Investing in a Vision: The 1957 Purchase of Silver Lake

May 25, 2016
By Rev. Karl Duetzmann
Alumni Chaplain/Historian/Archivist

As we turn the page to a new chapter in Silver Lake’s history with our new director Ryan, it’s a good time to look back to our beginning. The footprint of the camp was created in the 1930s as Camp Broadview for Girls. The camp was pretty much clear cut — the far shore of Mudge Pond could be seen from up the hill in the camp. Many of the oldest buildings at the Lake date from this time. The next step in the site’s evolution was Camp Easton for Boys, which ran in the 1940s and 1950s. 

But our story really begins around 1955 with the Rev. Jim Yee and other clergy in the Connecticut Conference advocating for a permanent site for summer conferences. At the time, conferences were held at sites around the state. Jim and his colleagues wanted to create a common site for all conferees to come together.

Jim became chair of the committee to find that site. It was one of his accomplishments that Jim was the most proud of. He would tell the story of the camp’s acquisition whenever anyone would listen. It is quite the story … it is our creation story! 

He and the committee spent several years trying to find a suitable site with no success when Jim received word that Camp Easton was up for sale. He and several others toured the camp in October 1956. It was appraised for $230,000 but was listed at $125,000. Situated on fifty acres, many of the needed buildings were already present (the social hall, buildings on the edge of the ballfield, the old cabins of “Cabin Row” and those that stood in the area around the Pines, and the director’s home, now known as the Lodge). It came equipped with sailing canoes and other equipment worth about $50,000. 
Boys at Camp Easton used what we call
the Coffee House as a bunk room.
The property was owned by Mrs. Sua-rez, who was ready to sell because Camp Easton’s director was retiring and they were unable to find a suitable replacement. The committee and board members toured the site, receiving assurances from the director that he would hold off on other offers until the Board could vote. The Board voted to allocate $125,000. 

When Jim called the director with the news, he was informed that Mrs. Suarez would contribute $50,000 toward the purchase if the Conference voted to buy it at full price. That meant that we acquired Silver Lake Conference Center for $75,000! Needless to say, Jim immediately brought that good news to the Board!

Silver Lake Conference Center opened for the summer of 1957 with several week-long conferences known by their numbers (SLCC #1, #2). With about 100 young people in attendance, that first summer was organized and led by Frank Johnson of Waterbury. Volunteer deans and counselors were drawn from all across the state. 

There is obviously more to our history from those early days onward, with buildings built, programs developed, and thousands of lives changed. This is but the beginning!

The source of this article is the memories of the Rev. Yee. Before his passing in 2000, they were written down. Former conference minister, the Rev. Dr. Davida Foy Crabtree, added to his recollections.

Silver Lake Camp & Retreat Center

Silver Lake Camp & Retreat Center is a ministry of the Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ.
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223 Low Road | Sharon, CT 06069 | 860.364.5526 | Fax: 860.364.1000 |