From time to time in this column, I share anecdotes illustrating the adage that in order to be preserved, history must first be reconstructed. During my 17 years pursuing historical reconstruction as a post-retirement hobby, I’ve been particularly struck by how often sheer luck figures into the process.

A rich example is the emerging story of one of Idyllwild’s more obscure summer camps, “J. M. V. Pathfinders.”  Some puzzling postcards in the Idyllwild Area Historical Society archive bearing that label depict a thriving operation; but they give no clue to its sponsorship, purpose, dates of operation, or location. Then, during a four-month period last year, three key messages showed up independently in my e-mail.

In the first, my wife alerted me to a pen inscribed with “J.M.V. Pathfinders” offered for sale on eBay. Upon inquiry, the seller, a camp attendee, revealed its sponsorship by the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Turning quickly to a church website, I learned about the Junior Missionary Volunteers program and the camp’s history. Its location, beyond vague references to Idyllwild, remained a mystery. Mistakenly, I supposed that it was the Pathfinder Ranch in Garner Valley.

Eight weeks later, I received an inquiry from one Gerry Chudleigh, who had just bought an album containing a 1930s photo of a group posed in front of the Idyllwild Inn. He sought help dating the photo and learning the inn’s history.

He also mentioned that it depicted J.M.V. Pathfinders campers and told me the camp’s history. Chudleigh turned out to be not only a fellow history buff but Communication Director of the Pacific Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists and a former counselor at the camp.

An ensuing two-month-long exchange of photos, his personal recollections, church archive documents, old Town Crier articles, my maps and local knowledge, laced with a bit of informed speculation, gradually solved the puzzle.

The key to locating the camp was Chudleigh’s knowledge that it later became Camp Gilboa, which I already knew as a 1970s program run by the Labor Zionist youth movement Habonim on land at the foot of Lower Pine Crest Avenue.

During 1929-31, the J.M.V. Pathfinders actually operated on borrowed land now owned by Idyllwild Pines above Delano Road, near the confluence of Strawberry and Lily creeks. In 1932, the Adventists bought 16 acres at the foot of Lower Pine Crest, which accommodated them through 1960. Faced with possible water rationing during a 1961 drought crisis, the church then bought Pine Springs Ranch, the camp’s present site in Apple Canyon.

About the time Chudleigh and I wrapped up our research collaboration, a third lucky break filled in details about Camp Gilboa. A Town Crier reader, whose parents had managed the camp while he was growing up, wrote that the Pathfinders property was sold in 1962 to one Henry Didnis, who first leased, then sold, 13 acres to Habonim, which ran Camp Gilboa there from 1969 to 1986. Idyllwild Pines bought the property in 1988, and today Camp Gilboa is located near Big Bear Lake.

Bob Smith is a researcher and archivist with the Idyllwild Area Historical Society. He welcomes comments, questions, corrections, and suggested topics for this column at [email protected].