Do You Remember This Building or the Surrounding Buildings? Answer

DFH Volume 1 Issue 12

Last week I asked you if you remembered this building.  I think probably only those born before 1960 would remember it.  The tabernacle was rebuilt by the time that most of us attended there, but it was similar enough to the old one that most of us knew what it is.  It is the West Chazy Champlain District Tabernacle located in West Chazy, New York. The following description of the campground came from the Sun, Jan. 12, 2008, WEST CHAZY “Since the turn of the last century, the Wesleyan Bible Camp has been a fixture in West Chazy. However, mounting finances and decreasing revenue have put the camp in danger of closing permanently. The camp, which was first established in its current location in 1901, consists of 145 private cottage sites, three dormitories, a tabernacle, dining hall, 16-room motel, maintenance directors residence, and 24 campsites spread over nearly 35 acres off West Church Street.”  I’m nearly certain that the campground actually dates to about the 1870’s.  Most of you attended there summer after summer but have amnesia when it comes to remembrances which others would enjoy hearing about.  Three of you have sent me some of your fond memories. Here are some of the favorites.

Priscilla recalls

  • standing by the open window in the girls’ dorm bathroom and hearing Keith play the piano in the nearby Youth Tabernacle.  I remembered how he played the previous year and very distinctly remember thinking, “Hmm.. the Tyler boy is coming along pretty well with his playing…must’ve practiced a lot this year.” I had no idea we would end up together.  (Keith and Priscilla were married in 1979.  Keith passed away in 2007).
  • wondering if Dorrie Lamos ever did anything else at West Chazy besides play the organ or piano for services. She was so faithful, always there to play for EVERY service. I’m sure her husband was there, too, but mostly I remember her always in position.
  • me trying not to touch anything in the ladies’ shower- it looked so gross from age and many months of non-use between camps although I know someone spent time scrubbing for the next season.
  • watching for UFOs because it seemed like such a logical place for one to be.
  • trying desperately to keep my eyes open during marathon meetings.
  • trying to get away with something—anything…!
  • hearing a little camper excitedly shout, “Look at the birdie!” as Robin Mattoon and I (Crusaders counselors) laughed and pulled the blankets over our heads because the bird was a bat and was flying around the dormitory.
  • wondering if the world was going to end when I went to bed… 1967, the 6-day War—is this IT?!
  • being on the 2nd floor of the Crusader dorm when a huge airplane skimmed the top of the trees. It was deafening!.
  • checking out the merchandise at the “book store” in the tabernacle (now I manage a Christian book store at church).
  • the day Dad was trapped under a lumber pile at the sawmill and The Hayes family came to the rescue….  I could go on and on, but I guess I have already.

Judy Dayton recalls

  • Listening to the metal box springs at night.
  • Peeking through the knot holes into the room next door.
  • Best hot dogs ever.
  • Listening to an etiquette “sermon” by Aunt Jo in the missionary tabernacle.
  • Having to wear dresses all the time (no gym wear).
  • Walking the back lanes of the camp grounds where there was no lighting holding hands.
  • Sleeping over the dining hall….wondering what to do if there was a fire.
  • Listening for the dinner bell…Pavlov’s dog training.
  • Looking over my shoulder to see what relative was watching me and reporting to my parents.
  • Going to the mail window to get any cards from home.

Jim Dayton recalls

Good, Good memories.  Memories that, in a small way, gave me some spiritual roots I have cherished for my lifetime.  I wouldn’t trade these memories.  I suspect you feel this way too. Why not join in the conversation?  After all, they’re our memories too.

