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Posted: 06/24/15

Simpson Park Camp to
celebrate 150 years

Observer Special Writer
      Simpson Park Camp lies still and serene on a mid-June, overcast morning. But Camp Director John Grenfell knows of the hustle and bustle that occurs during an annual Camp Meeting.
       Over the silence of the camp, only the hum of a lawn mower can be heard in the distance. But Grenfell can still hear the sound of hymns, fellowship and prayer that takes over the hush of the camp for almost two weeks every summer.
       From the top of the hill where the camp office sits, Grenfell looks out upon the tiny historic cottages, the 100-and-some year old tabernacle and the not-so-old soccer fields.
       "There's a lot of history here," he says as he glances across the camp.
       Grenfell recalls the days when the camp was the only thing other than corn fields and pine trees sitting at the rural, peaceful corner of Gates and Campground roads. He shares stories of his youth at the camp, when his father parked cars during Camp Meetings, and about the day his dad became a pastor and ministered to the congregation that gathered during Camp Meetings as well. As he reminisces, his storyline changes to the days when he became a Youth Minister at the camp, and how he followed in his father's footsteps and also ministered to the camp as an adult during Camp Meetings and other activities that took place on the grounds.
       "My dad was an interesting guy. He was my hero," Grenfell said. "Like him, I love it here. There is a real sense of God's presence."
       Stories of Simpson Park Camp's annual Camp Meetings span generations for numerous families, such as Grenfell's, as he is one of many who grew there physically and grew there spiritually.
       Stories are sure to be abundant this summer as the camp celebrates their 150th year during their annual Camp Meeting, which will take place from July 24 - Aug. 2.
       The sesquicentennial celebration will kick off with a Homecoming Weekend, beginning Friday evening, July 24. After morning worship on Saturday, a Ladies Tea will be held in the camp's dining hall. A classic car show will run from 1-4 p.m., with children's activities, inflatables, snacks and refreshments. A chicken barbeque will be held before evening worship.
       A homecoming service will be held on Sunday at the Nixon Tabernacle, featuring former camp presidents, a special musical guest and a photo retrospective of the camp's history. The public is invited to join all of the celebrations.
       The weeklong annual Camp Meeting will follow Homecoming Weekend, with four camps being held simultaneously. Camps offered for youth, children and young adults will coincide with Family Camp, offering prayer, fellowship, activities and music at various services during the day and early evening. Numerous guest speakers and musicians will be featured, as well as nightly ice-cream socials.
       As one of the oldest continuously operating camp meeting grounds, Simpson Park Camp is rich with history. The 55 acres on which the camp sits were purchased bit by bit from one of the area's founding families. James Starkweather, a devout Methodist and abolitionist, donated the first 13-1/2 acres to Reverend John Russell, founder of the camp, in 1865. Russell built the first cottage on the property.
       Simpson Park Camp was named in honor of Methodist Bishop Matthew Simpson, who presided over church conferences all over North America, including Romeo, before the camp began. Simpson was also a close friend of Abraham Lincoln and was influential in helping him construct the Emancipation Proclamation. Simpson also delivered the eulogy at Lincoln's burial in Springfield, Illinois.
       Since its birth, the camp continued to expand, with additional acreage purchased on a regular basis from the Starkweathers and only two other families who lived on the property since Starkweather settled there in 1825. In 1895, 4,000 people attended the Sunday afternoon worship service held during the Camp Meeting. Families came from as far as New York and Pennsylvania to attend the camp, some of them staying in tents while others built family cottages that are still standing today. Dormitories and a hotel were eventually erected, as well as other necessary buildings, such as a dining hall, first aid office and a small chapel. The grounds became smoke-free in 1899 and have remained so ever since.
       Seventy-seven buildings, most of which were built in the camp's early years, stand on the property, which also encompasses a large soccer and sports field, a covered picnic area and natural pond. The camp also owns the home that Starkweather built, which is believed to be the oldest home that remains standing in Macomb County. A large barn that was built by one of the subsequent property owners also belongs to the camp.
       Although Tim Throne, chairman of the Board of Directors at Simpson Park Camp, does not share the same lifelong history with the camp that Grenfell does, but he said his children will. This summer marks the 15th year Throne and his family will attend the Camp Meeting and all of the activities that will take place to celebrate the camp's milestone anniversary.
       "Many who have stepped on these grounds have had an encounter with God," Throne added. "That is just something that stays with you."

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