Many people from within Penn Central Conference of the United Church of Christ and Central Pennsylvania remember Hartman Center as the beloved Outdoor Ministries facility that was owned and operated by the Conference from 1964-2020. Year-round programming included retreats, conferences, workshops, dinner meetings, summer camps and other events. While designed for particular age levels and interests, programs were open to all persons without regard to race, creed, or ethnic origin, and who accepted the guidelines and philosophy of the Center. Hartman Center’s mission was to help people grow in relationship to God, become a whole person by showing awareness of uniqueness and special gifts, develop trustful and responsible relationships with others, experience the joys of outdoor living, and learn to manage the environment as faithful stewards of God’s creation.
Located at the base of Straley Knob on Old U.S. Route 322, ten miles north of Lewistown and 21 miles south of State College, Pennsylvania, Hartman Center comprised 192 acres of open and wooded areas with easy access to nearby streams, hiking trails, and state parks. The Hartman Center land formally became a camp in 1932 when was willed to the Congregational Church of Milroy by its owner and namesake, Rachel Hartman. Its early history indicates that the land was part of an original indenture between a prominent Philadelphian and a Mifflin County landowner. It read:
“This Indenture made the twenty-eighth day of May in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred ninety-five between David Rittenhouse the city of Philadelphia, Esquire, and his wife Hannah of the one part and John Murphy of Armagh Township in the County of Mifflin yeoman of the other part … witnesseth … for the sum of two hundred and seventy-four pounds specie undo them paid … for a tract of land 274 acres 13 perches.”
The document is recorded in Mifflin County Courthouse. Prior to David Rittenhouse owning the land it was part of the original holdings of William Penn and his family.
In 1876 Christian Hartman came into ownership of the land that would later become Hartman Center. Christian was born in York County and, as a young man, visited Reedsville near Milroy, where he met and fell in love with Barbara Wilson. He and Barbara married in 1842. He was a farmer and a stone mason by trade until he accumulated enough capital to purchase a farm just outside of Milroy. In 1888 the barn and stone mansion on the farm were destroyed by a fire. Far from being discouraged by this misfortune, Christian restored the Stone House and built a larger barn. He and Barbara had a family of ten children, five of whom died young. The last survivor of the Hartman family was Miss Rachel. It was she who erected the stone monument amid the pines beside the Stone House in memory of her brother, Joseph R. Hartman.
The Stone House, originally built between 1800 and 1808, passed through many changes as it had been modernized while also preserving much of its charm and original integrity. In its early years, the first-floor door of the house (which was converted into a window during one of the renovations) was used by stage coach drivers to pay their tolls before crossing nearby Seven Mountains. The barn, which was later removed, provided shelter for horses and vagabonds. The cooks in the house provided the famous chicken and waffle dinners for travelers, hence the origin of having chicken and waffle fundraiser dinners for the camp in recent years.
By 1932, the Hartman farm contained 166 acres including the wooded area along Laurel Run. According to Miss Rachel’s will, dated July 28, 1932, she bequeathed money and personal items to friends and local organizations, including the conclusion that “the balance of my estate of whatsoever nature to be given to the White Memorial Congregational Church of Milroy.” Among the specific bequests was one to a nephew, Harry Haines, of Elk City, Oklahoma, who contested the will. Ultimately, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court made the decision on November 3, 1934, whereby Mr. Haines was to receive a cash payment but the land title was to remain vested in the Congregational Conference of which the White Memorial Congregational Church was a member.
In the initial stage, the Milroy Congregational ministers were called upon to oversee the affairs of a camp for the Congregational Conference. Dr. Wilson P. Minton was the first administrator to conduct business for the Conference from Hartman Center’s Stone House office. When summer conferences were held, the King’s Daughters of the White Memorial Congregational Church provided the meals and the Sunday School classes served them. The Trustees, Deacons, and local people gave their labor to build the entrance, clear the land in the meadow and plant trees. The chapel was dedicated June 1958. The chapel’s chancel picture window, with its panoramic view of Seven Mountains, was given by friends in memory of Bertha Anna Minton, the first Hartman Center hostess from 1937 to 1951.
On February 2, 1964, the White Memorial Church voted to join with the United Church of Christ. This was, without question, a promising new chapter of expansion at Hartman Center began and it grew to become the modern church camp that many in the Penn Central Conference and beyond knew and still love. The Stone House was renovated to accommodate 30 people. In addition to the manager’s house, the Center had an administration and nursing building (dedicated in in memory of the Rev. and Mrs. J. Richard Bishop), a camp store, and a dining hall. The dining hall was expanded to include more space for banquets as well as meeting and program space, and included a serving/catering kitchen. All 9 cabins had wall to wall carpeting for 8-12 occupants and were handicap accessible. In addition to 3 pioneer camping areas that housed campers through the summer in A-Frames and Adirondacks, Hartman Center had 20 camping pads in the wooded area each of which equipped with electricity and water, 2 program lodges, an arts and crafts shop (renovated and dedicated in 2019 in memory of Abigail Btz and Eli Frailey), shop and storage buildings, and Michaux Lodge. Accommodating up to 40 people and being completely handicap accessible, the Lodge was the most popular – and most used – facility. Michaux Lodge was named for Camp Michaux, a church camp located in Michaux State Forest on South Mountain near Pine Grove Furnace which was in existence from 1947-1972, and was a joint venture between the U.C.C. and Presbyterian denominations. Camp Michaux has a fascinating history. It started as a CCC camp, became a prisoner of war camp during W.W.II, and finally become a church camp during the summer of 1948. You can read more about the history of Camp Michaux by going to http://www.schaeffersite.com/michaux/.
Recreational facilities at Hartman Center included an upgraded swimming pool as well as basketball courts, GaGa Pit, and two sand pit volleyball courts, all of which could be illuminated for night games. The large open field was used for everything from sports games to and marching band performances. Along with the many hiking trails around camp (including the one that goes to the top of “the Knob”), one of the most popular aspects of learning about living in community was the Co-Op Trail. This low-ropes course helped groups work together to complete various tasks and helped individuals build self-confidence by doing things that were sometimes out of their “comfort zone.” Other attractions included a labyrinth, fire pits, and an outdoor chapel in the pine forest.
Like other camps were forced to do in the spring of 2020, the summer camp season was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result of that and other financial factors, at their June meeting in the same year, the Penn Central Conference Board of Directors voted to close the camp for good. A Service of Celebration, Farewwell and Future was held at the camp on September 12, 2020.
HARTMAN CENTER LEADERSHIP OVER THE YEARS
- Paul Oberkircher (1964-1973)
- Dan & Sharon Wilson (1973-1976)
- Vernon Baum (1973-1976)
- Ellen Matten (1976-1979)
- Bette Bender (1976-1979)
- Charlie Hull (1976-1979)
- TC Day (1979-1984)
- Bob Knowles (1984-1987)
- Rob Brown (1987-1991)
- Lee Lawhead (1991-1998)
- Betsy Matten (1998-2001)
- Joe Krabill (2001-2002
- Bruce Druckenmiller (2002-2015)
- Patty Dodds (2016-2019)
- Zoe D’heedene (2019-January 2020)