a brief historical sketch of ..........
Summertime campmeetings have been a part of evangelical movements throughout the Lehigh Valley dating back to the early 1800's. The first Allentown area campmeeting was held on the property of General Henry Mertz in 1838. This locale was close to the place where the first church was established and erected here in Allentown. During the oncoming years the Evangelical Church conducted campmeetings in varied locations surrounding the city. One of the early spots was located at a grove northeast of Catasaqua just across the borough line.
Since the campmeetings endured such favorable responses, a feeling prevailed that the Evangelical Church should find a permanent location under the ownership of the denomination. Presiding Elder Frank E. Erdman appointed a committee to conduct a survey and feasibility study resulting in teh procurement of the present south mountain site for Waldheim. The final action was authorized at a meeting in Allentown, Bethany E.C. Church on September 12, 1904. The original park was incorporated as the Evangelical Congregational Waldheim Association with approximately 20,000 stockholders. The Association business was structured to be conducted by a Board of 17 directors which are elected at the annual Stockholder's meeting. The first President of the Board was Llewellyn H. Mertz, the grandson of General Henry Mertz. Llewellyn continued in that office for a quarter of a century. The criterior for location selection was:
1) Easy access to and from the city of Allentown.
2) Accessabillity to the railroad.
3) Good wells
This property was the only one that met the standards upon which the committee agreed. Hearty singing and enthusiastic preaching were the key ingredients for a "good" campmeeting. In the early years, each summer would see some two dozen campmeetings across the United Evangelical territories. In the Eastern Conference three campmeetings survived that era including Waldheim; the other two being Rosedale, Reading Pa and the campmeeting at Herndon, Pa. Portable tents and temporary clapboard preaching stands were trademarks of the early campmeetings ranging from Pennsylvania to Oregon. The trend began to shift toward more permanent groves which were purchased, developed and maintained by Campmeeting Association Stockholders for the use of the church. Within very recent years a fourth campmeeting has been developing in the southwestern region of the Eastern Conference known as the Susquehanna Campmeeting.
Check out the that 69 news did about Waldheim Park History!
ALLENTOWN, Pa. - The morning of Tuesday, August 11, 2015 dawned gray and wet over the Lehigh Valley, hardly weather for the outdoor band concert that Waldheim Park, a religious retreat spawned on Allentown’s south side in 1904, had planned.
That evening’s event was to be a special one, the 100th anniversary concert by the Allentown Band, to be played in the park’s wooden tabernacle. And as one of the park’s officials later confessed (she was certainly not the only one), she had been praying that the weather would clear. Gradually, in fits and starts, it did. By 6:00 that evening, an hour before the concert’s scheduled start at 7:00, the rains had ceased, clouds had crumbled and the sun was slowly setting in a deep, azure blue sky.
A long line of cars stretched out to the park’s entrance. Guided by Waldheim’s volunteers, the attendees parked and walked up to the tabernacle. As they did they passed some of the vintage cottages, some decked out in bright colors that reflect Waldheim’s heritage as a summer camp meeting site. It was not long before every seat was taken, and lawn chairs blossomed along its edges.
Then a crowd that included the young and the not so young was to spend the next several hours listening to music that ranged from opera arias by Puccini and Bizet to a spirited version of the hymn the Old Rugged Cross. When it was over, the audience filed out in the darkness, a string of red tail lights marking their passing. Others waited out the crowd at the refreshment stand with a dish of warm apple dumplings and vanilla ice cream. The end, some might say, of a perfect day.
Waldheim Park was a product of a national movement that blossomed in America in the 19th century. The Methodist Church had a tradition of camp meeting places where they could gather before they had established churches. And it persisted even after churches were built. In 1869 the Methodist Camp Meeting Association created one of the best known and most popular camp meetings sites at Ocean Grove, N.J., today a seaside community at the north Jersey shore where services are still held. It boasts one of the largest communities of lovingly restored Victorian homes in the nation.
