A Brief History of

Eaton Rapids Campmeeting,

Eaton Rapids, Michigan

The first meeting of the Lansing District Camp Meeting Association, now known as Eaton Rapids Campmeeting, was held at the Lansing fair grounds June 13-21, 1885. At this meeting, it was decided to purchase 33 acres on the banks of the Grand River, in Eaton Rapids, Michigan, for the cost of $900 as the permanent home for the camp meeting association. By March of 1886 the ground had been cleared, fenced, and buildings had begun to spring up. By opening day, June 24, 1886, a Tabernacle, Entrance gate and office, the first boarding house and several cottages were complete. Tents were brought in to rent for $4 per week. Meals were available for 25 or 35 cents and it cost $5 per week to stay in the hotel. Entrance fees were charged for each person entering the grounds at a cost of 10 cents per person per day, or 50 cents for the whole week. The first year the income from all sources was $4,351.83

The next year a dormitory was, ready for occupancy with thirteen first floor rooms (four in a room), and two large chambers on the second floor, which could accommodate 25 to 30 persons.

By 1887, Eaton Rapids Campmeeting, which was located at the end of a country lane, had grown and was known as the “Forest City.’ Busses met the daily trains, and would transport a passenger for a dime. From time to time, a ferry operated across the river, saving the long drive to the campgrounds. A colorful excursion boat, the Stirling, made the trip up river several times daily, docking at the foot of Epworth Road (now Chapel Road), where provision was made for the purchase of entrance tickets.

By 1900, Grace Hotel, built, at a cost of $400 was open for business. It greatly increased the kitchen-dining room complex, but added so few rooms that in 1905 an annex was built on each end, more than doubling its capacity. With 64 beds, it could now accommodate 128 adults with extra cots free for children. The visiting bishops, sometimes as many as five or six, were accustomed to staying with the Callens in the Rio Vista cottage, which later became known as ‘the Bishops’ Cottage.’

A major step was taken in 1912 when a separate two-story dining hall was built to serve 250 at a sitting. Thirty by 100 feet with an attached kitchen, its second floor was designed for all the dining room help that had previously occupied the upstairs of the dormitory. This freed the main floor of the hotel, which had previously served as kitchen and dining room, making it possible to add another sixteen sleeping rooms.

Cottages had been built, a few each year, until there were more than 80. Some of the occupants had their own transportation, but it was much simpler to buy things on the grounds than to hitch up and make the trip into town. Thus, the grocery business with fresh milk each morning and an icehouse with its summer supply cut from the pure ice of the Grand River brought all necessary services to ERC. In addition, two deliveries of mail were made daily, laundry was picked up and delivered three times a week, and even a barber’s cottage provided needed services. Horses were cared for in the barn adjacent to the corral, (at the site of the present ball field), at local livery prices. There were bathhouses, located on the river, allowed one to bathe or swim on the hot summer days, which made the pitcher-and-bowl baths of the hotels and cottages bearable.

In the beginning Eaton Rapids Camp saw itself as a part of the National Camp Meeting Association and turned to that body for its platform speakers. Before long, however, it became apparent that Eaton Rapids Camp was going to be able to provide its own momentum, draw its own crowds.

With the change to ‘Michigan State Holiness Camp Meeting Association’ came other changes as well. Local ties, particularly with the city of Eaton Rapids through the many local trustees and businessmen and the pastors of the Methodist Church, remained strong. Yet, the wider ministry of the camp emerged. A tally of the entries in the gate registry for 1895 showed solid support from Lansing, Jackson, Grand Rapids and even Detroit and the many smaller surrounding towns. An astonishing number of entries from contiguous states and quite a number from coastal states were also revealed.

Only a few of the men who wove their ministry into the life of the camp over the years can be mentioned here.  Joseph H. Smith left his stamp on three generations.  M. C. B. Mason, Secretary of the Freedman’s Aid Society, one of the most representative colored ministers of the South, returned repeatedly whenever he had the date free. C. W. Winchester and Henry Clay Morrison were frequently co-workers in the early 1900’s, some of them speaking from this platform over a span of thirty years In 1905, Iva Vennard had come as leader of the young people. With her winsome manner, her rich contralto voice, her guitar, but most of all her stirring, earnest message, she won their hearts for Christ. Her ministry was so exceptionally fruitful that year after year she returned

The camp was still largely under the leadership of charter members, with sons and daughters nurtured in the teaching and experience of holiness, growing up to provide a second and third generation of leadership. George Bennard came often, singing and preaching, sharing his not-yet-in-print songs, “The Old Rugged Cross,” “Pentecostal Fire,” and many others.

The first tabernacle, even with extensions, had long been inadequate. On June 2, 1916 the trustees received from Dr. Callen a gift of $2,500 towards a new tabernacle as a memorial to his wife. On July 29, just 57 days later, Seth Fowler presented his bill of $3,662.23 for the completed structure. On Sunday afternoon, ‘all the debt raised,’ and Joseph H. Smith preached the dedicatory sermon.

The delightful old excursion boat has long since ceased to make its run. Gate admission has been discontinued. The corral fell into disuse as the riverbanks began to fill with cars. Bathhouses decayed and were not replaced as the river grew more murky and swimming less attractive. New young families have come, and the camp adapted the English Cottage into a nursery, doubled in size, and furnished for the care of the youngest children.  Although still named the English Memorial Nursery, a new building was constructed in place of the original structure in 2014.

Young people light up the night with their campfire services at the Hahn Cross. The Galilean service has become a lovely part of the Camp’s life. Epworth Chapel and the dormitory-store have yielded to the wrecking bar, while Peace Chapel and the Snack Shop taken their place.

Throughout the years, generous gifts have made possible major changes in design, and the upgrading of the many original structures still standing on the camp grounds today.  For instance, in 2012 a cottage was given to the Association, and renovations were made to it.  It was renamed the Holley Memorial Museum and Hospitality House.  In addition, new buildings have been built to house the Children and Youth Programs. A bookstore, pavilion with rest rooms and expanded camping area for large RVs are just a few of the more modern facilities on the grounds.

It would be possible to measure what the buildings and grounds of Eaton Rapids Camp are worth, however the more important dimension, that for which the camp was founded, is clearly immeasurable. Thousands of people, from all over the world, have found Christ because of this camp. Preachers have been true to the apostolic message and have preached with power because they found the Holy Spirit real at these altars. Lay men and women have been freed to be what God intended and have retuned home carrying a new creative spirit into all their relationships in church and community.

These intangibles, difficult as they are to assess, are what Eaton Rapids Camp is all about. In this day when the movement of the Holy Spirit is breaking out in unlikely places all over the world, we thank God for any way we have been used in seeding this New Life. We stand on tiptoe waiting on what God will do among us.


Daily: 9:00 am Bible Study
Daily: 10:30 am
Daily: 7:00 pm


1707 Grand River Dr
Eaton Rapids, MI 48827-0074

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