The Denver Jewish Community Center (JCC) established J Bar Double C Ranch in 1952. The next summer the ranch, also known as JCC Ranch, began to host JCC Ranch Camp, Colorado’s second Jewish summer camp and the state’s first summer camp with a kosher kitchen. Over its more than sixty years in operation, the camp has helped develop a sense of community and identity among thousands of Jewish children from across the state and the country.
Ralph Hubbard’s Ranch
The JCC Ranch sits on 388 acres in the rolling hills of the Black Forest about three miles south of Elbert in Elbert County. The area is now home to several camps (Peaceful Valley Scout Ranch is across the road), in part because it has remained largely undeveloped and has plenty of open spaces and old ranches conducive to camp activities. Cattle ranches and dairy farms have dotted the landscape since the late nineteenth century.
For much of the early twentieth century, the JCC Ranch and the surrounding land belonged to Ralph Hubbard. He was the son of Elbert Hubbard, the founder of the American Arts & Crafts movement, which started as a reaction against industrial manufacturing. Ralph had developed a love of crafts and folklore at a young age. In 1908 he moved to Montana, built himself a log cabin, learned to be a rancher, and started to become an expert in Native American folkways. In 1913 he started graduate school at the University of Colorado–Boulder, where he lodged in a house owned by rancher Frank Lamson, who had a 1,600-acre ranch in the Black Forest. After Hubbard’s father died in the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915, he inherited some money, sold his Montana homestead, and bought Lamson’s Black Forest ranch.
After serving in World War I, Hubbard returned to Colorado in 1920. He planned to turn his land into a cattle ranch and private summer camp. He began to build a large ranch house in the summer of 1921, using native timber and stone in a style similar to his father’s Arts & Crafts ideas. He was involved with the Boy Scouts, and his ranch often hosted scouts as well as groups of Native Americans.
Hubbard lived at the ranch until 1943, when he had to give up the property because of mounting expenses and taxes. Over the next nine years the land passed through the hands of several local ranchers.
The Push for Jewish Camps in Colorado
Summer camps for children started in the late nineteenth century in the United States. The first Jewish summer camp began in Maine in 1902 because Jews were often excluded from other camps. Most early Jewish camps were located outside major Jewish population centers along the East Coast and were designed to provide Jewish youth with a sense of community and identity as well as to develop Jewish culture, practice, and knowledge.
Summer camps and Jewish summer camps gradually spread west in the middle of the twentieth century, especially in the years after World War II. By the late 1940s Denver’s Jewish community was planning to establish a summer camp for Jewish children. In 1948 Temple Emanuel, a large Reform congregation in Denver, started Shwayder Camp near Echo Lake, giving Colorado its first Jewish summer camp.
Shwayder Camp could not adequately serve Denver’s entire Jewish community. It was owned and operated by a single congregation and did not have a kosher kitchen. As a result, the Jewish Young Adult Council of the Denver JCC continued to push for a Jewish summer camp in Colorado. Led by its new director, Arnold J. Auerbach, the Denver JCC identified a 171-acre parcel that had been the heart of Ralph Hubbard’s much larger ranch. In May 1952 the Denver JCC bought the land (including Hubbard’s ranch house) for $15,000 and named it J Bar Double C Ranch.
JCC Ranch Camp
The Denver JCC planned to turn the property into a summer ranch camp featuring a kosher kitchen and Judaic content. Jewish groups throughout the state raised money to build cabins at the camp. After a year of construction work funded by private donations and the Allied Jewish Community Council, the camp was ready to open by the summer of 1953.
Led by its first director, Emanuel Fisher, the camp opened in June 1953 and was officially dedicated on July 12. Intermountain Jewish News called the camp “one of the greatest projects in Denver’s Jewish history.” JCC director Auerbach described it as “an unusual project which combines an American western ranching program with Jewish content and a kosher kitchen.” At the time, JCC Ranch Camp was the only kosher children’s camp between the Mississippi River and the West Coast.
The camp’s first cook quit after a few days because she was not used to kosher preparation—which, among other regulations, requires keeping meat and dairy strictly separated. The camp quickly hired Elizabeth Summers as its new cook. Summers also knew nothing about kosher cooking, but she learned quickly and soon moved to the camp with her husband, Bill. Bill and Elizabeth Summers ended up living at the camp year-round from 1953 to 1976. Bill served as the camp’s caretaker, working on electricity, plumbing, and other repairs, and building the camp’s recreation hall, dining hall, director’s house, and caretaker’s house.
JCC Ranch Camp welcomed 111 campers in its first summer. It quickly grew to 200 per session and 600 per summer. The camp expanded with acquisitions of adjacent land in 1958 and 1964, bringing it to its present size of 388 acres. Most of the land remains undeveloped fields and forests with miles of hiking and equestrian trails. The camp offers children the chance to spend weeks riding horses, swimming, hiking, camping, and backpacking, all with an emphasis on Jewish culture and religion.
After more than sixty years in operation, JCC Ranch Camp has hosted thousands of Jewish children from Colorado as well as hundreds more from other states and around the world. The camp continues to host 500–600 campers each summer, including second-generation campers who are the children of campers from the 1950s and 1960s.