for future generations. An additional 115 acres of private land adjacent to the western property boundary was purchased in 1999 for approximately $350,000.00.
After the original property was purchased in 1922, Fresno City YMCA built Camp Sequoia and Fresno County YMCA built Camp Gaines (these two YMCA’s joined in the 1960’s to become the Central Valley YMCA). Kings County YMCA built Camp Redwood, Tulare County YMCA built Camp Tulequoia, and The Boy Scouts built Camp Millwood. In 1986 the Tulare County YMCA dissolved its charter and passed Camp Tulequoia over to the Visalia YMCA.
Today the Golden State YMCA through its YMCA Camp Sequoia Lake Branch operates all camps on the lake providing youth, family, and user group camping for campers of all ages.