Camp History

FROM THE MOUNTAIN TO THE VALLEY:  A History of Bible Camp at Madison Church of Christ

By Winston  Phifer

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May of 1956 was a monster month!

  • Elvis Presley’s first record (Heartbreak Hotel) for RCA was also his first record to hit number 1 on the country, pop, and r&b charts.
  • Mickey Mantle enjoyed a monster month by hitting a home run from each side of the plate in the same game and then twice coming within inches of blasting a home run OUT of Yankee Stadium.
  • Needles won the Kentucky Derby in a fast time of 2:03.4.
  • The United States exploded its first airborne hydrogen bomb.
  • The Brooklyn Dodgers’ Carl Erskine pitched his second no-hitter in a 3-0 win over the Giants.
  • Sun records released Johnny Cash’s I Walk the Line.
  • The Fugitive Poets celebrated a reunion at Vanderbilt University. 

It was also a monster month at the Madison Church of Christ!

The front page of the Christian Caller featured an announcement from the pen of Dr. Ira North that was sandwiched between the block headline   BIBLE CAMP ANNOUNCED and the streaming headline This is Only the Beginning…Do Your Part….We are Marching for the Master. The Announcement read:

This summer we begin something new at Madison that we believe will be a great and wonderful thing.  Four sessions of Bible camp are planned for this summer.

Call it breaking news.

Call it a hit…even a home run.

Call it wonderful.

Call it a milestone in the 76-year history of the Madison Church of Christ.

Call it the beginning of a camping ministry that has been marching for 55 years.

 

Like so many of Madison’s innovative ministries, the idea for a Bible camp was born in the mind of Avon North (“Sister Preacher” as Dr. North affectionately called her).  Sometime during the spring of 1956, she suggested to the preacher that he needed to take Madison’s teenagers to the mountain for some intensive Bible study.  Urban sprawl was already in its infant stages in the Madison community that had grown from a sleepy farming hamlet when the congregation was established in 1934, into one of the largest urban shopping centers in the Southeast.  The Madison church was growing just as swiftly, and the preacher’s wife said,

“Ira, you need to get these kids out of the city and take them to the mountain for some time close to nature for some Bible study and recreational activity.”

The preacher wasted no time in putting the idea into work shoes.


That very first Madison Bible Camp was not held at Valley View because there was no Valley View at that time – and it could not be during June and July because time was needed to get the facilities at Short Mountain ready for the Madison boys and girls.   Short Mountain was located on 800 beautiful acres on the highest mountain in Middle Tennessee, between McMinnville and Woodbury, and about 60 miles from Madison.  It had been given several years earlier to members of the church of Christ by Woodbury physician Dr. Richard Adams.  Madison was allowed to use the camp rent-free, and the dates announced for the four three-day sessions were:

  • Sunday afternoon- Wednesday afternoon Aug. 5-8, girls, grades 4-6.
  • Wednesday afternoon-Saturday afternoon Aug. 8-11, boys grades 4-6.
  • Sunday afternoon-Wednesday Afternoon Aug. 26-29, girls, grades 7-12.
  • Wed. afternoon-Sat. afternoon Aug. 29-Sept. 1, boys, grades 7-12

Plans called for one adult counselor for every eight campers, and there would be no charge for the campers.  However, each camper would be asked to bring two quilts, six eggs, a sack of potatoes, etc.

There was much work to be done in a short amount of time, but the now familiar “Madison Spirit” was already at work as Madison members grabbed hold of Dr. North’s challenge to, “Do your part.”

In less than three months, they built a brand new section (Pow-Wow Village) in a small wooded area near the main village.  Pow-Wow Village boasted five new tents that were purchased by Madison members and named for famous Indian chiefs Dragon Canoe, Bald Eagle, Tecumseh, Black Hawk and Sitting Bull.

Dr. Robert Pettus volunteered to give each camper the state-required physical examination at no cost to the campers.   Jimmy Miller’s Sunday School Class gave a  “Plate and Bowl Shower” for the camp, and Carl Ross’ class cleared a five-mile hiking trail.  A host of volunteers turned out for several days of hard work to build platforms for the tents, set up the tents, and get the camp in shape.  The workers included skilled carpenters, electricians, common laborers and, as Dr. North put it, almost anything you could ask for.  The preacher was classified as a common laborer by the men and was permitted to “tote” the lumber and dig holes for the tent platforms.

