The following is excerpted from the 1986 book, History of the Seventh Day Baptist Church of Shiloh, New Jersey
For many years prior to the building of Jersey Oaks Camp during late 1959 and the early months of 1960, the Shiloh church had been active in a summer Christian camping program. Often times Shiloh cooperated with the New England churches and sent campers as well as staff members to Lewis Camp near Ashaway, Rhode Island. The church also made use of the Shiloh Deer Club’s camp site near Tabernacle, New Jersey. The last time these facilities were used for South Jersey summer camp was in 1959.
On May 3, 1959, B. Frank Harris gave the report of the Permanent Camp Committee. In this report, land belonging to John Fogg was proposed as a site for the Shiloh Seventh Day Baptist Church to build its camp. The 12.4-acre tract is located about 7 miles from Shiloh in an isolated area on the edge of Maskell’s Mill Pond in Lower Alloway’s Creek Township. The deed for this tract of land was recorded in the name of Shiloh church in Salem County on August 6, 1959. There was enthusiasm for building the camp but concerned leadership moved ahead with some fear and trepidation because for several years the church budget had been in the “red.” There was no obvious source of new revenue to reverse this trend, especially with a new financial burden to be borne.
In spite of these concerns, a budget for the camp project was drawn up and approved. Mr. Fogg had agreed to accept payment for the property over a three-year period. Therefore when the annual church canvass for pledges of financial support for the year 1960 was taken in early December, 1959, besides regular pledge forms for the local church budget and Our World Mission giving, there was a second card on which parishioners were asked to pledge over a three-year period for the camp building project.
The original camp budget was as follows:
$12,000…Total to be raised over a 3-year period
Proverbs 29:18a says, “Where there is no vision the people perish.” The converse of this passage was demonstrated when the results of the annual canvass were totaled in December, 1959. The camp budget was over-subscribed and pledges to local and denominational work increased by almost $3,000. Soon the treasurer was giving reports written in black ink even though the church had a larger financial program than ever before!
Through the winter and spring of 1960 there was a standing appointment at 7 a.m. for all able-bodied men at the Maskell’s Mill Pond location. There was brush to be cleared and there were buildings to be built. The plans called for a 30-foot by 60-foot main lodge, which was to include a kitchen, pantry and bedroom for the cook on one end and an all-purpose room on the other with a stone fireplace. An interesting note about this project is that although the building was placed in the middle of the woods, not a tree had to be cut in order to dig and pour the foundation and lay the block walls. (One tree was cut later when it interfered with the overhang of the eaves.
An amazing fact about the Shiloh church was that it had members not only capable of wielding an axe, mattock (grubbing hoe), rake or tractor with loader for brush-clearing, but it also had members with all of the other skills necessary to build the camp. A partial list follows: J. Harold Fogg, Jr., dug the foundation with a back hoe; Gilbert Ferguson set the corners and many others laid cement blocks; experienced carpenter brothers Belford and Daniel (“Ted”) Davis led the many-handed carpentry crew; roofer Howard Scull, Sr., designed the hip roof which were used on all three buildings and he, along with Howard, Jr., was overseer of this part of the project; The Luptons, a family of plumbers three generations strong, took care of the well drilling and plumbing operations; and Edwin Harris, Sr., moved into the lodge during his Easter break from teaching and did the wiring.
Pastor Bond’s annual report for 1959 reads in part, “Camp work bees have been held every Sunday since September 26, 1959—14 consecutive Sundays—with from 20 to 40 men on the job. The people have had a mind to work and God has richly blessed the project.” Not only men appeared on the scene at camp in the early days. Mid-morning and mid-afternoon of each work bee the women came with moral support and the all-important food for break time.
Once the main lodge was completed enthusiasm waned. The congregation intended to build those two ($1,000) frame barracks someday, but some thought tents would be acceptable for the first year. Then Thurman Davis, Chairman of the Camp Building Committee, returned from a trip to Europe. He felt rested and was greatly inspired at how much had been accomplished. The decision was made that since the building of the main lodge had gone so well why not build the two barracks in the same style of cement block with hip roof. With Thurman’s prodding the work crew again caught the vision and both barracks were completed in time for the 1960 camping season.
After only nine months of hard work the church was ready to dedicate the camp on July 2 and 3, 1960. After running a “name the camp” contest, it was voted that the camp be called Jersey Oaks, the name submitted by Jane Harris (Jernoske).
