Miamisburg’s Camp Chautauqua, “The Camp by the River,” which sprawls throughout Montgomery and Warren counties, was on the verge of foreclosure when Jason Harmeyer, son of the longtime caretaker, stepped up to save the camp where he grew up. Purchased less than a year ago, the grounds and community center are again being put to use.
“I was 4 when we moved here,” says Harmeyer, an expert on the camp’s 100-plus year history.
The American Chautauqua Movement saw camps sprout up throughout the country to bring entertainment and culture to rural areas from the late 1800s to the 1920s. After the movement died out, campgrounds served other purposes, and many disappeared.
In its heyday, the Miamisburg Chautauqua hosted such notables as Booker T. Washington, George Washington Carver, Eleanor Roosevelt and baseball player-turned-evangelist Billy Sunday.
“It’s seen a little bit of everything, from famous orators and thinkers to entertainers such as Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn; then it was a religious entity, and back and forth,” said Harmeyer.
“My dad took the caretaker’s job in 1977, and called me two years ago to say it was going into foreclosure. I moved back, set up the Chautauqua Foundation Inc., a 501C3 with a board of advisors, and we purchased the camp last August.
“Now, we hope to re-introduce Chautauqua back to the regional community.”
Although Harmeyer has long-term plans for the camp, which includes 59 buildings on 45 acres, activities in the community center have already begun.
“It’s a state-of-the-art facility, with two collegiate-sized basketball gyms, and the inside floor can be set up for basketball, volleyball or tennis — we offer all three.”
Carlisle schools and Miamisburg Parks and Recreation use the facility, Scout troops meet there, and numerous community events are held at the center.
“We’ve had a good turnout for that, and we’re going to be doing more with Miamisburg, Carlisle and Franklin — our local communities,” said Harmeyer, whose parents, Jerry and Sue Harmeyer, still live on the property at 9985 Camp Trail as caretakers.
Retreats, conferences and church camps are set up for the summer, and Harmeyer, who spent seven years in the Philippines working on drug prevention through churches and other outreach endeavors, envisions programs that will “engage, equip and empower our future leaders — not just through events, but through life-changing experiences.”
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