Workers whose names were mentioned in theCaller were W.R. Dunn, W. S. Burns, Edgar Soapes, J. L. and Ruby Hunter, B. L. Hunter, Mike Goins, Charles Goins, H. H. Castleman, Perry Underwood, S. M. Gentry, S. S. Lowe Jr., Paul and Mildred Adcock, Tony Adcock and guest, Paul Nicks, Bernice Huffine, Charles Haile, Paul Holley, Alvin C. Ryan, Carl Ross, Jack Scott, Mr. and Mrs. Larry Widick, Geneva Hilliard, Doris Snow, Robert Bryan, Mr. and Mrs. Claude Coleman, Elita Faye Coleman, Claudette Coleman, Ralph Bradley, Janet Chilton, and Charles Goins Sr.

Members who volunteered to drive the kids to Short Mountain were Paul Adcock, Fred Boyce, C. H. Coleman, Mrs. Edna Head, Raymond Spear, Chester Sadler, W. H. Allen, Otho Higley, Harold Cox, Thomas C.  Brown, Glenn Burton, Albert  Goins Jr., C. H. Cron, S. R. Holt, Mrs. Cooper Qualls, C. E. Jones, B. L. Hunter, H. W. Cartwright, Charles T. Wakefield, and Hugh Lillie.


Madison’s very first campers were  70 girls in grades 4-6, and a total of 250 Madison kids attended the four sessions directed by Ira and Avon North, assisted by Charles and Madge Lewis.  The Lewises had just arrived at Madison a month earlier for Claude to join the staff as educational director,  song leader, and assistant preacher.

Serving as camp counselors for that first year of Madison Bible Camp were Mrs. Weaver, Helen Chilton, Claudette Coleman, Janet Chilton, Gail Slaughter, Mrs. Bill Brown, Marjorie Parrish, Robert Wood, Donnell Castleman, Brother Stout, Glenn Burton, Harold Cox, Edgar Soapes, and Bill Brown.  Mrs. Gregory and Mrs. Soapes assisted Avon North and Madge Lewis.  Mrs. Kirk, supervisor of the cafeteria at Amqui School, was in charge of the cafeteria.

If you had visited Madison’s first Bible camp in August 1956, you would have reached it by driving up the mountain on a winding gravel road.  As soon as you entered the camp, the first thing you would have seen would have been a little barn identified by the sign, “Short Mountain Stables.”  Looking inside, you would have seen four of Dr. North’s horses.  On the right would have been Billy, a gentlebut rather contrary bay horse nicknamed “Old Country” by the campers.   In the next stable was Smoky, a slick black horse described as “gentle but full of pep.”  You would have seen the pride of Short Mountain in the last stable on the right – Gypsy, a beautiful Tennessee Walking Horse.   All by herself on the other side of the barn was another beautiful mare named Star, a western horse with such a long stride the other horses had a hard time keeping up with her.

As you continued to drive around the mountain and through the Madison camp, you would have enjoyed breathtaking views of the Middle Tennessee scenery from the highest mountain in Middle Tennessee.  The next building would have been a lovely little cabin known as the Main Lodge, which housed the dining hall, recreation room, and the kitchen.

Retracing your drive back toward the Main Lodge, you would have looked across at Cricket Lodge with rooms named for Indian princesses: White   Cloud, Red Feather, and Pocahontas.   To the right of Cricket Lodge was the Happy Trails Riding Ring (erected by Madison).   The ball field and archery range were close by.

