History of Acton Retreat Center

In 1898 a group of Methodist people within the bounds of what was then the Lebanon District of the Methodist Episcopal Church South met in the tiny village of Acton, Kentucky, for the purpose of holding a brush arbor camp meeting revival. Camp Acton, now known as the Acton Retreat Center, is a five acre facility now owned and operated by the Columbia District of the United Methodist Church.

In April 1900, the five acres of land were purchased from W.F. Hogan and wife Emma, for $115.00 by the Trustees of the Mannsville Circuit of the Lebanon District of the Methodist Church, South with the stipulation that it be kept maintained for the ministry and membership of the Methodist Church, South. The Camp has lived through a revolution. Some bits of history gleaned from an old minute book dating back to 1912 reveal something of the changing times Camp Acton has experienced.

Brush arbor meetings

A brush arbor meeting was when the people of the community would go out and build a frame and then they would cut the bushes to make a roof over the seating area to shade the people and to protect them from the dew or even a light rain at night. They’d cut mostly sassafras bushes and pile them on top of this built frame. They had services most of the day and into the night. Most of the time they would split logs to make seats as chairs weren’t available. In 1899, a year after that first camp meeting at Acton, the original tabernacle was built.

Early trustees who voted to build the original tabernacle

Early Trustees who voted to build the original tabernacle included such prominent Taylor County names as Phillips, Warrens, Dabney, Peterson, Cox, Puryear, and Eads. The first clergy mentioned in connection with Camp Acton were the Reverends Rouse and Johnson.

In planning for early camp meetings, the Trustees had several important positions of responsibility to fill. A hotel keeper had to be employed annually because many persons moved in on the campsite for the duration of the services. A stable keeper was important to attend to the horses. The gate keeper collected fees from those entering the grounds.

Lots given free to those who would build cottages

From the1912 minutes recorded in the Journal of Camp Ground Committee Meetings, we find that lots were given free until 1920 to anyone who would build a cottage, provided they moved to the campground. If not, their cottage would be rented by the committee and the rent would go to the campground. At the end of 1920, they would pay another $5.00 and their lease would be extended to 1930. In 1916, it was ordered that the hotel keeper sell nothing but sandwiches, ice cream and lemonade on Sundays, and to charge $5.00 board for the whole 10 days, or 35 cents per single meal. In 1917, payments were made, $115 for preacher, $60 for song leader, and $10 for pianist. That year had a hotel income of $104.48.

Camp Acton became smoke free in 1919

In 1919, on motion it was ordered to place No Smoking posters over the grounds. Discarded cigarettes on the grassy lawn of Camp Acton remain a rarity to this day. Motion was also made and carried to pay $25 to missions, and if they had it to spare, $50 to missions.

Gate fee discontinued under leadership of Dr. L.R. McDonald

n 1920, a gate fee of 15 cents per person on Saturday night and Sundays was initiated. The gate fee for automobiles was 25 cents. The charge was $8.00 for boarding for the ten days, which included a room plus three fine meals a day. Single meals could be bought for 50 cents. Total collections for that year were $927.67, total expenses were $786.30, $141.37 net profit. Some of the noted expenses were: hauling preacher, $8; keeping the gates, $6; preacher, $200; singer and his wife, $150; whitewash brushes $2.50; and one set bedsprings, $4.50; and to missions, $25. The gate fee proved to be a hardship in later depression days. Under the leadership of Dr. L. R. McDonald, who was then the pastor at Mannville, the gate fee was discontinued.

The minutes from July 1921 tells that the committee would see about building a new tabernacle. A $400.00 note was signed by all on the committee to construct the present tabernacle measuring 90 x 56 feet. In 1951, motion passed to have concrete floor in tabernacle and pay 30 cents per foot, and borrow money for this.

Electricity came to Camp Acton in 1930s

It was in the 1930’s that electricity for Camp Acton was first discussed by the Board of Trustees. Bert Cox provided electric lights with a small gas-driven generator. R.E.A. was provided around 1940. Significant to today’s Taylor County residents is the fact that one Samuel Phillips was paid a dollar for whitewashing trees in August of 1939.

In 1932 at a committee meeting called to get finance reports and settle expenses, it was reported that the hotel lacked $32.85 paying expenses, and the gate receipts also failed to meet expenses. Motion passed to have a county singing at the campground after the close of camp meeting in 1933.

Several twentieth century evangelists participated in Camp Acton revivals. H.C. Morrison and Uncle Bud Robinson were among the more prominent ones. Dr. Harry Denman, World Evangelist for our Methodist Board of Evangelism, preached in 1948, and Dr. L.R. McDonald was hired to preach in the mornings.

E. Clay Milby led singing; Miss Irene Yowell played piano

E. Clay Milby was in charge of music for many years, with Miss Irene Yowell at the piano. Several United Methodist Bishops have graced Acton’s halls with their pulpit oratory.

A revival meeting has been held on the camp ground annually, since 1898, with the exception of 1942. Minutes of that May 1942 committee meeting tells “after some discussion of the general conditions because of the war, that owen to the rationing of sugar and automobile tires and the threatening of rationing gas, that we call the meeting off this year provided the approval of our Dist. Superintendent, V.P. Henry”.

A former student at Acton School tells of the excitement that ran through the school during the Camp Acton Revival meetings. The school was located at the corner of the property on the side toward Hwy. 70. School began in July in those days, and during the actual revival services, classes were dismissed. In the days leading up to the camp meetings much in way of exciting preparation took place on the grounds. This made it difficult for the teacher to keep the pupils’ attention. A box of Cracker Jacks or ice cream from the confectionery at Camp Acton’s gate were taste treats the children at Acton School were allowed to enjoy if they had 5 cents.

