In the beginning

A first-hand account by Louis L. and Gladys Ortmayer, 1963 (edited for publication)

On the tenth of March, 1923, a district missionary conference was held in Livingston.  One of the items of business was the responsibility of locating a site near Yellowstone Park for the Epworth League Institute.  As I recall, Cecil L. Clifford was present, representing the state Epworth League.  On the second day the conference members were invited to the Pine Creek church for a noon luncheon, following which all who would were asked to go up to Grinnell Park, which had been suggested as a possible location for the institute.  Saddle horses and a three-seated buckboard, driven by Albert Allen, were the means of transportation. Although the ground was covered with two or three feet snow, the conference unanimously authorized the District Superintendent, Robert C. Edgington and a committee, to proceed with all the necessary arrangements to make Grinnell Park the location for the Yellowstone Park Epworth Institute.

With this authorization, Mr. Edgington went to work. He entered into an agreement with Mr. Allen to purchase 25 acres, the southeast corner, or a section, bounded by the national forest on the east.  The purchase price was $2500.00, but all Mr. Edgington had was his faith in the young people of the district.  Grinnell Park was a beautiful spot, but how to get to it?  Otto G. Ponath, pastor of the Pine Creek church, undertook to build a road up the hill which the highway department said was a $6000 job.  The people of Pine Creek and Livingston rallied to the task and by July first were able to drive, push and pull a Model T Ford up the hill and onto the camp ground.

Arriving on the grounds, we looked around a bit anxiously; lowering clouds to the south were threatening wind and rain.  Towering trees, row on row marching up the mountainside, were beautiful, but they provided little shelter from the coming storm.  Wait! What is that under the big tree?  A great pile of canvas, poles and rope.  Those resourceful men Bob Edgington, Charles D. Crouch and Rev. Harry Chappell had learned that the Ringling Brothers Circus, while in Billings, had replaced their big three-ring tent and had left the old one behind.  The men arranged to get the “Big Top” free, with the condition that they take it away, poles, rope and everything.  A man with a truck was found who agreed to haul it to the camp grounds for $90.00. Where Edgington found the $90.00 will ever remain a mystery.

kitchen tent

Portions of this tent provided shelter for the first camp kitchen, dining room, and institute meetings.  Lodgepole pines provided floor joists and framing for tent houses.  A strip of the canvas 14 by 24 feet covered the frame while the gables were filled in with remnants.  Eight of these tent houses were the original accommodations provided for faculty and guests.  These tents were replaced about 1938 by the present cabins.

At the first Institute gathering, with about 250 people present, the grounds were dedicated “To the glory of God, the proclaiming of the gospel, for Christian fellowship, recreation, worship, inspiration, dedication and commitment to Christ and His kingdom”. The park was then named in honor of Napthali Luccock, the first resident Bishop of the Helena area. The three mountains were also christened that Sunday; Faith, the mountain to the left or north; Hope, the central mountain, and Charity, the one to the right or south. (These are not the official names found on the map.)  The road up the hill was named Ponath Trail in honor of Rev. Ponath, then pastor of the Pine Creek Church.