Camp Rivervale is located seven miles east of Mitchell and one-half mile north of the village of Lawrenceport on Buddha Road (CR 480E). The GPS reading for the camp entrance is: 38 45 29.45, -086 23 39.63
In 1817 Bishop Robert R. Roberts journeyed to Southern Indiana with his wife, Elizabeth, to look over a plot of land which he had seen three years earlier. Roberts was a newly-elected bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church, and he knew that the center of his activities as a frontier bishop must lie in the "west," in Indiana or Illinois.
He bought the Indiana land and raised a log cabin on it. From time to time he added to his holdings until he had a farm of approximately 1000 acres. Later, he built a federalist-style farmhouse which his family occupied while he itinerated throughout the mid-section of the United States, superintending the young ME Church. In 1843, reaching the end of his journeys, he died in that house and was buried on the farm. Later his remains were moved to the DePauw University campus where a fitting monument marks the spot.
The farm remained in the family until direct descendants donated and sold portions of it to the Epworth League Institute. In 1923 the Institute gave this property to the South Indiana Conference. This was the start of Camp Rivervale, carved out of the Bishop Roberts farm.
In 1925, the first camping sessions were held at what was often known as Bishop Roberts Park, with tents for housing. In 1925 there were 1400 enrolled for the one week Epworth League Institute. The only permanent structure in the 1920s was the Tabernacle, a large steel-frame building used for church services, plays and meetings.
The Tabernacle was followed by seven houses, one for each district in the conference. Each house was maintained by its district which also housed and fed its youth in that building. Great rivalries in sports and other activities sprang up among the seven districts which lasted until after World War II. Then multiple programs were developed, and the houses lost their district identities, effectively ending the rivalries. These houses served the needs of the camp until the 1960’s when they were replaced with the three year-round lodges that are presently used. Later years saw many other improvements.
A Most Historic Building
That is not all. Rivervale is home to Indiana Methodism's oldest shrine, the Robertson Meeting House, which serves as a chapel and meeting room. This restored house of worship originally stood on the Nathan Robertson farm near Charlestown and has been moved and restored numerous times. In 1999 it was moved to Rivervale. Through an endowed fund, it receives periodic maintenance so that it will be preserved for the use and veneration of future generations.
Another Historic Site Nearby
In the tiny town of Lawrenceport itself is another site of high importance to Indiana United Methodism. Southwest of the intersection in the center of town is a white frame church (formerly Lawrenceport Methodist) which was restored by the Robert R. Roberts Memorial Association for use as the Association's museum.
On the east side of the church yard, next to the gravel drive, is a stone marker honoring Bishop Roberts. Beneath a carving of a pair of saddlebags hung over a tree branch, the inscription reads: Robert R. Roberts, 1778-1843, Ordained Bishop of Methodist Episcopal Church 1816, Resided in Lawrenceport Area 1819-1843." (insert) The GPS reading for the church and marker is: 38 45 07.74, -86 23 22.33
Nothing remains today of the Roberts' frame home, but it once stood across the Lawrenceport Road from the Bishop Roberts' marker and the church. Efforts to save and restore the house were unsuccessful.
All in all, Camp Rivervale and the Lawrenceport area constitute one of the most fascinating and significant locales in the entire Indiana Conference.