Each day and evening were packed with thrilling adventures, as shown in the daily schedule:

6:30   Whistle blows – time to get up

7:30   Breakfast at main lodge

8:00   Bible classes

8:40  Assemble for chapel on the porch

9:15   Swimming at a site off the mountain

12:30Lunch at the Main Lodge

1:30   Rest period

2:30   Organized recreation (horseback riding, archery, shuffleboard, ping-pong,

          Volleyball, badminton, horseshoes

5:00   Organized hiking

5:30   Supper at the Main Lodge

6:15   Hike up the mountain      

6:45  Evening worship at sunset

8:00   Bonfire party on top of the mountain (first night)

          Picnic at the big spring on the other side of the mountain (second night)

          Weiner roast on top of the mountain followed by Stunt Night (third night)

9:00   Whistle blows – time to go to bed

At the end of the four sessions, the first year of camping at Madison was summed up by Dr. North in the Caller:   “The Bible classes under the trees, the chapel service with preaching by Brother Lewis, and the evening service around the campfire have all been exceedingly inspirational.  In the tents, the older boys and girls have enjoyed the devotionals by lantern light.   The campers in cricket Lodge   have gathered around the fireplace and enjoyed the devotional before retiring.  It certainly increases the faith of any person, young or old, to see the beauties of nature that Almighty God has prepared.”

 

And that is the way it was during the first year of Madison Bible Camp on Short Mountain.


Two years later, the front page headline of the Christian Caller was NEW BIBLE CAMP.  The story told how a Madison member had discovered an abandoned and dilapidated old camp on El Dorado Springs Road in Robertson County that had once been a fashionable health spa operated by members of the Jewish faith.  It was known simply as El Dorado Springs because of its numerous mineral and sulphur water springs.  By now, all of the buildings were in disrepair and showing the ravages of wind and weather.  The trails had been reclaimed by nature and grown over with bushes, briers, and small trees, while the lake that was fed by a clear stream held back by a stone dam, was covered with algae.  But when Ira North and that (at that time) unnamed Madison member, clawed their way through the briers and brambles, they became very excited as they envisioned what the rundown camp couldbecome with the help of Almighty God (just as Dr. North and Borum McPherson would a few years later be able to see through the thick woods on Miss Opha Bixler’s farm and picture Madison Childrens’ Home).  Another Madison member bought the property and leased it to the church for one dollar a year with the sipulation that his name never be made public.  Madison had the option to buy it at any time.

 

We can now release the names of those two Madison members who were not named in the 1958 story in the Christian Caller.  The member who found old camp was Borum McPherson, a man of tremendous vision who along with his wife Amelia was part of the group of six families who left Edenwold and started the Madison Church of Christ in 1934.  A few years later, he would show Dr.  North that wooded area on Miss Opha’s farm and share his vision of cottages for homeless children being built on that property.  The anonymous brother who paid for the abandoned camp was Joe Corley (at that time a successful young business man), who said that he had about $14,000 available and could not think of a better use for it than to buy a camp for Madison’s children.  He later donated the camp to the congregation;

 

Once again, Ira North put his vision into the work shoes of the Madison family.  The call went out for workers in that April 1958 issue of the Caller, with each of Madison’s 40 zones being challenged to provide volunteer labor.  Every Saturday at El Dorado Springs was a beehive of activity.  The 12 delapidated buildings included several frame cabins with sleeping porches, with a central room and fireplace in each one, an administration building, a dining hall/kitchen, and bathhouses.  All of the buildings were cleaned and remodeled from top to bottom, inside and out, while the algae were cleaned from the lake that was drained, refilled with water, and stocked with fish.  New construction included a swimming pool and athletic fields.

 

“The result,” wrote Sam McPherson in an April 1966 feature story in the Nashville Banner,“has been a camp considered priceless in the church’s youth program.”

 

Madison’s new Bible Camp was named Valley View by Ira North because it was       V-shaped and located in a beautiful valley.  It opened in the summer of 1958, and   these 32 acres provided Christian camping for Madison’s boys and girls every summer until 1972.

 

The camp was supported by special contribution taken one time each year.  Dr. North explained it like this in that 1966 Nashville Banner story.  “We didn’t have any money in the treasury to devote to the camp so the elders gave us permission to pass the basket one time each year after the regular contribution was taken.  And we always get what we ask for.  Many times we ask for $2,500 and get $2,650.  But I pad that a little bit through what I call my ‘secret dozen’.  Each year I write about 12 men in this church and ask them to drop a $100 bill in the camp contribution.”

 

McPherson, the son of Borum and Amelia McPherson and an award-winning

Banner reporter, explained in the 1966 story that Dr. North took great pains to emphasize his deep conviction that the camp was important.

