In 1954 the Youngstown District became very interested in establishing a day camp facility in Northeastern Ohio. Rev. Gene Hibbard was commissioned to select a suitable spot, and, being partial to the Hiram area, he decided to look in this area to find a promising location. He and his wife certainly succeeded! Finding a parcel of 304 acres. the board discovered it a little more than they could handle financially so the Akron District was asked to join in this endeavor and a partnership was established. Rev. Gene Hibbard had been a friend of Bernard Paul for some time and asked Paul to view the spot and hear his plans for it. Paul decided to share in the dream. At first they were going to attempt it with all volunteer labor.
The first Saturday of April, 1956, four men arrived at Epworth Lodge (then called the Day Camp) at the break of dawn to begin construction. The foundat ion had already been dug by Roger Pitman who, in this same spring, would carve out the lake. Even though the word had spread, no one else came to help, so the four workers started to rough in the foundation. Those present were Rev. Gene Hibbard, Bernard Paul, Clayton Hoover, and one other man, Keith, who was a Coast Guard Recruiter. For the next couple of Saturdays, Paul’s Building Material hauled in cement blocks, and the four of them started to lay block. Despite the announcements at the Freedom Methodist Church, and other churches in both districts, it was the same people who showed up. At the next board meeting it was suggested they hire professional workmen. Saturday night before Mother’s Day, a high wind blew down a large maple tree, narrowly missing the building and only breaking one board. The same wind blew down several wild cherry trees which later would be hauled to the sawmill and made into boards which were used for the paneling in the dining room in Asbury Lodge.
In the summer of 1956, the Epworth Lodge was completed and dedicated. One of the next problems was to acquire electricity . Hiram Electric Company had the rights for Hiram Township, but due to the high cost of their service, it was decided to try for Ohio Edison, who had rights for the south side of Schustrich Road. A family by the name of Judge owned the southwest corner lot of Asbury and Schustrich, but would not sell it to the camp. On the other hand, they would sell it to Bernard Paul, so Paul bought it and directly sold it to the camp.
In the fall of 1957 they were consider ing building another larger lodge. Some were in favor of putting it out in the open, others wa nted it deep in the woods. They compromised and built it on the edge of the woods. Damon-Worley-Sa muels were contacted to perform the architectural drawings and bids were sent out. The average cost for the bids received was about $71,000. This was more than they could afford so alternative options were looked into. Bernard Paul approached a young Mennonite named Ray Yoder (new in the construction business and lived locally) to ask him to consider Asbury Lodge. Yoder agreed to build the lodge at hourly ($1.50) wages and the camp would supply all of the materials.
Paul was employed by Polson Rubber Company in Garrettsville at the time, but out of a conversation with the owner, he was allowed to have time to oversee the construction of Asbury Lodge. The lodge was completed for a cost of $49 ,000 plus $4,500 architect fees. Not included in the original plans but included in the finished building were Thermopane windows, walk-in cooler , stainless steel in kitchen, ceramic tile in upstairs restroom, copper gutters, finished basement floor , fireplace, and screened in back porch. Melvern Gambridge did all of the brick and block work, including the fireplace in the basement. One day he paused for lunch and looked out the window, saw a deer, and decided to design its features in the fireplace. This he did.
The following spring a damaging blow was received from the County Health Department. Camp Asbury would have to redo its septic system. The Health Department did not have jurisdiction over this type of facility, so the State Health Department had to be consulted . The conclusion was , in order to meet their standards, it would cost about $10,000. After contacting many contractors and getting their bids, Roger Pitman was prevailed upon to do the job. He finished the job at a cost of $14,000. That same spring, one hundred campers signed up for the summer program. The question then was, where were they going to put them all? They decided to build tent platforms – fourteen in all. They put 10 campers and 2 counselors to a tent.
In the spring of 1958, the counselors washhouse (now the equipment cabin – brick cabin by Otterbein) and the log cabin were built. The log cabin was started by volunteer labor, but had to be finished by the lodge crew. The bricks for the counselors washhouse came from the recently demolished Portage County Court House in Ravenna. In the final excavating of the lodge, Roger Pitman designed the 12 steps to Heaven as requested by Bernard Paul. This area, to the east of the lodge, formed a natural aphitheater.
Originally the camp was meant to have three areas – a day camp, formal camping, and wilderness area. The wilderness area was to be what is now Georgia Woods.Gene Hibbard was the first director of Camp Asbury, followed by Fred Bell, who was the minister of Freedom Methodist Church and director of Camp Asbury until 1963.
In 1963, Carey Lodge (the house & office) was built to house the camp manager. L. Warren Emery was the first manager to occupy the house. Warren was followed by Bruno Malone, caretaker, and Gene Knight, summer program director.
In 1967, Fred Bell returned for two years. This was also about the time the camp purchased its first tractor , and the dorms were added to Epworth Lodge. Dick Robertson started working at Camp Asbury and worked his way up to summer program director. Fred Bell left Camp Asbury and Rev. Bill Bullock moved in.
In 1970, Bill started trip camping out of Camp Asbury. Two canoe trips and two backpack trips for Senior High. He expanded this program in 1973 to include two canoe camps and two backpack camps for Junior High.In 1973, John Burgreen was hired as caretaker. A new central water system was installed, including a well, a 15,000 gallon storage tank , and iron filters with a chlorinator.
In 1974, and additional plot of 157 acres was purchased from Mr. Davis at a cost of $75,000. This increased the total acreage to 459 acres. Four 1 1/2 acre lots and one 16 acre lot was sold to help finance the new purchase, leaving the camp at its present size of 437 acres.
In 1975, John Burgreen left and his position was filled by Ray Ketchum. The kitchen in Asbury Lodge was remodeled and some of the storage rooms were eliminated to enlarge the walk-in cooler and walk in freezer . Two rooms were added on the back porch to house the summer staff . Porches and new steps were installed on the front of the cabins.
In 1976, a well was drilled in the outpost area for water supply for campers using that area.In 1977, a combination restroom and storage building was built in the outpost area (lovingly known as “The Golden Throne”) The Golden Throne was torn down in 1995. Fire destroyed the lodge in the Georgia Woods area.
In 1978, the pole barn was constructed to house maintenance equipment. Epworth Lodge was remodeled for better winter usage. Ceilings were installed and insulated in dorms, dining room walls removed and replaced with siding, insulation, and paneling. This was the last summer Dick Robertson served as summer program director. Sue Hawkins Harden came on board and was trained to take over the position.
For those who visit Asbury, a large detailed map of the camp is on the wall of the dining room in Asbury Lodge. This was drawn up in 1982, and we gratefully acknowledge the labors of Ron Etling for this masterpiece.