  • Taking up residence in the unfinished boy’s dorm; the walls were half finished concrete block walls (about four feet high) and the roof was the starry sky.
  • Marching from the West Chazy tabernacle to the West Chazy church to attend bible school [see photo above]
  • “Dating” girls and holding hands during the evening service.  Then buying them a hot dog and coke at the snack bar— with sticky fly paper everywhere above the food and ice cream
  • Going to St. Armand beach and hoping we would see a French Canadian in a bikini (this was the 1950’s).
  • What counselor, in his or her “right mind” would take 50 to 100 kids on a mountain climb to a summit, where, if you walked a very short distance, to the eastern side, you could climb back down the mountain with one step?
  • US Air Force 8-engine B-52 strategic bombers [armed with a nuclear payload] flew directly over the tabernacle in the direct flight path to Plattsburgh Air Base. They were flying at perhaps 500 ft over the tree tops.  It was cool when it would disrupt the evening evangelistic service with a sound so deafening it had the potential to permanently damage your hearing.
  • Trying to find a dark place after the evening service where you could attempt to kiss your date. The campground had a militia that walked around with flashlights to prevent that very thing.  Rev. “stubby fingers” led the posse, and Rev. Ed “the peeker” Elliott was a pretty good hunter too.  I don’t remember the rest, but they had so many hunters that we kids didn’t stand a chance.
  • One year, rumors started to circulate among the younger kids that I had signed a contract with the New York Mets.
  • Trying to “score a date” with the coolest of the camp meeting girls.
  • Jackie Tyler and Mary Jane Murray wearing baseball gloves on their heads to the evening evangelistic service.
  • Dorrie Lamos playing the organ.
  • Carl Timpson playing a musical solo on the saw.
  • The bookstore in the tabernacle
  • Getting your meal ticket punched by Rev. “Stubby fingers” Chapman
  • Fund raising by uncle Chop during the service with public financial pledge commitments from the floor. “Dayton Brothers will give $1,000” brought gasps all over the congregation.
  • Saturday night was “Sunday School night” during the evening service.  It was “Statistics evening” and I loved stats…I still do. (Glens Falls had highest average attendance at X, with Corinth finishing at Y….rats, we’ll beat ‘em next year)
  • Sneaking out during the Sunday Ordination service to be first in the outrageously long dining hall line (always Turkey).
  • Buttering the toast with a paint brush.
  • Gary Tyler, Rich Cook, Dwight Hayes and a fourth, in a very good quartet singing Down by the River Side.
  • Roger Rounds, a teen evangelist with muscles bulging from one end of the platform to the other end— (A “wannabe” Arnold Schwarzenegger)
  • Don Klob – a pastor with a heart for youth and a very good man.
  • Rev. Ed “the Peeker” Elliott who never shut his eyes during prayer.
  • Rev. Howard Chapman’s VW pickup, the envy of all young boys
  • My heart throbbing over Judy Potter who was too popular (and uppity) to date me. She’s been my soul mate for 55 years and my wife for 51 years.  Thank you, West Chazy, for Judy Potter.
  • Teens vs. Preachers softball games in a cow pasture.
  • Dirt poor, dedicated pastors with hearts of gold.
  • “thou shalt not’s”  seemed to be the theme of every camp meeting.
  • Sword Drills…a race to be the first to find a bible verse and read it.
  • Praise ye, the lord, hallelujah.  During the evening service we played calisthenics.  Now that I look back on it, I cannot believe that grownups, did that during a church service.  It certainly seems like trivializing worship.
  • Shouts of “Amen” or “Praise the Lord” or “well, glory” during the service.
  • Scary altar calls with “tarrying”, “just one more verse”,  “with every eye closed raise your hand.” Altar call theme songs: ”Just as I am” and “Lord, I’m Coming home”.
  • Dirt floors, with wood shavings over the dirt to keep down the dust and dirtiness, and you were still expected to kneel.
  • Rev. Charles Alexander Dayton standing tall in the pulpit.
  • Trying 24×7 to get away with something.
  • I’m in the Lord’s Army” with hand and body motions.
  • Good food in the dining hall.
  • Bare naked men in the public restroom…there were two shower’s which were just shower heads mounted on the wall…no curtains or anything.  We boys stayed dirty for two weeks.
  • My dad ‘s largest cottage  located on “Board walk” (near Mediterranean Ave).
  • Doc Steven’s “mansion” including a TV.
  • Missionaries displaying poison dart blow guns, and 20-foot snake skins.
  • You knew you were at the end of a missionary slideshow because the sunset picture appears on the screen (sometimes you were glad and sometimes you wanted more)
  • “chalk artists” drawing the abracadabra black light sunset scenes during the offertory.
  • Youth night choir and youth dress up.  I got to wear my red sports jacket!
  • Accordions galore.
  • Dormitory pillow fights.
  • A knot hole in the floor of the boy’s dorm.  We poured sand on the bunk bed below.
  • Pauline Streeter…the camp meeting nurse dressed in her nurses’ uniform and staying in the infirmary near the tabernacle.

