By Jason Wilkie

Executive Director, Camp Siloam

[Perspective] The history of Camp Siloam, Part 2

By Jason Wilkie

Executive Director, Camp Siloam

There is a place where old pastors can feel young again, where your church problems are solved, and you are guaranteed to live longer if you visit. In 1923, these were the claims made about the Arkansas Baptist Assembly, as Baptist leaders promoted the first assembly at Siloam Springs.  

In researching the history of Camp Siloam one of the most compelling things we have discovered is the enthusiasm Arkansas Baptists had for the new Assembly grounds.  While promotional language may have been a bit over the top, there is no doubt Arkansas Baptists were thrilled about Siloam.  

Prior to 1923, the Baptist Young People’s Union (BYPU), a youth discipleship and leadership division of the Sunday School Board, had talked about purchasing a permanent site to host the Assembly. When the purchase of the property actually came to pass, one can hear excitement in the words used to describe the first camp meeting. The secretary of the Sunday School Board and BYPU advisor Herbert Hamilton stated, “Your secretary is not willing for any state in the south to have a better, bigger, and more interesting Assembly than Arkansas. Are you?”  

Our desire today is the same as Hamilton’s—to have the best Baptist camp in the South. Descriptions such as Hamilton’s were meant to rally Baptists to a celebration.  

It is with the same enthusiasm we want to invite YOU and your family to celebrate 100 years of Arkansas Baptists doing Jesus’ ministry at Camp Siloam. On August 4-6, come celebrate with us!  Camp Siloam will host a drop-in centennial celebration for former campers, summer staff, camp leaders, pastors, Sunday School teachers, and anyone who wants to celebrate with great people. Everyone who is someone will be at the Centennial Celebration. Details can be found at   

Below are examples of some of the thrilling promotional language from 1923 articles in The Baptist Advance.  Just listen to their words. These words echo through a century to today!  

“The Siloam Assembly will be rightly conducted.  It will run straight and up-grade.  We are going to have, in a year or two, the greatest assembly in all the South. Yes, sir!” – J.S. Rogers  

“All over the state our young people are thinking and talking about the Summer Assembly at Siloam Springs.  They are in a whirl, so to speak, around the center.” – J.S. Rogers  

“This should be an epoch-making year for the Baptist Young People of Arkansas. The fact that WE ARE GOING TO POSESS THE LAND that is ours at Siloam Springs is itself cause for great rejoicing.” – Dr. Doak Campbell  

“Do not fail to realize that your whole church will be benefited if you send representatives to Siloam Springs.  By all means you can afford to send some of your young folks who will bring back information and inspiration from our glorious mountain tops.” – Dr. Doak Campbell 

The first BYPU Assembly was held July 10-19, 1923. The theme of the first Assembly in Siloam Springs was “Arkansas First in Everything.”  One dollar was the deposit required to reserve your space at the first summer assembly at Siloam Springs.  

The daily schedule of the first assembly was remarkably similar to a day at camp in 2023. Campers woke to the ringing of a bell. After breakfast the morning was filled with class periods taught by Sunday School teachers, missionaries, and professors. There was a morning worship service for one hour. The afternoon was filled with open recreation. After dinner a two-hour worship service was held with a special and preaching. The message was delivered by “some of our best and greatest spiritual leaders to lift us up with their inspiring messages.” After worship was a social hour, then lights out at 10:45. 

Allen Hill Autry, the camp pastor for the first week of camp, wrote in a promotional article in the Baptist Advance, “interesting study, informing lectures and sermons, innocent recreation, and fellowship unbounded will be the order of the day, every day.” Autry was an Arkansas lawyer, a university professor of economics and sociology at the University of Arkansas, a Chautauqua circuit lecturer, president of Central College in Conway, and Governor of Arkansas from 1917 to 1921. What a compelling first camp pastor!   

Sunday School training for both adults and young people was an emphasis.  In fact, the following articles encouraged adults to come, indicating the assembly at Siloam was a form of “continuing education.” 

“Every Sunday School Superintendent should arrange to attend the Assembly and take the Work under Mr. C.S. Leavell. Look carefully over the classes arranged for, and then see if your problems can not be met in the under the direction of these splendid teachers.” – Dr. Doak Campbell. 

“In ‘pep’ this meeting will be worth much. It will tend to warm up our people, to fire things, to make matters boil, to add “ginger,” to give us more life, irrepressible life!  The Assembly will be a “red-blood meeting.” – J.S. Rogers  

“It will rejuvenate many pastors. Other people may get old, but preachers must not get old. They are done for and done with when they get old. The Assembly will put new blood, redder blood, into every preacher that attends. Every preacher will learn a lot of things, too; things that will help him. The Assembly is to be, in effect a sort of preacher training camp.” – J.S. Rogers  

“We will come away from that meeting with more of a winning spirit than ever before. Arkansas Baptists are growing marvelously in the spirit of conquest.  The victory spirit is on us!” – J.S. Rogers  

“This meeting will be great for its fellowship. All of us need this. Good fellowship is wine which every person’s soul craves and should have. Let’s all go to the Summer Assembly at Siloam Springs, July 10-19.  You will live longer by attending.” – J.S .Rogers 

It is unknown if the first assembly at Siloam made old pastors feel young again, solved everyone’s church problems, or lengthened the life of the people who attended, but there’s no denying the excitement people had for the place. Let us extend the enthusiasm of a century ago to the Centennial Celebration on August 4-6. Come join us. 

Note: A special thanks to Taylor Lawson and staff at the Ouachita Baptist University library for their help in research on the history of Camp Siloam. The quotes above were taken from the following collection of articles published in The Baptist Advance, which was a precursor to the Arkansas Baptist Newsmagazine.  

The Baptist Advance. “The Permanent Location of the BYPU Assembly.” January 18, 1923. 

The Baptist Advance. “Siloam Springs and The Summer Assembly.” January 25, 1923. 

Hamilton, H.V. “Locating the BYPU Assembly.” The Baptist Advance. February 1, 1923. 

Ferguson, B.V. “Location Of The Assembly.” The Baptist Advance. February 1, 1923. 

The Baptist Advance. “Assembly News.” April 12, 1923. 

The Baptist Advance. “Greetings To the BYPUs, Sunday Schools and All The Baptists of Arkansas.” June 7, 1923. 

Campbell, Dr. Doak. “Looking Forward.” Baptist Advance, June 27, 1923. 

Rogers, J.S. “The Worth of the Summer Assembly To The Denomination.” Baptist Advance, June 27, 1923. 

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