Around 1950 many of the churches in Northeast Arkansas and Southeast Missouri had thriving young people's groups that cooperated in the Unified Christian Endeavor Rally. They met in rallies quarterly, or possibly monthly. The area covered by the rally was Trumann, Arkansas to Cape Girardeau, Missouri.
Rev. Wilbert Allen had lived on a farm near Greenville, Missouri before moving to Poplar Bluff and still owned the farm in 1950. It is unknown whether the Brosends giving a tract of land near Newburgh, Indiana sparked the idea or if he had already been dreaming of a youth camp in Missouri. But shortly after the Brosends gave land for a camp, Rev. Allen approached Ollie Latch with the idea of making his farm into a camp. The camp was near Lake Wappapello. Business men in St. Louis wanted to buy the land because of its proximity to the lake, but he did not want to sell it to them for their purposes. He wanted General Baptists to have the use of it.
The original tract of land had somewhat over eighty acres in it, probably about eighty-five acres. A small tract had been deeded off to a rural school and adjacent to it another tract had been deeded off to a General Baptist church. Across the road from the school Rev. Allen had built a small cabin. No other buildings were on the land. The school was still open in 1950, and evidently, the deed did not have a reversion clause.
It seems that the church deed did have a reversion clause, and the church was no longer having services. With the coming of the lake, people were forced out of the area, and the church had died. For a while religious services were held there once a year in order to hold the property.
Rev. Allen wanted to keep five acres on one corner of the property on which the cabin was built. He did not feel able to make a direct gift of the entire tract which with the three small tracts taken off of it would now be about seventy-seven acres. He offered to sell it for $1750.00. This sparked the interest of the Unified Christian Endeavor Rally, and they began to raise money. They had raised almost one thousand dollars by the time of the Women's Missionary Conference. The Conference voted to give the group seven hundred and fifty dollars thus guaranteeing money to purchase the property.
The September 14, 1950 issue of the Messenger carried the following story. Missouri Campground Purchase Now Assured Women's Missionary Convention votes seven hundred and fifty dollars to complete purchase price. Plans being made for Religious Education Board to take over deeds and titles.
The Women's Missionary Conference while in session at Ft. Branch, Indiana, in a completely unexpected move, voted to give seven hundred and fifty dollars toward the purchase of the campground which Missouri and Arkansas General Baptists have been working to acquire. This amount, together with what is in the hands of the committee assures the purchase of the plot. The committee reported last week a sum over eight hundred dollars and more is yet to come in from various Endeavors and Sunday Schools.
Estimates to be made as quickly as possible, estimates of what it will take to erect the camp and put it into operation will be given through the paper. We have only begun, for the cost of erection will be much more than the price of the land. While we wait for the estimates to be made, let us continue to send in gifts for the work. The churches, Sunday Schools, and Christian Endeavor of Missouri and Arkansas should now arise with renewed vigor to get this job done as soon as possible. Many rural churches should drive hard for their gifts during the fall season. Don't wait for someone to ask you for another hundred dollars. Let's go and get it.
Why R. E. Board Title? Someone has asked why the Religious Education Board would be used to take title for the property. The answer is two fold. First, this is within the province of that board, an arm of the General Association, the body to which we really want the property to belong. Second, the Religious Education Board is incorporated as a benevolent organization, non-profit, and therefore not subject to taxation. If the Board of Publications should take title, as some suggested, the property would become taxable, for under Missouri law, we are subject to taxation.
What Use the Land? For church youth camps, for conventions, for associations, for Leadership Conference work, for Sunday School, church, and C. E. outings, and for any other religious purposes which the Board and committee may assign to it. There is now, on a corner of the land, an old General Baptist church. It is in a very sad state of repair, but for a very small sum it can be made useable for a temporary chapel. Every General Baptist in the whole area should feel a keen interest in this matter and should take a hand immediately.
The land now belongs to us. Let us take as our motto that ancient resolution of the Hebrews, "Let us rise up and build."
