Norman B. Barr Camp

On the shores of beautiful Lake Geneva

History

 

The story of Norman B. Barr Camp begins in the late nineteenth century with a young graduate from the University of Nebraska and the McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago. Just prior to his graduation from McCormick in 1897, Rev. Barr was asked to be the interim pastor of Olivet Memorial Church located in a rough section of the near North side of Chicago. The neighborhood was a poor area with high unemployment and crime. It became known as "Little Hell" and this was where Rev. Norman B. Barr thrived. He preached and drew followers as he walked the streets, grew his church and developed the Olivet Institute which provided a wide range of social services including medical and dental care, an "Old People's Home", day-care, music, sewing, sports, and camping. He saw camping as a respite for those living in the crowded tenements around Olivet and used property on the North shore of Lake Michigan at Glencoe Beach as a camping site.
In 1908, Rev. Barr was a speaker at a conference held at the YMCA camp (now Aurora University) on Geneva Lake in Wisconsin. During his visit, he walked along the shore path past a piece of property advertised for sale by Alice B. Stockman, M.D. He immediately viewed the property as ideal for a permanent camp for the Institute. He borrowed $50 from a colleague for a down payment and the land was purchased for about $9,000 in January 1909. Olivet Institute Camp was the new owner. 



Olivet Camp 1909

Members of the Olivet Institute community would take a train from Chicago to Williams Bay where they transferred to boats that took them to Camp. Housing consisted of tents and water was transported from a spring at neighboring Holiday Home. Kerosene was used for lighting and cooking. Food requiring refrigeration was stored in the ground until an ice house was built. As cottages replaced tents, a sewer system and electricity were added, showers were built, and the grounds were developed. Rev. Barr worked endlessly to raise money for Camp and the children's programs. When he retired from Olivet Church in 1937, he remained active at Olivet Institute Camp and fought to stave off a foreclosure on the property. Rev. Barr's struggle to raise capital for Olivet Camp stopped suddenly when he was stricken with a heart attack and died in 1943. A new drive to pay off the mortgage was successful later that year. The camp was renamed to Norman B. Barr Camp (NBBC) in 1946 when it became a non-profit corporation consisting of all volunteer members.
Over the years, the mission of NBBC refocused on our Children's Program. A dormitory was built, and later new showers and updated rest rooms were added just for the children. Free Summer Camp programs with a Christian theme continue to be offered serving children with special needs. Counselors are carefully selected each year to care for the children and lead the program activities. In addition, weekly religious services are held every Sunday during the summer season in the camp's Bowman Chapel. Each year, the camp's volunteers spend countless hours maintaining and improving the camp facilities and grounds. Several new structures have been added while others undergo repairs each year. As a result of the dedication and effort of the volunteers during the camp's first century, along with donations from companies and individuals, NBBC remains a vibrant and living memorial to Rev. Norman B. Barr and his life's selfless mission devoted to the less fortunate.
Thousands of children with special needs have enjoyed totally free summer camp experiences they would not have had, if not for Rev. Barr. It was his dream that, "...this camp should go on forever ..."  and it is our endeavor to make that dream come true.

Norman B. Barr Camp 2014