The Lancaster Camp Meeting & Church Assembly Association, Inc., (dba: The Lancaster Camp Ground) was born in 1872 with the conviction of Rev. William Holliday that a local “Camp Meeting” be established. With the cooperation of other ministers the first site was a brief sojourn on leased land in Logan, Ohio, followed by a five year stint at Carroll, Ohio, and finally here where the Camp Meeting has hunkered down on our beloved Hilltop in Lancaster, Ohio since 1878. A site chosen, because, as one of our founding fathers put it:
“It is a mountain crowned by native forest trees through which the breezes blow with
fragrance from the hills, valleys, and plains of the Paradisaical center of the commonwealth
unpolluted by noxious gases or offensive odors from city centers of population. Looking tothe east, we see Mount Pleasant as it greets the beams of the rising sun. To the west, we seethe tinted beams of the setting sun, painting on memory’s wall a glorious picture. Our mountain becomes a permanent site for a Camp Meeting and Assembly.”
From its inception until the present time the Lancaster Camp Ground has had a primary emphasis as a place for the propagation of the Christian gospel. The objective of our Camp Ground, as stated in our constitution, reads: “The objective of the Association shall be to function as a church so as to provide a spiritual community that proclaims the Christian gospel, labors for the conversion of souls and the advancement of the cause of Christ, and nurtures Christian fellowship through a program of worship, study, special events, recreation, and rest.”
Many think of the Lancaster Camp Ground as a “Hallowed Place” because of the
thousands of people of all ages who have either found Christ for the first time or
rededicated their lives through the ministries of the Camp Ground. Young people have left
these grounds after meeting Christ in a personal way at this place and have gone on to
serve Him as ministers, missionaries, and in other areas of His service.
For its first twenty years or so, the Camp Ground stressed a strictly evangelism oriented“Camp Meeting”. Around 1892, however, the Chautauqua Movement was introduced into
the program. The last clause in the Camp Ground’s purpose “and nurtures Christian fellowship through a program of worship, study, special events, recreation, and rest” is where the Chautauqua idea comes in.
Because of the revamped programs from strictly evangelism to Chautauqua with all of its activities, speakers, concerts,
and the like, thousands of people came by way of the railroad and horses and buggies to the Lancaster Camp Ground.
They came to hear speakers like Billy Sunday, William Jennings Bryan, and President William McKinley or the musical abilities of artists like Homer Rodeheaver and Guy Rockey, Sr. Many other speakers and artists spent time at the Lancaster Camp Ground, as well, as we were a major stop on the Redpath Circuit.
To accommodate all of these visitors things began to change on the Hilltop. A new auditorium was constructed in 1895 and the old one moved. (The old auditorium in now called the Tabernacle and is mainly a storage building.) The Davis Auditorium built in 1895 is the glory of the Camp Ground. It is 120 feet square and will seat close to four thousand people. A very unique feature is that it was built so that there are no support pillars to disturb the vision of the audience. The architect specialized in railroad trestle design. You can see the resemblance to trestles in the roof support system.
Also, the Hotel Woodside was built in 1884. For its first thirty-four years it stood on the north side of the Camp Ground down towards the Hocking River. At the time, that was the main entrance to the Grounds since so many people came by way of the Hocking Valley Railroad. The Camp Ground had its own flag station. With the advent of the automobile, however, more people began coming in by way of the gate on Fair Avenue. In 1918, the Hotel was disassembled and reconstructed on the south side of the Grounds. The Hotel Woodside no longer takes guests but is the office and museum of the Lancaster Camp Ground Historical Society.
Another unique building on the Grounds is the Temple. It is hexagonal in shape and has post and beam construction. It is a small auditorium and is used for Bible School, Sunday School, evening movies, and other activities.
The darling of the Hilltop is the Camp Ground Grocery. It was originally known as the Columbus Chapel. People from Columbus who came down for the day wanted a place where they could get together and have prayer meetings and Bible
studies. When these meetings were discontinued the building was converted into a grocery store and served the Camp Ground as such for many years, into the 1970’s. When it ceased to be a grocery, it was used as a storage building for the Cafeteria. Then a small group of preservationists took it in hand and restored it back into an old-time grocery store.