In the Pennsylvania-German Lehigh Valley, this revival movement was manifested by the creation of the Evangelical Association. Out of this grew the United Evangelical Congregational Church. In Allentown in the early 20th century, the denomination had many churches, among them Bethany U.E. Church at 6th and Oak Streets.
It was there on September 12, 1904 that the idea of Waldheim was first born. Camp meeting had been held at Beulah Park in Rittersville, a trolley car ride between Allentown and Bethlehem.
But church elders had grown uncomfortable with it. Perhaps in part it was the closeness to Central Park, then the region’s amusement center. Along with rides it offered beer drinking and vaudeville acts. These were things church leaders felt offered temptations that were too worldly. They wanted a place, they said, “where the sale of intoxicating drinks, dancing and theatrical performances shall be forever forbidden.”
That September day, the search committee announced its results. A property near the village of Mountainville, part of the old Charles Detwieler farm, seemed ideal. It was owned by David S. Menges, who had recently developed the property that included a picnic ground and former iron ore pit that had been turned into a pond. Menges called it Manganese Park, and had hoped that since the Macungie line ran by it, folks would want to settle there on the building lots he was offering. But apparently most people did not want to live out in what was then considered an isolated part of the region.
Menges decided that his best option was to sell the property. The church committee approached him and offered $5,500 for the site. Menges counted with an offer to sell for $6,000. The church formed a joint stock company with shares of $10 each and the purchase was made.
What to name the new property became a question. The first choice was Woodlawn. But at the next meeting the pastor Rev. J.H. Heisler announced that there was already a Woodlawn Picnic Grove nearby, so he proposed the name of Waldheim, was seconded by E. J. Rapp and gladly accepted by the committee.
Opening day for Waldheim was August 2, 1905. That day the road was full of buggies carrying men in high starched collars and women in long skirts. Trolleys did a brisk business, charging 5 cents a ride from Allentown, 10 cents from Bethlehem. And Milton Flory made a particular splash by arriving in his sporty new automobile.
But worship was the object and U.E. Bishop W.F. Heil gave the dedication. “To the worship of God belongs the choice of Waldheim” he noted, “if the purpose, the purpose for which it is to be dedicated is to be realized. That He may always be accorded His place by the management and the people who worship here is, I trust the prayer of all.”
Over the next 10 years Waldheim saw a number of changes. Dynamite was used to do away with particularly large boulders. In 1907 the first tabernacle was built. It was 100 feet in diameter. It was apparently based on a design from the popular Mt. Gretna Resort in Lebanon Valley and was built at a cost of $3,000.
The tabernacle was to survive until 1994 when a blizzard load of snow caused its roof to collapse. A new one of wood in a similar design graces the same spot today. The first cabins came in 1908, and by 1910 streets and cabin lots were laid out. Some have year-round residents. A pool replaced the ore pit in 1957. Despite these changes 21st century Waldheim remains true to itself.
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Is there a future for the campmeeting? Where does Waldheim Park stand in relationship to that future? The Board of Directors of the Waldheim Campmeeting Association committed themselves to do whatever God has in store for them to do via stockholders, cottage owners and many lives which have been touched through its ministry. The Board of Directors were resolved not to incur financial debt in order to rebuild the All New Tabernacle. We prayed and trusted the Lord to provide the physical needs of the camp, if He wanted this ministry to continue. The manner in which these provisions for needed funds, for the many details in this venture, for the tireless hours invested in the seemingly endless contacts which had to be made (i.e., the township permits and regulations), the removal of the former debris, the initial plans for rebuilding, the work of our Architect - Frank L. Geho (whose roots trace back to Allentown, Trinity E.C. Church) and General Contractor - J.P. Lamb, the coordinating efforts of the sub-contractors, planning for the auditorium floor, and the seating needs, etc., etc. All of these arrangements and many more ended up fitting together like a jigsaw puzzle which only served to convince and affirm each Board member and many concerned Christians that God has a great future for Waldheim.
Prepared by: The Rev. Glenn A. Miller for the dedication of the new Waldheim Tabernacle on June 25, 1995.
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