The history of Camp Akita can be traced to a February 1948 gift of 160 acres of
Hocking County ravines, valleys, and hillsides from John Galbreath made in
memory of his wife, Helen. This gift helped realize a dream that Dr.
Burkhart, First Community Church Senior Minister, and others in the
congregation had for a camp and spiritual retreat. At the church annual
meeting in May of 1948, the name Akita was chosen, from the Sioux Indian word meaning searcher.
Construction began in the fall of 1948 and included building a lodge, dining
hall, and dam for the 4.5-acre lake. Along the way, several obstacles were
overcome, including gaining an easement for access to the property from the
nearest road. This involved a creative negotiation with a neighboring farmer,
with part of the payment being made in the form of a hard-to-come-by post-WWII farm tractor. Donations came from many
sources, including a walk-in refrigerator from The Kroger Company, rowboats from
the Outdoor Store, and many other gifts from Couples Circles and Guild
Groups. The original cost of construction was $150,000.
On May 22, 1949 there was a Service of Dedication, and the first group of 120
high school campers arrived shortly thereafter.
Over the years, the physical size of Akita grew, along with the number of
campers. Many campers felt moved to give something back to Akita. In
1955, 49 teenage campers from the Boy’s Industrial School in nearby Lancaster, Ohio, spent a
week at Akita, with a group of them returning the following Spring to donate
their time and materials to build a Director’s Cabin (later known as Sky Valley).
In 1959, 70 acres of adjoining land, now called Rock Stalls, was acquired for $7,000. The owner
rejected a substantially higher offer from a developer wanting to build
cottages along the rim of the property’s canyon, due in large part to the owner
seeing what a positive experience Akita was having on its campers. The
contract was held with a $30 personal check until the balance of the funding
could be approved.
The last major expansion in the size of Akita came in 1962, with an additional
gift of 445 acres by John Galbreath. One notable gift that still signals
today’s campers was a steam locomotive bell salvaged from a Chesapeake &
Ohio Rail locomotive, donated to the camp by the Railroad Community Service
Committee in July of 1964. It is still rung many times each day to call
campers to meals or to signal activities.
In 1974 a major renovation of the main camp was begun, adding a two-story addition with sleeping areas for 80 people.
In 1999, a 4.5-million-dollar re-creation of the main lodge and cabins established the amazing facilities that our campers enjoy today. The summer camp programming has seen extreme growth over the years, from around 300 campers in 1985 to nearly 1,900 in 2006, and now has one of the most exciting summer camp programs in the country. The current buildings might look different to campers of 25 or 50 years ago, but the spirit and mission haven't changed. The lives of thousands of campers young and old have been touched and blessed by Camp Akita.
The original plaque from 1949 still hangs in the Akita lodge, and its words still ring true:
Akita History information courtesy of Jackie Cherry, First Community Church historian