People all over the Grounds contributed antique tins, bottles, boxes, crates and the like. It is a gathering place on the Grounds. People can go there and have a can of pop or a cup of coffee and talk or play board games or simply browse along the shelves and experience a brush with nostalgia.
Many of these Camp Meeting Chautauqua enthusiasts who began arriving at the gates of the Camp Ground not only arrived… they stayed. The Camp Ground was laid out with the Tabernacle as the exact center with the streets radiating out from it. These streets were platted and tents on platforms began springing up. Beginning in 1880 and continuing until the 1920’s, with the biggest building spurt in the early 1880’s, cottages began replacing the tents on the very same lots.
You can discern this pattern because of the close proximity of the cottages to each other. There are approximately 240 cottages on the Lancaster Camp Ground left of the four hundred or so that once were on the Grounds. Many of these are in near original condition. So much so, that in 1987 the Lancaster Camp Ground was designated a National Historic District by the National Park Service.
One of the cottages, the Heritage House, is a cottage built in 1881 and kept for tours by the Camp Ground Historical Society. It is in absolutely original condition. Water and sewer were never connected up to it, electricity was added in later years. Its location is the last cottage on 12th Street.
Unlike the Chautauqua Institution and Lakeside, the Lancaster Camp Ground has always remained very close to its religious roots. Our program usually highlights a different preacher each Sunday morning during the season. There is usually a vespers service on Sunday evenings. Our “Week of Christian Witness” is when we hearken back to our true “Camp Meeting” roots. During this week there are daily Bible studies and preaching services. A prayer meeting is usually held on Tuesday morning at the Temple.
However, we have also retained some aspects of the Chautauqua movement which also was a moving force on the Grounds. Our Saturday evening programs, especially, offer a variety of experiences: ballet, solo or small group
instrumental performances, barbershop harmony, band concerts, gospel quartets, even the Ohio State Youth Choir.
On Saturday evenings the Hilltop Women have a supper for the Camp Grounders at Creighton Corners. On Sundays the Cafeteria is open for Sunday dinner. Usually a dinner with a meat item (baked chicken, Swiss steak, stuffed pork chop, roast turkey), salad, potato, vegetable, roll and butter, and beverage.
In 1995, we opened a twenty-four space R.V. Camping Area. If a visitor is a camper, he/she can pull their vehicle onto one or our spaces and have water and electric hook-ups immediately.
What is there to do at the Lancaster Camp Ground? Well, if one tires of the peaceful pursuits of rocking on the porch and reading a book there are other diversions on the Camp Ground. Take a meander down Seventh Street and one arrives at the Swimming Pool. Our lovely pool is a real crowd pleaser on hot summer days. Right next to the Swimming Pool is the Maple Leaf, our Camp Ground snack bar. Many folks wander over there in the summer evenings to have an ice-cream and sit under the trees and talk. Towards the front of the Grounds, in front of the Hotel Woodside, there are croquet
courts, shuffleboard courts, and a basketball/tennis court.
In 1989, a retired Camp Ground couple took it upon themselves to build a nature trail in the woods on our property. If one cares for a very pleasant walk, just head for the Palace Lodge, duck behind it, and there is the entrance to the Nature Trail. It is lovely at any time of the year.
A favorite past-time for many is simply to walk down the streets of the Grounds and find somebody on their porch. (Somebody always is.) Presto! They have the makings of a great time for visiting.
However, whatever one is doing, when the Camp Ground bell rings, it is time to drop everything and head for the Auditorium, for Saturday evening programs, Sunday morning services, Sunday afternoon programs or evening Vespers.
While the Lancaster Camp Ground is located in Central Ohio its people are certainly not restricted to there. There are cottage owners that hail from all over the United States. A number of senior citizens make their winter homes in Florida or Texas and come to the Camp Ground for the summer. We also have a number of families that make the journey to the Camp Ground from Michigan, West Virginia, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Illinois, New Jersey, Arizona, and California.
Your interest in the Lancaster Camp Ground is appreciated. A wide variety of people from young children to the extremely elderly and every age in between, for many years, have found the Lancaster Camp Ground a place of peace, relaxation, aesthetic enrichment, and spiritual renewal.
The Lancaster Camp Ground “family” welcomes you and invites you to visit as often as you can. We trust that you will also experience the special “spirit” of this place as so many have before you and that your Christian life will be enhanced.