1800's - 1949

  • 1820 | Before this time Manitoqua was wilderness, inhabited in succession by the Illini, Sauk, Fox, and Potawatomi Native Americans.
  • 1820-1830 | During these years, Manitoqua was part of the property owned by Chief Manitoqua, a Potawatomi Native American who was one of the signers of the treaty at Tippecanoe. An old map shows that the Chief attempted to provide for his family by setting aside one parcel of ground for “The Sons of Manitoqua” and another for “The Wife of Manitoqua.” The retreat center is located on part of the ground reserved for his wife. "Mani" in many Native American tongues means “Great Spirit.” Late in this period the land was taken from the Potawatomis and opened for settlers. Most of the Potawatomis were moved to a reservation in Iowa.
  • 1852 | Manitoqua was part of a parcel of ground bought by the James Boorman family who were the first settlers on the property. The acreage he purchased is still referred to on official documents as the “James Boorman subdivision of the Manitoqua Reservation.” Much of the property changed hands several times.
  • 1945 | Gerald Cleary and his wife purchased the farm, lived on it for several years, and then rented it to the Bell family who were the last residents.


  • 1955 | On June 6, the Reformed Church Laymen’s Midwest Conference Association bought the 312.2 acre farm which included a piece of ground south of Sauk Trail. The total cost was $75,761.65 or approximately $250 per acre.
  • 1956 | The 265 acres south of Sauk Trail were sold to obtain money for the development of the property north of Sauk Trail (the present property).
  • 1957 | After the farm buildings were torn down, the first structures built were the residence (constructed on the approximate site of the old farm house) and the shelter located on the east end of the property in the picnic grove.
  • 1958 | This was a year of spirited activity. The longed-for swimming pool became a reality at a cost of $38,400. All the cabins were completed (without heat) for $30,000. Before this year, campers enjoyed the great outdoors in tents. The Dining Hall was constructed for $28,000 (heating, plumbing, electricity, etc. not included in this figure).


  • history - 1968 Postcard1960 | Rev. Albert TenClay became Manitoqua’s first director.
  • 1963 | On November 8, the beautiful Chapel was dedicated at a cost of $85,000.
  • 1967 | Rev. Harold Korver was installed as director. Many improvements were brought about during the year. The Dining Hall basement was finished to add a retreat room and a recreation room. In addition, the wing rooms in the upstairs Chapel were divided to make two more retreat rooms. The climax of the year was the 10th anniversary celebration.
  • 1968 | For the first time, college students made up most of the staff of summer counselors. In prior years, pastors served in this capacity. This year, Manitoqua was proud to be accepted into the American Camping Association and has since maintained the high standards necessary for membership.
  • 1969 | Year-round, over-night retreats became a reality when heating was installed in all the cabins. To accommodate the increasing number of retreats, a large retreat room (the fourth) was completed in the Chapel basement.


  • 1970 | The newly formed Manitoqua Board became the decision-making body for Manitoqua. This role was formerly filled by the Inter-Classis Committee.
  • 1971 | Rev. Ted Bechtel assumed the position of director.
  • 1974 | King’s Camp, the newly purchased wilderness camp near Rockford, IL, became part of the responsibility of the Manitoqua Board.
  • 1975 | Vern Essenberg was installed as the director.
  • 1975 | For the first time, Manitoqua ministered to mentally handicapped adults in the form of a four-day retreat.
  • 1977 | Several opportunities were added to the summer events:
    • Swimming lessons were offered to area residents.
    • Third, fourth, and fifth graders responded enthusiastically to the first conference held for their age group.
    • Several churches took advantage of the opportunity to invite a group of four Manitoqua counselors into their congregation for a week to bring summer camp to high school students who found it difficult to attend a regular session.
  • 1977 | Manitoqua and King’s Camp officially became MANITOQUA MINISTRIES.
  • 1978 | A Day Camp program was started in which all ages gathered together in one shelter.

history - '84 summer staff (rez)


  • 1980’s | The summer program included a Teepee camp, out-trip camps to service sites and to King’s Camp, and the Day Camp program expanded to three separate age groups.
  • 1988 | Two additional picnic shelters were added to the Picnic Grove.



  • IMG_22291990’s | The programs continued to grow as the Frankfort area continued to expand and develop closer to the Manitoqua grounds.
  • 1993 | The Adult Retreat Center was completed in order to host adult retreats from September to May and to provide housing for summer staff. The Oaks with the attached meeting room was also completed this year.
  • 1996 | 35 acres on the south side of Sauk Trail were purchased.
  • 1999 | The Adventure Zone was built including a High Ropes Course, Climbing Tower, and teams course elements. This experience was available to both summer camps and year-round retreat guests.


  • 2004 | Summer Camp provides Day Camp programs for over 3000 children 4 years old through entering 9th grade with the addition of a Mission Day Camp for the 9th grade students.
  • 2006 | Completion of a new Maintenance Shop provides indoor storage for vehicles and equipment as well as a full working shop area.
    • Adventure Zone moved from the south side of Sauk Trail to the north side of Sauk Trail to provide for safer travel to and from facilities. The new Adventure Zone has an expanded High Ropes Course with two levels of elements, two separate climbing towers with two zip lines in between and even more team building initiatives for an expanded program.
    • The original pool from 1958 was torn out, and construction of the new Aquatic Center began.
    • Journey Day Camp is available for the first time, allowing summer camp families to enroll children in a specialized Day Camp program for all 10 consecutive weeks of the season forming stronger bonds and enabling new activities.
  • 2007 | Manitoqua celebrated its 50th Anniversary and 50 years of God's Spirit Changing Lives.
    • The Golden Gala kicked off our anniversary year with a bang. Over 200 friends and benefactors joined Manitoqua in thanking God for his faithfulness to the ministry.
    • On June 2, a huge turnout of swimmers and friends came for the Aquatic Center Grand Opening with a splash, plunge, and slide.
  • 2008 | Manitoqua launched a few new programs in the fall and winter: Pre-K Days, a series of dynamic one-day events for preschool classes to experience; Oak Leaf Festival, a large-scale event to celebrate autumn and have fun as a family; and WinterBlast, a day camp program to meet the needs of children on their winter break from school.
  • 2018 | Cabins G & H were torn down to make room for a larger cabin, taking away 30 beds for the Fall 2018 and Spring 2019 retreat season.
  • 2019 | Acorn Cabin was completed with four sleeping areas and two bathrooms allowing Manitoqua to house larger groups who want to use our grounds. Acorn Cabin sleeps 64 making room for additional childen to attend overnight summer camp. 
  • 2024 | Birchwood Cabin is scheduled for completion. Identical to the Acorn Cabin, Birchwood will improve the experience for summer campers and year-round retreat guests.  In addition, original cabin C&D is being renamed Elm 1 & 2. Original cabins I&J and K&L are being renamed Maple 1 through 4.