The Oct. 12, 1950 issue of the Messenger reported the transfer of deeds for the property. The original committee appointed by the Christian Endeavor Rally to raise money for the campground consisted of three persons. C. R. Richardson and Edwin Runyon were two of them. The third one is uncertain at this point, but it is believed that it was Clive Cooper. After the purchase the committee to develop the committee was enlarged to twelve.
There was a report on May 24, 1951 of an organizational meeting of the Campground Board on May 16. Not all the names of the new twelve man Board are remembered at this late date. The officers elected were: Edwin Runyon as president, Perry Simpson as vice president, and Willie Schanda as secretary-treasurer. T. R. Tackett was one of the group, and it is thought that Loyd Myers was also. Names of the others are not remembered.
The campground was purchased in 1950, but the first camp was in 1954. Conditions at the first camp were rather primitive.
Missouri did not have a stock law in 1950. Open range prevailed. Cattle and hogs roamed freely, particularly in the wooded lands of the Ozarks. If one planted a crop in a field, it was his responsibility to fence that field to keep out the animals which roamed freely outside. Wild hogs were not so plentiful around Camp Allen and probably would not have done a great deal of damage if a few of them came onto the property. But it was deemed wise to keep out the cattle if possible. So one of the first projects was to string a barbed wire fence around the property.
A small lake was planned to add beauty to the campground. An ideal place was found for such a lake. A General Baptist deacon, Harvey Avery, owned some earth moving equipment which he used without charge to the camp to build a dam in order to make the lake. The committee was taken by surprise by the storm of disapproval by church people about the lake. They imagined the purpose of the lake was for an orgy of mixed bathing at the camp. For a while it appeared this outcry might destroy the chances of establishing a camp. But God took care of the situation quite easily. He sent a heavy rain which washed out a section of the dam before the earth got set well enough to hold the water. The lake was left in disrepair until recent years when it again could be build without controversy.
In 1950 a small spring of water was on the southwest corner of the campground, but it had not been cleaned out for a number of years. Therefore the flow was very slight. It would never have furnished enough water for the camp even if the State Health Department had allowed it to be used. So an early project was to drill a well on the campground. One was drilled not far from the dining hall, but there was fine sand in the water, and it never did clear up. Water had to be hauled for the first camp. Rev. Clifton Trentham furnished the water hauling trucks.
In the early days of construction Edwin Runyon was telling a group of some of the plans and anticipated expenses. He had explained something about the building of the tabernacle and then went on to say that on top of that (meaning in addition to that) we needed to dig a well. The expression struck C. R. Richardson as rather funny. He quipped that it was the first time he had ever heard of drilling a well on top of a building.
The little school near the campground consolidated with another district. The property was put up for auction, and the camp bought it. Thus not only did they have a useable classroom, but they also had a very good well of water.
Why was the old tabernacle built where it was? It is on the old church ground. When the old church was torn down, the land would probably have legally reverted back to the tract which now was owned by the Camp Board. But for added protection it was thought best to insure the title by continuing religious services there. Both the camp and the church were General Baptist, so there could be no conflict of interest on that score.
The tabernacle was made eight feet shorter than originally planned. In digging the foundation for the tabernacle, the workmen ran into a grave and had to back off an eight foot section so as not to disturb the grave. Someone had been buried at the corner of the old church. Some of the old timers in the community had some opinions, but no one was ever sure who had been buried there. The grave is near the southeast corner of the tabernacle.
The first camp was conducted under rather primitive conditions. Even the dining hall was not complete. The walls were only up about half of the needed height. In order to have camp, some big tents were rented for sleeping quarters for the campers. But the girls especially could go home with glowing accounts of air conditioning and running water. All that was needed for air conditioning was to raise the tent flaps and let the breeze blow through. The girl's tent had been erected over a slight depression in the ground. One night during the camp a major rainstorm hit the area and water ran off the hill right through the girls' tent. They had their running water, enough that some of their clothes got soaked.