Cammie Luckey had a different perspective on Camp Meeting life because her father [my uncle Chop AKA Rev. Charles Dayton] oversaw the Camp Meeting facilities, its conference meetings, the overall administration and much of the physical labor for keeping the camp meeting apparatus functioning properly and dynamically.  Chop was “the glue that held the thing together.”  He did the job well, and Cammie had an eyewitness view of the “goings on.”  Here some of her remembrances:

That West Chazy tabernacle roof was a lot higher and steeper than it appears from the photograph’s perspective.

I was up there on the upper roof, once to shovel off the heavy snow that threatened to bring down the entire structure, and at least once to shutter tight (slide- and wing-bolts) those square roof vents, not visible in this front-on photo, that ran along below  the soffit on both sides of that upper roof and were only open during the campmeeting season.

These were just two chores unseen by typical camp-goers. Most campers left West Chazy on Sunday to return to their 9-5 lives in Watervliet or Glens Falls or Springfield or wherever, oblivious to what happened on the WC grounds the rest of the year. Only a few, mostly clergy, for whom 9-5 lifestyles were rare, waited till Monday to pack and leave.

So what may have been the camp season’s most holy moment, an annual sacred rite even if the participants would probably be appalled at that four-letter “r” word, was never experienced except by a relative few. Most people remaining on the grounds late Sunday night, the hour of that sacred rite,  were scrambling to pack or were saying sentimental farewells or, if they were of a certain age, trying to catch one last canoodle behind some bush as far away as they could get from the tabernacle.

The rite was not begun until after the final “seeker” arose from the altar bench (originally sort of like a chopped-off saw horse and only eventually a genuine, polished rail) but before the lights went out for another year. Then, a circle was formed.  Shoulder-to-shoulder, hand-in-hand, the circle followed the inside perimeter of the tabernacle. The circle stretched across the entire front, between the altar benches and front pew, from side door to side door. It went along both sides to the rear, actually the front, the main-entrance wall as shown in the photograph, where one corner held Rev. Ross’ Bible shop full of enticing biblical toy paraphernalia effective at keeping little kids quiet during long sermons. A personal favorite was the 2×2” flat square on which you slid little squares the size of Chiclets until you formed the verse John 3:16. Today it would be Rubic’s Cube.

Anyway, the circle closed ranks and stood still, waiting at attention. These were the league’s team captains, so to speak. This was end-of-season wrap. A few solemn words were given by “names of note” such as Ray Smith of Watervliet, who regularly delayed his own 9-5 electric utility job for this higher, holy priority. Or he drove home to Watervliet in the wee hours of Monday morning. Sometimes these were words of victory, sometimes triumphant resolve. Often they included knowing phrases of foreboding, experience having taught that the circle would never be exactly the same twice. Who would fall?

After a few shared memories of sad moments and spiritual highlights, someone,  such as John Lamos, husband of Dorrie Dayton Lamos, sounded the first note of the two songs traditionally sung. “Will the circle be unbroken, by and by, Lord, by and by?” Everybody knew the answer when it came to the matter of this earthly tabernacle circle;  but everyone in this holiness circle also was well aware of other ways to fall. They usually had to deal with a fall or two every year at the “annual conference” that preceded the campmeeting.

The final song was always “God Be With You ‘til We Meet Again.”

These lines sound like something straight from John Boy Walton, a family-values TV icon circa 1970. But I could also reminisce about other “nearby structures,” as Jim referred to in his request for recollections. I recollect the Sunday afternoon I, the conference president’s (aka district superintendent) daughter spent “making out” with Steve in the Special Speaker cottage behind the tabernacle while Steve’s dad stood a few dozen yards away, at the pulpit.

(In those days there were three services daily. Typically only the evening and Sunday services featured the altar-calls that perhaps unfortunately defined the campmeeting experience. The other services were for those who wanted to “go deeper,” for folks such as Ray Smith and various little old ladies, the unappreciated, anonymous spiritual powerhouses.)

“From the person to whom much is given, much will be required.” At the time and for many decades I resented that I was not among those who packed up and pulled out on Sunday to a life far distant from West Chazy. I did not appreciate the feast table at which I was feeding despite myself,  reluctantly living fifty-two weeks of the year in the three-century house known as the “President’s Home” (burnt to the ground by a hair dryer) adjacent to the campgrounds. I regret how long it took me to realize the rare, rich and eternal significance of those acappella voices rising to the rafters and roof vents and way beyond.

by Cammie Dayton Luckey, May 2019

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