Hotel stood where Perkins Retreat House stands now

Another person who lived near Acton as a child tells of the wonderful memories she has of Camp Meeting. For several years, her parents ran the hotel and served meals in the dining room. This would’ve been where the Perkins Retreat House now stands. There were big crowds who came for meals. Two wells from which they got water were covered with concrete tops in 1920. There were three gates to pay to get in, and wagons and teams used a gate on the backside of the grounds. She remembers getting her hand stamped at the gate, and then being able to go in and out all day without additional charge. The children liked that privilege, and the girls would sometimes slip out and meet the boys in the parking lot! It was always a fun time playing with friends and family.

There were morning services for the children before the Camp Meeting services held in the afternoon and night. The preacher got to stay in a nicer cabin (cracks were covered). It was a thrill when Papa would be working in the fields and would need her and her siblings to load the items they’d need for the week onto a wagon and take them on to the camp ground to set up their cabin. The cabins were not furnished, and the children would sleep on the floor. She remembers straw and sawdust being on the tabernacle floor, and thought the seats had backs at that time.

Interest in Camp Acton revived in 1960s

Through the years, in the 1940’s-1950’s, buildings became run-down and interest in the camp waned and almost died, although the annual Camp Meeting continued to be held. In about 1960, interest increased, the place was cleaned up, some building repairs were made and the Cox Lodge, in honor of George A. Cox was built. Camp Acton was used more for church meetings, camps and family reunions. The Trustees authorized the sale of the school lot, in 1960, to Daniel White for $5,000 with the following restrictions: the property could not be sold to any other denomination for the purpose of establishing a place of worship, no outside toilets would be on the site, and property would not be used for a junkyard.

Change in management under District Superintendent Rual Perkins

The Camp was maintained and operated by a board of local lay men and Taylor County ministers until 1967 when a District Conference voted that the property be held in trust by the Board of Trustees of the Campbellsville District. This was done when Dr. Rual T. Perkins was Superintendent of the Campbellsville District.

The camp ground was used for children/ youth camps in the late 1960’s led by Rev. Bill Price, Rev. Glen Sowards and wife, Charlotte, and then by Rev. Bill Davenport, and his wife Sharon. The UMC bought sand for a beach and built a small dock which extended into the small lake located on the property. Though there were no health problems, as a precautionary measure, the facility was later closed by the Health and Fire Depts. for use as a camp. In 1980, churches in the area had a Cooperative Vacation Bible School on the grounds with an attendance of over 140 children and adults, and it was still used for day camps.

UMW meeting prompted women to decide to repair camp

In 1972, Emilene Milby was the District UMW President. In August of that year a District Spiritual Life Retreat was held at Camp Acton. It was a wonderful experience and during that retreat, the women agreed that they could do some repair work on the buildings to make the facility more comfortable and pleasant. With the help of ladies across the district, they began working on various projects. Drywall was put on ceilings of the remaining cabins, and vinyl rugs placed on the floors.

They painted and cleaned and fixed a prayer room with a kneeling rail and worship center. Eight rooms and the hall in what is now the Milby Building were paneled, the ceiling drywalled, vinyl was laid on the floors and new storm windows and doors were installed. Many other things were bought and done at Camp Acton by Emilene and the UMW. Love offerings and gifts were given. Many remember the hundreds of cakes Emilene baked, beginning with paying the indebtedness on Cox Lodge and continuing with the Harvest Festivals.

First UMW cookbook published in 1974

The first UMW district cookbook was compiled and published in 1974 with all profits to be used on Camp Acton. A second cookbook was published in 1994 when Janet (Gabehart) Bradley was the District UMW President. Approximately 17,500 cookbooks have been sold over the years! Emilene Milby was a faithful self-appointed promoter of the possibilities of Camp Acton. She served as chairperson of the Acton Board of Directors, and as a member and secretary of the Board for many years, and also as the Acton Retreat Coordinator on the UMW district mission team from 1972 until her death. Janet has served in that capacity since 2003.

In about 1984-85, the Acton Board began to discuss changing the image and ministry of Camp Acton to meet the needs of a new day. Their vision was for updated facilities, building sleeping rooms, renovating the tabernacle, adding a small retreat house and a worshipful Prayer Room. They wanted to make the facilities more comfortable while retaining the historic significance of the place.

Name changed to ‘Acton Retreat Center’ in 1986

In 1986, the name was changed to “Acton Retreat Center” and under the able leadership of Dr. Rual T. Perkins a 3-year building and renovation plan was begun. Thanks to the generosity and hard work of the folks in the then Campbellsville District, these were completed debt-free: The Cox Annex and deck were built; Perkins Retreat House established; Phillips Prayer Chapel named and renovated; Tabernacle was repaired and named L.R. McDonald Tabernacle in honor of Dr. Mac who served as the District Superintendent and President of Lindsey Wilson College; the Milby Activities Building, a multi-purpose building named in honor of Emilene Milby who was a great supporter; ceiling fans were installed in the tabernacle and the Conference Room and rest rooms built onto the McDonald Tabernacle. The drive through road, parking areas, and the drive at the caretaker’s house were blacktopped in July 1995.

The Acton Retreat Center continues to serve.

The Acton Retreat Center continues to serve. Family reunions are still held there, but church groups all across our conference, and well as other groups, have discovered Camp Acton! The Campbellsville Emmaus Community has used the camp ground each year from 1998 until 2013 with many people experiencing the Emmaus Walk. Several hundred other persons have volunteered in leadership and servant roles during those Walks. The tabernacle has been replaced with a a new “tabernacle”, but it is still a sacred place to many people because of what happened in years past. “Cox Lodge” has been remodeled and other buildings removed.The Acton Retreat Center has a rich heritage and a still has a promising future.

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