“It is estimated that more than two hundred were present for the Spiritual Dedication on Sabbath and more than four hundred attended the Camp Fellowship day on Sunday.” (Excerpted from Pastor Bond’s annual report for 1960)
Camp Fellowship days have now been held for more than 25 years (updated: 45) They are held on the Sunday before 4th of July and have always included chicken barbecues, covered dish picnic dinners, softball, and other games. There is much fellowship with community as well as church members at these picnics and there is always an abundance of shade for those who wish to sit and talk.
The first year’s camping season commenced soon after Jersey Oaks Camp was dedicated. In July 1960 Bantam Camp for 8- and 9-year-olds was held with Miss Ethel Wilson directing. There were thirty campers enrolled and fifteen of them were from the Shiloh church. Next came Junior Camp for 10-, 11-, and 12-year-olds. That week forty-two attended, sixteen of which were from the Shiloh church, and Pastor Bond directed. The following week the Rev. C. Harmon Dickinson, pastor of the Painfield Seventh Day Baptist Church, directed the teenaged Senior Camp with forty-six campers for the full week and fifty-one on the weekend when the ranks were increased by youth with summer jobs. Seventeen of the full-time campers were Shiloh-ites.
In 1961 the camping program was expanded by adding a day camp called Midget Camp for 6- and 7-year-old children. This first year it was directed by Herbert Saunders, summer assistant pastor of the Shiloh Church.
Although the camp was completed and ready for use for the 1960 camping season, it was years before some considered it to be complete. What could make a ten-year-old boy happier than to spend an entire week without taking a bath? One drawback to the camp in the eyes of some was that it was “rustic.” The only facility for campers to wash up at was an outside sink on the side of the main lodge. There was no running water in either barracks and outhouses were the facilities used to answer calls of nature. In 1967 both barracks had additions which include hot and cold running water, toilets, sinks and showers.
For comparison’s sake it might be interesting to indicate the fees charged for these camps in 1961:
Midget Camp 5 day, day camp …… $3.00
Bantam Camp Wed. supper-Sun. breakfast …… $5.00
Junior Camp Full week, Sun.-Sun. …… $15.00
Senior Camp Full week, Sun.-Sun. …… $15.00
In 1986 the following fees were in force:
Midget Camp 5 day, day camp …… $25.00
Junior Camp Full week, Sun.-Sun. …… $50.00
Senior Camp Full week, Sun.-Sun. …… $50.00
Through the years many people have dedicated their time to working with youth through our camping program. Laymen, thinking it’s part of their job, expect this of the clergy. However, some laymen have taken the call to serve at Jersey Oaks personally. It is often said that an army travels on its stomach. This is also true of a camp and Mrs. Martie Hitchner helped keep those Christian soldiers marching for 18 years ending in 1977 by cooking for the overnight camps. Most pastors are men and since it is expected that they will run the camping program it is not hard to find at least a couple of male counselors to spend nights in the barracks. An exceedingly dedicated Christian lady helped to fill this role for about 12 years in the girls’ barracks. Thankfully, she didn’t stop there! Miss Ethel Wilson directed camps, taught camp classes and led worship services. Toward the end of her tenure as ace female counselor, Ethel let it slip that she didn’t like camping but felt this was a way God had called her to serve. Another active Christian who added spark to the younger children’s camping experience is Mrs. Clara Mulford, who has been directing Midget Camp since 1975.
Any list of camp workers would be incomplete because so many have helped. Mary Ayars and Nancy Davis have provided leadership as Camp Committee Chairmen. Jan Bond, Ruth Cruzan, Dan Cruzan, and Becky Miller are among those who have served as cooks. Ruth Probasco provided health care for several years. Florence Bowden, Charles Harris, Ella Sheppard and Ralph Wendell are a few of those who have led classes. Joan Cruzan, Mary Jane McPherson and many of the pastors who have served churches in the area have directed various camp sessions.
Through the years the names of the camps have changed from time to time. Age requirements have varied, and sometimes weekend retreats have been held to accommodate working teens. Through all of these experiences the name of Christ has gone out through the service of Jersey oaks Camp. This is well-documented in the enrollment figures dating back to Jersey Oaks’ beginning in 1960 when only 48 out of 118 full-time campers were from Shiloh church. It is the church’s prayer that this witness will continue to shine in the years ahead.