Since the early 1800’s, Summit Grove has been hosting groups and gatherings centered around encountering the Lord’s presence, while enjoying life and community with others. Check out some of our favorite stories below! (And get your own copy of “Providence” for more stories like these, written by Donna Peace and available HERE.)
In the late 1700s, a wave of Christian revival swept the nation, often referred to as the Second Great Awakening. John and Providence Lowe opened up their farm in Southern York County, PA to a new group of believers who desired to gather and worship together. Circa 1800, camp meetings started at this location. By 1816, the group had outgrown their space and moved to Lowe’s Campground, about 1 mile from present-day Summit Grove.
Especially in the pioneer towns, where churches were scarce, Camp Meetings became a regular method for people to gather to worship, hear preaching, and fellowship together. People would often travel for miles and spend days together in outdoor settings where they camped out while preachers and evangelists spoke publicly to the masses. Summit Grove (originally Lowe’s Campground) was one of these first established Camp Meeting spaces, with some years seeing 10,000 – 15,000 people gathered at one time.
During the times leading up to the Civil War, Lowe’s Farm (where the original camp meetings started) also served as a station on the Underground Railroad. Being that its location is less than a mile north of the Mason Dixon line, many slaves found their first experience of freedom and safety with the help of the early congregants of Summit Grove’s camp meetings. The town of New Freedom, where Summit Grove is located, is certainly a town marked by “new freedom”, both in a physical sense and a spiritual sense!
Summit Grove (Lowe’s Campground) was the first stop in Pennsylvania for the Baltimore Methodist Circuit Riders. Circuit riders were ordinary men who had a passion and calling for sharing the Gospel to the lesser-reached pioneer towns. They would set out on horseback, usually from Baltimore, and arrive at Summit Grove to preach for a few days before moving to the next camp meeting. Early records say that “there was a divine unction that attended the word preached and thousands fell under the power of God.”
Lowe’s Campground was used for the Union Army during the Civil War. After the Civil War concluded, Camp Meeting leadership decided to look for other locations. In August 1865, they moved camp meetings to a permanent location in New Freedom, PA -- present-day Summit Grove. One of the primary reasons for choosing Summit Grove’s location was its proximity to the Northern Central Railway, which allowed campgoers to arrive from multiple regions (primarily Baltimore, Harrisburg, and Philadelphia) by train. Summit Grove attracted so many people each summer that New Freedom Boro constructed an exclusive Summit Grove Rail Station just a few dozen yards from the entrance.
In 1936, the Methodist denomination sold Summit Grove to the Christian & Missionary Alliance denomination for $10,250. A 10-day Family Camp was the first event hosted by the new owners of Summit Grove. That same Family Camp remains active every year even to this day. Family Camps, Youth Camps, and several variations of camp ministry went on for several decades through the faithful commitment of Alliance pastors and volunteers from the CMA Eastern PA District and the Mid-Atlantic District.
Over the years, several well-known evangelists, preachers, and apologists have visited and spoken at Summit Grove’s Tabernacle. Summit Grove has a rich history of open-air preaching, going back as far as the Civil War era and the Second Great Awakening. Here are two examples.
Famous author and speaker, perhaps best known for his classic book “The Pursuit of God.”
Amanda Berry Smith
Amanda Berry Smith was born a slave in 1837. Amanda and her family lived on the Lowe farm, next to the original campground, and they were part of the Underground Railroad system. They ran a Boarding House during Camp Meeting time. Amanda became one of the greatest women evangelists of all time. She spoke at Summit Grove in 1898.
On March 3, 2000, the Christian & Missionary Alliance Eastern District established the Summit Grove Christian Conference Center, with a transfer of leadership from the District to a non-denominational non-profit led by an Executive Director and Board of Directors.2000
Over the years, many of Summit Grove’s 76 buildings have fallen into disrepair due to age and wear. In 2004, the Board of Directors began investment in a 24-room lodge, with a conference room and kitchen. The Lodge is the first building made available for year-round use, attracting groups year round for fellowship, discipleship, and rest.
Each year, dozens of retreat groups, ministries, families and individuals continue to carry the torch of God’s faithful presence at Summit Grove. A Children’s Day Camp was started in the early 2000s as an opportunity to bring the local community to Summit Grove. Each year, Family Camp runs for a week during the summer, bringing in hundreds of people to worship God, connect with each other, and enjoy life together. Church groups, Tabernacle prayer and worship events, and themed retreats continue to operate throughout the year, allowing discipleship, enjoyment, and community partnership with the goal of gathering to encounter God’s presence.
Interested in more information and other great stories about Summit Grove? Check out the history of Summit Grove in the book “Providence: The History of Summit Grove,” written by Donna Joy Peace. Copies are available for purchase at the Summit Grove office and on Amazon.
Special thanks to Donna Peace for providing the historical information and research used to create this timeline. Feel free to contact Donna, who is available to answer questions and host speaking engagements.