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York County’s Penn Grove Camp: ‘Things were pretty primitive by today’s standards’

Thousand of worshippers have heard sermons in this outdoor pavilion, the tabernacle, at Penn Grove Campground in southwestern York County. The camp meeting was a rite of summer for thousands of York countians. Also of interest: Mining a rich vein of southwestern York County’s religious history, Part I, Part II and Abe Lincoln, Gwyneth Paltrow passed through Porters Sideling and Billy Graham: ‘I do remember him being here and what a thrill it was’.

Roy Flinchbaugh is one of a host of York countians who attended Penn Grove Campgrounds in Smith Station, Heidelberg Township.
Fond memories of those days prompted him to reflect on the camp in the 1930s, after reading my recent York Sunday News column on that topic:

” When I was growing up my parents took me up to Penn Grove Camp almost every Sunday evening in the summer… .

“My mother’s aunt & her husband (Bertie & Harry Kottcamp) were members of (what was then) Otterbein U.B. Church (opposite the YMCA). The Kottcamps owned a cottage (as they called the two-story houses–my family would be appalled to hear them referred to as “bunkhouses.” ) My sister often stayed at the campground with other family, so she was already there. We attended the tabernacle services & then came back to York. There was a large dining area (called “the boardinghouse”) on the grounds, so most of the people staying there did not need kitchens in their cottages, but I think some had them anyway.
The Kottcamps had gussied their place up quite a bit, and they had indoor plumbing! (Harry Kottcamp was the then owner of C.C.Kottcamp). I never got to see any other houses. The boarding house (dining room) was in a different location from the one you describe. Things were pretty primitive by today’s standards, but then I suppose that is true of everything today. When the Kottcamps weren’t “roughing it” at Penn Grove, they had an elegant summer home at Conewago Heights. I don’t know if it’s still there or not. And, of course, they had their permanent home on West Market Street.”

He rightly disputed my recent characterization of the cottages as “bunkhouses.”
They also were called “tents,” as they surrounded the 700-seat tabernacle.
They were probably so-named in the mold of the biblical Israelites living in their wilderness tents surrounding the Old Testament tabernacle.
Penn Grove later became known as Camp Pamadeva and is known today as Penn Grove Retreat. It operates a day camp and other ministries today under the ownership of a local church.