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Retreat has grown, but focus remains the same

August 09, 2009|By MARLO BARNHART

FALLING WATERS, W.Va. -- Back in 1929, the Potomac District of the Assemblies of God obtained a piece of land across the Potomac River from Williamsport.

The goal was to provide devout members of the denomination a place to go for spiritual nourishment in a relaxing setting. That is just how it worked out for Linda Kelly, the current curator of the Potomac Park Camp museum and owner of a cottage she bought as a getaway.

Rented at first from the Mish family, the land itself was purchased in August 1929, thus beginning an 80-year series of camp meetings that are still going strong.

"I've been coming here for summer camp for 40 years," Kelly said.

Retired from the federal government, she lives just two hours away in the Washington, D.C., area.

"I feel such peace when I come through the gate," she said. "My little retreat lets me talk with the Lord and slow down."

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Begun on a shoestring, the 13-acre property was purchased from Frank and Eleanor Mish for $5,000. A large open-sided tabernacle with sawdust floors was built for the camp meetings in those early days.

More land was purchased over the years, which allowed for construction of more permanent buildings, cottages and cabins, and even motel buildings for those who come for the summer activities.

Kelly stayed in a motel room before she bought her cottage. The older cottages had no running water or bathrooms then, she said.

The camp now has about 120 cottages and four motels. No tent camping is permitted now, but RVs are allowed, Kelly said.

Now there are about 50 permanent residents at Potomac Park, plus another 70-some seasonal residents.

The newest ministry is the Missions Support Center.

"Missionaries can come here and stay for free," Kelly said.

In the small museum at the front of the property, Kelly has a collection of old photos and other memorabilia from the camp.

A man came in one afternoon recently while Kelly was on duty, looking for old pictures to see if he could spot his grandparents, who came to the camp in its early days.

To commemorate the 80th anniversary, a memorial hand fan was created using archival pictures of the camp and its history.

"The idea came from Jody Fountain, wife of the Rev. Stephen Fountain, who is the director of the camp," Kelly said.

The fans come in handy because the camp is close to the Potomac River, so there are many gnats and other bugs around, Kelly said.

Though the camp is busy with conferences and other events throughout the year, summer is an especially active time. The one-week family camp ended July 25.

A retirement center for seniors is also available for retired missionaries, pastors and members of the Potomac District Assemblies of God.

For more information about the camp and what it offers, call 304-274-2700.

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