 

“Now this camp is absolutely out of this world,” he said.  “If we don’t take care of our young people here, the time will come when we can’t have a children’s home or anything else.  The camp is just a vital investment in youth.  It is our best opportunity to teach children in surroundings that proclaim the glory of God through nature.”


The church learned in 1970 that the new Interstate Highway (I-65) would cut through Valley View and take a portion of the beloved camp.  After receiving the money from the news, the elders almost immediately found a site of 68 acres further north on El Dorado Springs Road, and the money received from the state was enough to purchase the new camp site.

 

These acres, however, were undeveloped, so Madison members once again just rolled up sleeves and jumped into their work shoes and this time built a brand new camp from scratch.  Ground was broken in 1971 by Ira North, Ben Jones, and Camp Committee Chairman Lemuel McKenzie, and the new Valley View was constructed by Madison members under the direction of Jones (the first youth minister) at a cost of approximately $400,000.

 

It was a giant leap of faith by the Madison elders, but the new and larger Valley View increased the capacity of campers from 75 to 103.  The camp program followed the same basic format that had been so successful at Short Mountain and the first Valley View.  Hayrides to Jud Jones’ Store became popular and stories about The Hermit became part of camp lore.  How many campers will ever forget the legendary escapades of The Hermit as they were related by (then) camp counselor and former Madison shepherd Howard Henderson?

 

The camping ministry is 60 years old this year, and the current Valley View has just turned 45.    But grandchildren and even great-grandchildren of those first campers who played those highly competitive Capture the Flag games and threw Ira and Avon North in the creek at Short Mountain, can enjoy the delights of Valley View Bible Camp and worship in the Chapel in the Woods just like their grandparents did at Short Mountain and the first Valley View.

In Spring of 2012 the Elders at Madison decided the church could no longer afford the costly upkeep, repairs and management of Valley View. The elders met with the members of the board at Valley View and they decided to sell the camp to the Valley View Camp Board of Directors. Lin Sherrill chaired the Valley View Board during this time and the restructuring of Valley View Camp began. The camp was in a financial crisis and the buildings and infrastructure of the camp were in dire straights.  Once again Valley View was blessed as a school teacher named Robert Longhurst remembered Valley View Camp and his desire that children attend camp at his passing. Through the hard work and generosity of many Board Members like Neil Hart, Ron Nimmo, Darlene Sweet, Steve Reynolds, Jerry Sherrill, Julie Rollins, Linda Highers, John Broadway, Dave Logan,  and Mark Pugh the camp began to rebuild. The Board hired new caretakers Mark Anthony and Lindsey Born and their time and dedication helped to establish a zip line and ropes course for team building called Valley View Zips and Adventures.

 

 The board continues to restore and renovate not only the camp property but also build  with new people. We have acquired new renters, campers, caretakers and board members. Our newest caretakers Daniel and Jessica Knox, both teachers at Goodpasture Christian School, new board members Ricky Perry, President of Goodpasture Christian School, Jimmy and Sandy Blackwell.  and Office Manager, Rhonda Robertson have provided great new talent and resources for the future.

The 2016 camping season at Valley is expected to serve close to 2000 children and adults. The attendance has increased exponentially sinse its first season hosting 250 children in 1956. We now serve many area churches and schools in addition to the Madison Church such as: Otter Creek Church of Christ, Indian Lake Peninsula Church, Providence General Baptist Church, Hermitage Church of Christ, Tusculum Church of Christ, Smith Springs Church of Christ, Lebanon Road Church of Christ, Hillcrest Church of Christ, Friendship World Outreach Church, Riverwood Church of Christ, and many more.  

The more things change, the more they remain the same!  The urban sprawl that caused Ira and Avon North to see the need for getting children in touch with nature is now full-blown.  Camping at Valley View Bible Camp continues to provide a place where kids can get in close touch with nature away from the helter-skelter,  wired-up,fill-every-moment outside world that seems to contribute to a lot of the ADHD and anxiety disorders that handcuff so many children  Studying God’s Word in natural surroundings still offers a real refuge from urban sprawl.