A Brief History


 

 

 

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!