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The Camp Meeting Grounds

Signals, September 2006

This postcard from the Sewickley Valley Historical Society collection is postmarked August 12, 1912.

In 1868, the Mount Sewickley Camp Meeting Grounds were built in a grove of oaks on a hill above Leetsdale. Founded by the Methodists at the same time as Chautauqua, Mount Sewickley was dedicated to promoting friendship and the work of God. Besides picnic groves and cottages, there were at one time three hotels, recreational facilities, and a tabernacle for non-denominational religious services.

The following is from a pre-World War I promotional piece in the Historical Society’s collection: Over 45 years ago a number of good Methodists came together and decided to establish a Camp Meeting Association on Mt. Sewickley because of its ideal location and the fine grove and good water...

Mt. Sewickley is fourteen miles west of Pittsburgh on the Ft. Wayne R. R., one mile from Leetsdale Station, on top of a high mountain ridge, being 1,200 feet above sea level and is reached by one of the finest roads in the western part of Pennsylvania. The water is excellent, coming from an artesian well, over 180 ft. deep, being cool and refreshing, and as a health resort, ‘Mt. Sewickley’ compares favorably with other resorts about Pittsburgh. It is a delightful walk from the railroad station to the Camp Ground. The Camp Meeting road is shaded with tall trees of years’ growth; but for those who do not care to walk, automobile service has been established. The round trip fare for two or more persons is 50c each. Parties of 10 or more can secure special rates of 40c for the round trip... Mr. Sewickley Camp is a rare bit of nature to which has been added a little of the ‘artificial,’ but not enough to mar the beauty of the natural scenery. Here you will find a retired spot where quiet prevails. A park of natural oaks lift their heads heavenward amid which a great number of cozy cottages nestle with their happy occupants.

One “happy camper” wrote the following poem. It was given to the Historical Society by an unknown donor, with this note attached: “This poem, with apologies to the original meter, was composed by Mary Eleanor McMaster, whose parents, grandparents and great grandparents belonged to the past life of Sewickley in a very definite way...”

MT. SEWICKLEY I remember, I remember, The Camp Grounds where we went,

And with our Northern friends so gay,

A happy summer spent. The tennis court provided fun, We bought food at the store; The cottages were numbered, Our cottage, sixty-four.

I remember, I remember, The chapel on the Grounds, Each Sunday morn a bell would ring

To call us with its sounds. Beautiful hymns we used to sing,

That brightened up the day; They always will be close to me

And help me on my way

I remember, I remember, Where flowers used to bloom,

The daisies and the buttercups; I saw them from my room.

Over the hill beside the brook,

We’d often take a walk; Just we girls in the evening time,

As far as Lovers’ Rock.

I remember, I remember, The season at its end; When cooler weather made the Camp

Lose every single friend. I thought of what we did up there,

All winter until spring, And then I could not wait to see

What joy the months would bring.

Another reminiscence, by Dr. F.K. White, appeared in the Sewickley Herald, July 7, 1935. Here are excerpts:

The first two years of camp we lived in canvas tents. Then seventy-three cottages were built, and a little wooden chapel where we held our services when it rained. The plan of the camp was somewhat like the shape of a banjo... A board fence enclosed the grounds of each cottage. The cottages, which were built of hemlock boards, had open fronts on the ground floor... When the camp was very new, water was carried by hand for use in the kitchens... Some of the cottagers would often go to camp two weeks before the meetings started, and that was when we had most of our fun. There were picnics, taffy pulls, melon parties, and plenty of time for games of every description... During this carefree period before the meetings began, the men... would slip out early in the morning or evening with their guns in hand to bag a little game. As a result of these hunting expeditions, many a gray squirrel found his way into a meat pie. The memory of those delicious pies still makes my mouth water. My reader must remember that this was before the days of game laws and posted property...

A fire in early August, 1938, destroyed 20 of the cottages in the original “circle,” and through the years there wasn’t enough money to maintain the grounds. The corporation was dissolved, and the Camp Meeting grounds were finally sold in 1963. Today, the area is a residential subdivision.

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