History of Camp Akita

“Here we will not only find spiritual renewal, but through the years it can become the church in God’s out-of-doors, where children and young people and those of us who are older can find life’s deeper secret and a faith greater than life.”
— Dr. Roy Burkhart, February 15, 1948

The Beginning

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.

Growth through the years

Sky Valley

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).

Rock Stalls

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.

New land & the camp bell

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.

Lodge expansion

In 1974 a major renovation of the main camp was begun, adding a two-story addition with sleeping areas for 80 people.

Akita Today

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 Camp Akita lodge, and its words still ring true:

Be Silent
Hear the voices of day and night
Be Still
Know thyself
Be Aware
Find the secret

Akita History information courtesy of Jackie Cherry, First Community Church historian