Wisconsin Camp Meeting Disruptions and Cancellations Through the Years

Wisconsin Camp Meeting Disruptions and Cancellations Through the Years

Rare picture of an Adventist camp meeting taken in 1875 or 1876 in either Eagle Lake, Wisconsin, or Minnesota.
Sources are conflicted. Notice James and Ellen White, and Uriah Smith, in the photo.

The cancellation of Wisconsin camp meeting in 2020 due to COVID-19 appears to be one of only two such cancellations of Wisconsin camp meetings in 154 years.

The only other record of an official cancellation of a Wisconsin camp meeting was due to government travel restrictions at the end of World War II in 1945. Camp meeting at that time was held annually at the Portage campground along Silver Lake. An announcement from Wisconsin in the Lake Union Herald on March 27, 1945, said, “We shall all miss this yearly meeting which brings to those who attend such spiritual blessings. But these are unusual times in which we live. Many of the regular routines of life are broken into and adjustments must be made.”

There is also no record of camp meeting being held in 1868, although it was not a cancellation. The combined Wisconsin/Illinois Conference at that time did hold a camp meeting in Clyde, Illinois, in September of that year. Many Wisconsin members and leaders were surely in attendance there. Our leaders and members were also recorded as “well represented” at the general camp meeting held in Michigan that year. Other than the cancellations in 1945 and 2000, 1868 was the first, and only other year on record of a missed camp meeting in Wisconsin since beginning in 1867. A record of where the various locations camp meeting has convened since its beginning in 1867 can be found on the Wisconsin camp meeting webpage linked here.

There have also been a couple disruptions through the years. In 1869, camp meeting was held during September in Clinton Junction, Wisconsin. A rain storm on the very day camp was to begin, kept many away. Then the weather turned very cold. Since no warming trend was in sight, camp meeting was closed early and everyone headed home on Monday with a unanimous decision to meet in mid-summer the following year.

At the 1899 camp meeting in Marshfield, Wisconsin, rain fell continuously while tents were being pitched. 10,000 feet of boards were purchased and laid for walkways above the sticky clay. As the weather worsened, the tents were dancing in the strong wind. A roaring in the skies overhead became so loud that the guest speaker gave up preaching and began to sing. Soon it was impossible to hear which hymn was announced, so groups gathered and sang separately. The storm which sent the campers to their tents that Monday afternoon, went down in history as Wisconsin’s most destructive tornado. But no storm could dampen the courage of Wisconsin campers. All stayed through to the end, then left saying, “This was the best camp meeting we ever attended.”

No other disruptions are on record in the flow of our yearly Wisconsin camp meetings. In fact, for 50 years it was our custom to hold two or more camp meetings per year in various parts of the state.

How did camp meetings get started in the first place? In 1867 two Wisconsin ministers, R. F. Andrews and H. F. Blanchard, conceived the idea of a yearly camp meeting for our Adventist people. They knew there was something fascinating about meetings in a tent. Yet, would families be willing to camp in tents for a week? They wanted to give it a try, so in late summer, 1867, the Wisconsin/Illinois President, Elder Sanborn, offered the use of his cow pasture just east of Janesville, Wisconsin, as the camp meeting site. This notice appeared in the July 30, 1867, Review, p. 12, inviting members to attend:

“See to it that the enemy does not cheat you out of attending this gathering of the saints. If you are discouraged, come, and be encouraged and revived. If your love for the Lord and His truth is waning away, come and consecrate yourself anew to His service. If you feel strong in the Lord, come, and grow stronger and help impart spiritual life and vitality to those that need. And if you think you cannot spare the time, you are the very one that needs to come … ”

Sounds like a good invitation for Wisconsin Camp Meeting 2021!

Juanita Edge, Communication Director

Link: Timeline of Wisconsin Camp Meetings 1867-2021


1. The Story of Our Church

2. Trial and Triumph by Adriel D. Chilson

3. Lake Union Heralds

4. Lamp Letters

5. Adventist Heritage, Vol. 12, No. 1 

6. Review and Herald Online Archives