High atop Locke Mountain on June 17 Eagle Eyrie Baptist Conference Center will celebrate 50 years as Virginia Baptists' assembly grounds. “Soaring in God's Spirit” is the theme of this golden anniversary celebration, bringing Baptists from around Virginia to this place which for half a century has served as a haven for worship, study and rest.
A historic background
Eagle Eyrie is famous in history dating back to Colonial days. In 1761 King George III of England made a generous land grant, which included portions of land that now include Eagle Eyrie and Natural Bridge. The grant was later divided between Nicholas Davies, a Welshman, and Thomas Jefferson.
During the Revolutionary War, Davies built his home in the sparsely settled Central Piedmont area and used it as a refuge from the British. He was known as “The Eagle” and his estate was referred to as “Eagle's Eyrie,” later shortened to Eagle Eyrie.
The property was sold several times, until Baron O. Quarles von Ufford, a German, bought it in 1915 and built what later was called “the White House.” After World War I, the Baron was forced to sell Eagle Eyrie because of public sentiment against Germans. The property was sold again several times until 1950, when it was purchased by the Virginia Baptist Board of Missions and Education from C. J. Stephenson, a retired Canadian banker.
For 20 years previous to this, Virginia Baptists held their assemblies at Massanetta Springs near Harrisonburg, which was owned by the Presbyterians. In 1949 an idea was born that Baptists needed their own assembly and the idea began to be explored.
A beautiful mountain setting
In June 1950 a Summer Assembly Committee and other members of the Board of Missions and Education visited Eagle Eyrie. It was a beautiful site, commanding a magnificent view of valleys and mountain ranges. In November 1950 the Baptist General Association of Virginia met at First Baptist Church, Roanoke, and the committee brought a recommendation to purchase the mountain; it carried. The entire estate, consisting of approximately 195 acres, a handsome 12-room mansion (the White House), a gate house and a 150-year-old cottage (formerly used as a post office) was acquired for $31,500.
In 1952 Herbert R. Carlton was called to be the first secretary for summer assemblies. Eagle Eyrie directors who have followed have been William O. Beazley, 1956-59; Malcolm Burgess, 1960-88; and W. Wesley “Binky” Huff, 1988-2003. Rod Miller currently serves as director.
The process of developing the assembly grounds began in the summer of 1953 with the construction of roads. English Hall, the first building which included a dining room, storage rooms and 10 classrooms, was built in 1956 and named in honor of the Curtis English family for their generous contributions to the project.
Moving into a new home
The first day-long assembly at Eagle Eyrie was held July 20, 1956. For Virginia Baptists it was like a family moving into a new home. During the early days when English Hall was used as a dining hall, after a meal the tables would be pushed aside, chairs put in place and worship services conducted, sometimes to the clanking noise of the dishes being washed in the kitchen.
The first cottage, a seven-bedroom brick house erected by First Baptist Church of South Boston, was completed in September 1956. Today there are 35 lodges on the mountain and 17 of them are owned by Eagle Eyrie.
The hotel, Cedar Crest, was built in 1957 with 48 rooms. In April of 1962 the Nina B. Uzzle Prayer Chapel was dedicated. On Aug. 27, 1965, Mr. and Mrs. Howard E. Sigmon of Roanoke presented a Children's Building to Virginia Baptists. A new gift shop bookstore and ice cream parlor were dedicated in 1979.
In 1974 the need for a new administrative complex was studied. Estimates for remodeling the White House were high, so it was decided to build a new structure. The old Eagle Eyrie landmark vanished and a new $1.25 million dollar small conference center was to be built.
It would be a two-story building with carport and patio with a large lobby and lounge with open fireplace which would house administrative offices and four conference dining rooms. The upper floor would contain 16 large bedrooms and the complex would enable Eagle Eyrie to serve smaller groups efficiently and more economically.
Accredited conference center
In 1995 Eagle Eyrie Baptist Conference Center received accreditation from the American Camping Association as an accredited conference center by national standards. Eagle Eyrie was the sixth conference center in the U.S. to achieve this mark of distinction.
In 1999 Virginia Baptists acquired an upscale home on 25 acres contiguous to Eagle Eyrie's property from Donald Britton, son of a Virginia Baptist pastor, for an adult retreat facility. Money was provided for its purchase by Mrs. Lawrence Hoover, a member of First Baptist Church of Annandale, in memory of her husband. This home now houses the Lawrence Hoover Learning Center for adults which was dedicated in May of 2002.
During the past 50 years, the mountain top has been a place where leadership has been motivated and strengthened. Every group found among Virginia Baptists have held retreats and workshops at Eagle Eyrie. Last year 20,924 persons participated in state conferences and other retreats. The largest group to ever gather for a weekend retreat was 1,322 ladies who came to the Women's Getaway sponsored by Woman's Missionary of Virginia in November 2004.
In addition, African-American, Chinese and Korean Baptists, and others have used the facilities. And not just Baptists have climbed the mountain. Lutherans, Presbyterians, Methodists, Assembly of God, and the Salvation Army have conducted meetings there.
The Virginia judicatories of both the Evanglical Lutheran Church and the United Methodist Church hold yearly youth events at Eagle Eyrie. In 2004 the Baptist General Convention of Virginia, a predominantly African-American convention, celebrated its 25th anniversary of holding youth events at Eagle Eyrie, with 1,156 senior high students and chaperones participating in a weekend retreat. Guests occupied every bed at Eagle Eyrie and more than 60 rooms at a nearby hotel.
LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention sponsored four weeks of Centrifuge and CentriKid events there for the first time in 2004. More than 1,500 youth and children participated.
Virginia Baptist churches also use Eagle Eyrie for private group retreats and fellowship every year.
The 50th anniversary celebration
All Virginia Baptists are invited to attend the Golden Anniversary Service on Saturday, June 17. Special music will be provided by the Virginia Baptist Male Chorale and the Virginia Baptist Women's Chorale. Prelude music, provided by the Clifford Baptist Church Young Ladies Ensemble and the Mount Hermon Baptist Church youth choir, will begin at 1:30 p.m.
The service begins at 2 p.m. with Fred Anderson, executive director of the Virginia Baptist Historical Society, presenting “A Memorable Look Back.” Testimonies will be given by former staff members and others who have made their professions of faith or accepted their calls to ministry while at Eagle Eyrie.
John Upton, executive director of the Virginia Baptist Mission Board, will provide “A Visionary Look Forward” to the next 50 years of ministry. This will include a presentation by the newly formed Eagle Eyrie Committee, regarding plans to improve and expand facilities.
There is no charge to attend the Golden Anniversary Service. A buffet lunch and dinner will be available at $5 per meal. Overnight accommodations at Eagle Eyrie are available at $20 per person.
To make reservations, contact Eagle Eyrie at (434) 384-2211 or [email protected].