Epworth Park, or the “Garden of Oaks”, was established in 1870 as a Methodist Camp Ground — a place for spiritual fellowship, instruction, and renewal.
The Camp Meetings were immediately successful, and by the year 1875 the weekend crowds arriving by horse-drawn wagons and trains often numbered 10,000 to 15,000. Along with the popularity and success of the Camp Meetings came the need for meeting accommodations and housing for the attendees. The cottages were built between 1870 and 1900, by people from nearby towns, as a weekend retreat from city life. A hotel was also built during this time, near the current site of the concession stand, which provided inexpensive room and board for the growing number of guests. The auditorium was built around this time, on its present site, and the lake was also constructed, adding to the beauty of the park, and providing water activities such as swimming and boating.
In the early 1900's, the Camp Meetings were replaced by the Chautauqua movement — a huge, national movement which began at the Methodist retreat on Chautauqua Lake, New York. The Chautauqua assemblies were grand affairs, attracting the most famous actors, musicians, and lecturers of the time. The roster of talent was a “Who's Who” list, including William Jennings Bryan, and many others. The Chautauqua movement reached its peak in the mid-1920's, but by the 1950's, it was replaced by new, more modern forms of entertainment. Today, the park celebrates the Chautauqua Homecoming during the second weekend in July. All are invited to come and share in the fun and fellowship reminiscent of days gone by!
One of the most beloved landmarks of the park was the three story hotel (pictured on the left) that overlooked the lake! Sadly, the hotel fell into disrepair and was demolished in 1961.
Until 2018, the Methodist Church East Ohio Conference owned the entire park, including the land the cottages were built on, the ampitheater/chapel, the Epworth Center, the lake, and the land on the south side of the lake -- some 28 acres in total.
The church was interested in divesting itself of the park, except the Epworth Center, and offered to sell the remaining land to cottage owners and the Village of Bethesda. The Village agreed to purchase the south-side property and the lake and has built a top-notch recreational area with playground equipment and shelters.
The cottage owners organized and created a certified homeowners association that covers the land the cottages reside on, the community cottage, the ampitheater, the oak grove, and the land down to the lake shore.
Epworth Park continues today to provide a place of peace, solitude, and family. Cottages are owned primarily by folks, mostly retirees, who are originally or currently from the Upper Ohio Valley.
Cottages are passed down generation to generation by families who have deep roots and fond memories growing up and visiting their relatives during the summer. Some are purchased by those who grew up in the area and attended church camp at the park while a youth. Others just stumble upon the park while visiting during Chautauqua Homecoming Days and are charmed by it's qaintness and quiesce.