Wallowa Lake Camp (Northeastern Oregon) is our oldest camp, having been purchased in 1922 by the Epworth League in the Idaho Conference. It is located on what was originally the homeland of the Wallowa Band of the Nez Perce Indians. It is a cultural center for both Native Americans and many artists in the area. Its central focus has become family ministry with newly updated facilities to support this.
The following, itself a piece of history, is an historical account of Wallowa Lake's rich history up until 1973!
In the “Endless Line of Splendor” of the History of the Methodist Church, let us take a side journey. We will consider an area, often called the Switzerland of the West, where we will review something of the toil and dedication of five Methodist ministers that started one of our Youth Camps.
Go with me, seventy-five miles from LaGrande, Oregon, as we travel along the winding and twisting Wallowa River, to a place at the head of Wallowa Lake where these men found a paradise in the early 1920s. The first year they leased the land at the foot of Mt. Joseph, and the Wallowa Lake Epworth League Institute was acclaimed a great success. The ministers, Ira Aldrich, Sherman Hawk, James Leitch, C.L. Walker, and H. F. Cullison, attempted to lease the land the following year, but were advised that the former owner had taken bankruptcy. During the same year the bank that had taken over the land had closed, and it was now in the hands of a bank receiver. He suggested they try to raise the money to buy the one hundred and ten acres for a permanent campsite. They returned to Joseph the following spring with only eighteen hundred dollars, and to their amazement, they were able to negotiate the deal for that amount of money. A corporation was formed and Wallowa Lake Institute was in full swing, continuing for the next fifty years, and will hopefully continue for many more in that beautiful country.
After the purchase of the land a survey was made, and ten acres on the east side of the river was sold. Lots, of fifty by one hundred feet, were leased to individuals and churches for fifty dollars, for ninety-nine years. This money financed the installation of a water system and the building of roads. George F. Dawson built a bridge over the roaring Wallowa River in exchange for leases for two lots. About this time one lot was traded for a piano to be used by the Institutes, and it was in use for more than fifty years.
A circus tent, with wooden benches and sawdust covered ground was adequate for meetings until 1932 when the first assembly hall, also with sawdust covered dirt floor, was erected. The church groups from Nampa, Caldwell, Fruitland, and Wallowa built small cabins for cooking and dining. LaGrande First, Joseph, and Kuna built larger cabins to include bunks. Other church groups “camped out” and the old dining hall was built. About this time the Wallace, Wilson, Dawson, Hamilton, Winters, Skillern (The Stockade), Aldrich, and Mumford cabins were constructed. A word of tribute should be added here for the wonderful cooks, counselors, ministers, and wives who added so greatly to camp life, even though the ground was hard and a stone was sometimes a bedfellow. The corporation of Ministers turned over the camp holdings and the one hundred acres, including the leases, to the Epworth Leagues of the Eastern District, and the name Methodist Camp Ground Association became official. Dr. Harry S. Hamilton was named President of the Association, with Rev. Hall K. Wallace as Secretary, and Grace Conley, Treasurer, as recorded in the Wallowa County Court House in Enterprise, Oregon.
Rev. Edgar Pollock, minister at Wallowa, was the hard working manager of the Camp Ground for a number of years, and both he and Mrs. Pollock gave of their time and talents to maintaining and developing the camp. Mrs. Pollock was dean of girls for many years. In 1952 the Camp Ground Association was transferred to the Idaho Conference.
After Rev Pollock retired, Rev. Lesley Bailey was appointed to the Joseph Church pastorate in 1956 and also assumed the duties of Camp Manager. Rev. Bailey, and the Conference Board of Trustees, determined that a permanent survey was necessary because of two former conflicted surveys under which the leases were not legal. Mr. Bailey secured a surveyor from John Day and the work went forward. In 1957 Rev. Bailey became ill and moved to Ontario, Oregon, and Rev. Floyd White, Chairman of the Conference Board of Trustees, replaced him, and the survey was completed. Mr. White, working with Attorney Cecil Christman, Rev. John Cross, Edson and Homer Deal, and other members of the Board, was able to dissolve the legal tangles, and the leases were exchanged for deeds for the sum of $150.00 per lot. During these years Mr. White was pastor of the Joseph church and also Camp Ground Manager. Under his leadership the large lodge was constructed from the lumber harvested from ripe timber on the property, and also a new bridge was built. Bishop Grant dedicated the Lesley Bailey Lodge in 1959; its estimated cost was $30,000.
Later an adequate water system was installed for both the Camp and the privately owned cabins within the original boundaries of the area under the supervision of Floyd Hill, with the snow fed Cascade Creek as its source. The Pollock, Weaver, and Taylor cabins were purchased and the Pines, Caldwell, Nampa, and Wallowa cabins were remodeled. Also two shower units were constructed, as well as a large bunkhouse and garage. The Morning Watch site, high on the hill overlooking the camp and with its view of the mountains, was left in its natural state as a perpetual place of inspiration for early morning worshipers.
An exclusive smaller area has been designated as the permanent area for the Camp. All land owned by churches and individuals within this site has been purchased or traded for other property outside the reserve.
In this winter wonderland, small groups often use the Lodge in the winter months, as a part of the building is heated with gas and a huge fireplace. Hundreds of youth have experienced a new understanding of the Christian way of life as they have lived and played under the shadow of Mt. Joseph. Perhaps a new awareness of life has come to them as they have traveled some of the trails on the three mountains, and around Wallowa Lake, that were trod in the yesteryears of the rightful owners of this paradise, the Nez Perce Indians, with Chief Joseph as their leader.
The administration of the Wallowa Lake Methodist Camps is now under the supervision of the Camping Commission of the Idaho-Oregon Conference, with Dr. Floyd Hill, of LaGrande, as the coordinator.
Thus one phase of the “Endless Line or Splendor” has been briefly traced in the developing of the Wallowa Lake Methodist Camp Ground. Many are the silent laborers with God, whose names cannot be recorded because of space and lack of knowledge, who will also receive their reward when they hear those matchless words, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant…”
Floyd E. White, historian
(sent to Earl Riddle, October 10, 1973)