Christadelphian Bible School: “Looking Back”

Reprinted here by special permission of the author, Cindy Beckman, a retired Conway High School history teacher who writes local history.

Tucked away on Highway 124 in northern Faulkner County is the Arkansas Christadelphian Bible School. The school sits on land donated by James Daniel Martin in 1885 for holding Christadelphian gatherings. Martin was a member of a Christadelphian ecclesia that formed in the Georgia Settlement of Conway County in the early 1880s.

The community that developed on the Martin land was first called Cadron Cove at the time but it was renamed Martinville in 1887. Martin built a pavilion on the five acres he donated and each year, there was a Fraternal Gathering of Christadelphians.

At the 1922 Gathering, Ben F. Scroggin, Sr. of Biscoe, suggested that a Bible School be started for the children. Oscar Lee Dunaway and Charlie Martin of Conway, J.S. Martin and J.R. Fraser of Little Rock, and S.O. Jones of Biscoe all agreed so the group began planning.

The school is governed by the Arkansas Christadelphian Bible School Committee, which is composed of one person from each ecclesia in the state. There are currently 11 ecclesiae in the state. This group elects the Bible School officers.

Oscar Lee Dunaway, one of the founders and an educator, volunteered as superintendent of the facility from 1923 until his death in 1958. He had two bachelor’s degrees from Hendrix and a Master’s Degree from Peabody College. He and his wife, Blanch, lived on Center Street in Conway and were the parents of six children: Edwin, William, Margaret, Oscar Lee, Jr., Arthur and James.

The first school was held July 18-August 2, 1923. Among the first teachers at the school were Miss Margaret Stephens and Oscar Lee Dunaway of Conway and Mrs. J.N. Winburn and Mrs. Scott Huie of Morrilton.

Two large tents, one for men and boys and the other for women and girls, were erected. The meetings and classes were held in the pavilion. Meals were free but each person had to bring their own bedding, toiletries and eating utensils.

Typical activities at the school included daily Bible drills on the books of the Bible, scripture verses and the history of the nation of Israel (not the 1948 one). Evening programs consisted of lantern slides and a lecturer. There were about 175 pupils registered, including four from Louisiana, two from Iowa and three from Virginia.

Outdoor activities grew to include swimming in the nearby creek, baseball, volleyball, table tennis, hiking, etc. Later camp attendees also walked down to the nearby store for ice cream and sodas.

A 10 x 12-foot building was built on the grounds to serve as a kitchen and people ate under the trees until the old pavilion became the dining area. In 1928, a large Craftsman-style building, called the Tabernacle, was erected for classes, lectures and services.

Eventually dormitories replaced the tents. A nursery for women with babies, bathhouses with toilets and showers, and an RV facility were also built. Concrete sidewalks join all the buildings. There is also a sports field as well some privately-owned cabins at the 15-acre camp. There is also a store where Bibles and religious literature can be purchased.

The first two schools were free but by the third school, adults were charged $2 and children $1. Fees increased over the years. Sometimes as many as 500 persons attended the summer camps.

Out of state members made significant contributions to this camp over the years. At least 31 states and Canada were represented at various times. In 1950, there were 33 from Virginia. This camp was the first of its kind and served as an example for other states that eventually built their own camps.

About 1953, D.W. Bughman, who lived on the grounds, began publishing the “Christadelphian Bible School Messenger,” a bi-monthly magazine published for several years. He and his wife taught classes and made charts for the school.

Today the school lasts for only one week and the cost is $100 for an individual, $200 for a couple, $75 for ages 15-17, $50 for ages 11-14, and $25 for ages 3-10 with the maximum cost per family being $225.

Note: Information from Faulkner County: Its Land and People (1986) and the Encyclopedia of Arkansas was used for this column.

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