Submitted by Elizabeth Malloy, Exec. Dir., HHS.
(April 16, 2022) — As you drive west across the Swing Bridge from East Haddam to Haddam, you’ll notice a row of small, colorful cottages lining the ridge to the north of Goodspeed Station. The cottages are part of a larger 46-acre complex called Camp Bethel, which was founded in 1878 by the Life and Advent Union as a seasonal religious campground.
The camp meeting became a popular form of religious expression in the mid-19th century by new evangelical sects, as the Baptists, Methodists and Presbyterians gained power during the Second Great Awakening. Based on summer “outdoor communions,” the camp meeting revivals provided a place for the like-minded to be converted in an emotional religious assembly.
The Life and Advent Union found the site in Haddam to be ideal because of its location on the Connecticut River and near the train station in Tylerville. The first meeting was held in 1878 and the camp erected its first structure, a preacher’s stand with choir space. The rest of the buildings were temporary tent structures, including a chapel, mission, committee, kitchen and residence. In 1878, there were 27 tent stands for residents of the camp and a boarding house tent.
Families came from all over the northeast to attend week-long meetings. The camp opened to the public for Sunday services and special events such as Temperance Day and drew very large crowds, which required extra trains and crowd control.
The temporary tents were later replaced by Victorian-style seasonal cottages starting in 1889 and featured Gothic Revival-style porches and other decorative embellishments reminiscent of the famous cottages of Martha’s Vineyard. Most of the cottages on the grounds date from 1890 to 1920 and many are owned by descendants. Cottages generally pass from generation to generation. The grounds also feature the historic Boyd Memorial Chapel, Memorial Hall and Helping Hands Boarding House.
In 1964, the organization became known as Camp Bethel, a not-for-profit, non-denominational organization where Christians can gather for peace, reflection, and to become closer to God so that each may share that relationship with others. Camp Bethel still holds a week-long revival week and this year it will be held July 30 to August 7, 2022. The Camp has rented out the facility for youth camps, Bible studies and retreats.
Both architecturally and historically significant, Camp Bethel was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2007.
This summer, the Camp Bethel Association is hosting a Summer Intergenerational Youth Program to bring young people, seniors, veterans and others together to work on some of the historically important buildings in the district.
The camp is seeking funding for supplies and materials, including paint, wood, and lighting. They have set up a GoFundMe page; or a donation can be sent directly to the Camp Bethel Treasurer. For more information, contact Christine Becker at email@example.com or call 505-967-5086.
Photos are from the Collection of the Haddam Historical Society.