SDA Summer Camp History

Note: The first Summer Camp programs were known as Junior Camps.

Summer Camps


Sam Campbell’s first book in his popular Forest Friends Series was the 1943 edition of “How’s Inky?” although he had published the book “Nature’s Messages” in 1937.

During the early 1900s, several things happened that led to the idea of organizing summer camp programs for our young people: 1) The idea that camping could be fun instead of a necessity was firmly established when the Boy Scouts of America was incorporated in 1910, with Girl Scouts following in 1912; 2) Several naturalists, including well-known Adventist author Sam Campbell, began writing and publishing books about the adventures of camping and observing wildlife (Holbrook, 2005); and, 3) As more people began living in cities, parents were recognizing the need of something for their children to do during the summer months, under the direction of instructors who would take them to farms and other natural settings to work and to study ideals of Christian character (Record, 1930).


The first officially recognized conference-sponsored summer camp held in North America took place in the summer of 1926, when sixteen boys and five counselors camped at Town Line Lake, in Montcalm County, Michigan. In 1927 both Michigan and Wisconsin held boys’ and girls’ camps, with many more juniors attending. The camps lasted for ten days and for ten dollars boys and girls could enjoy recreational and craft activities, mingled with spiritual training (Krum, 1963).


The Seventh-day Adventist church conducted youth camps on borrowed land in Idyllwild, California, three summers in a row: 1929-1931. In 1932 they purchased sixteen acres and in May that year built a ‘large twenty-four by sixty’ dining room on the property before the campers arrived. This former Pathfinder camp is now known as Camp Gilboa and is part of Idyllwild Pines. Photos below are from Camp Idyllwild between 1929-1931 (Chudleigh, 2013).


In 1934 the boys and girls of the Arkansas-Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texico Conferences were all invited to come to the Junior Camp (“summer camp”) in Texas. This was the first camp to be held in the Southwestern Union. It was held at the Boy Scouts’ Camp about three and a half miles from Belton. The camp program included many features that are now part of the Pathfinder program, such as learning what was then called the Junior Missionary Volunteer Pledge and Law, and working on their Friends, Companions, and Comrades class requirements. Anyone who completed the requirements of a class as given in the Junior Missionary Volunteer Handbook would be “inducted into the the order and invested with the insignia of the class” (Tucker, 1934).


(1930, May 28). Southwestern Union Record, pp. 3, 4.

Chudleigh, Gerry. (2013, Jan. 8). Pathfinders Camp, Idyllwild. (Retrieved from

Holbrook, Robert, ed. (2005). The AY Story. Collegedale, TN: College Press.

Krum, Nathaniel. (1963). The MV Story. Washington, D. C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association.

Tucker, J. A. (1934, Aug. 1). Southwestern Union Record, pp. 1, 2.

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