Beginnings, and the “Nine Old Men”
Starting in 1938, Covenant Churches from the region (then called the Middle East Conference) began planning and holding summer camps by renting Camp Fitch, Camp Findlay, and Camp Caledon on Lake Erie. Tents were erected, and campers really “camped,” a tradition much different than that of today’s campers. This arrangement worked well for a number of years, but the need to have a camp of their own soon became evident.
In 1946 a committee was formed consisting of three persons from each of the three regions making up the Conference at the time. These nine gentlemen, from different backgrounds and experiences, became affectionately known as the “Nine Old Men,” a reference to the US Supreme Court during Truman’s presidency. They were charged with the responsibility of finding a suitable site for a permanent camp. A search was conducted throughout western PA. and Chautauqua county, NY. The present property was found through an ad in the Pittsburgh Press, 26 acres of “meadow” that gently sloped toward the northeastern shore of Lake Chautauqua.
After an evaluation of several other properties, it was determined that this was the best available parcel. However, the committee was charged to find the site, and was not authorized to actually purchase it. They would have to wait until the next Conference annual meeting in the spring of 1947 to get approval for the purchase. When it was learned that the owner was beginning to sell off waterfront lots, it became evident that immediate action would be needed to secure the property. Four “concerned citizens” from the Jamestown area secured a loan from the First National Bank of Jamestown, and purchased the property. The wisdom of the “Nine Old Men” was confirmed at 1947’s annual meeting. The site was approved for the new camp, and the Conference purchased the property from the four.
The remainder of 1947 focused on raising funds to begin construction, and preparing the site. The “Nine Old Men” continued the planning and supervision of camp work. Workers began clearing the site, planting trees, building a water and septic system. They also broke ground on an all-purpose building (now the chapel), to be used as kitchen, dining hall, and activity center, which was finished in 1948.
The first Mission Meadows summer camp was held in 1948 using WW II Navy surplus tents and folding cots, and has been held every summer since. Several cabins and outbuildings were added, and Camp Mission Meadows was dedicated in 1950. A second dedication was held in 1977, following construction of a new cabin, the dormitory and a canteen.
In 1986, an addition to the Dining Hall and the Bell Tower were completed. The added space was needed for dining and activities, and the Bell tower brought a readily recognizable symbol for the camp.
1997 marked the camp’s 50th anniversary. The anniversary reunion and celebration was marked by a ground breaking ceremony for a new activity center. A gymnasium with real hardwood floor, along with activity/meeting rooms were built. The center has become one of those “What did we ever do without it?” assets. Many new outreach activities are now possible.
There they grow again!
In 1999, a multi-phase plan was undertaken to provide increased camper capacity and extend the camp’s year-round facilities. The first phase involved the movement of 5 older cabins to other areas of the camp, and construction of 4 new and larger cabins. These were largely completed in 2000. A few of the old cabins were moved into the woods across the highway to offer a “rustic” camping facility (still a far cry from the camps of 1938!!). Updated and expanded kitchen facilities were completed in 2001 to support our increased capacity.
In 2007, a new natural timber frame chapel was built on the site of the old chapel, the first building on the camp property. The new chapel provides additional group meeting space as well as a dynamic, beautiful worship setting.
Mission Meadows has hosted thousands of campers, retreat goers and staff over the years. Many have drawn closer to God and made commitments to Christ as a result of their experience here. The vision of the “Nine Old Men” and the stewardship of today’s leadership ensure that Camp Mission Meadows will continue in ministry well into the future, with our Lord’s help.