“Mount Hermon started a long, long time ago. I first went in 1947, after the end of the World War II.”
Albert, age 94
Mount Hermon did start a long, long time ago. But by 1947, it was already close to half a century old. The beginning dates back to the turn of the 20th century when Reverend Hugh Gilchrest, pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Seattle, was invited to join the San Francisco seminary faculty and to pastor the Westminster Presbyterian Church in that city. But he hesitated to accept. If he left Seattle, he would have to bid farewell to the summer Bible conferences at Vashon Island, Washington. After much prayer, he replied that he would go if they would agree to hold Bible conferences there. They did, and Reverend Gilchrest moved to San Francisco.
The first of three annual fall Bible conferences was held in 1902. They were good, but might a mid-summer event in a nice vacation spot be even better? In the summer of 1905, a great ten-day conference was held at Glenwood, about seven miles north of present-day Mount Hermon. It drew an astonishing 250 people. Every morning, Hugh Gilchrest and another pastor, Thornton Mills, met to pray and consider whether the Pacific Coast might need a conference ground of its own, one such as Dwight L. Moody had started in Northfield, Massachusetts. At the end of the Glenwood conference, Dr. W. C. Sherman preached a powerful sermon from Ecclesiastes 8:4—“Where the Word of a King Is, There Is Power.” Dr. Sherman declared, “Jesus is King. We have His Word; therefore, we have authority to go ahead. The power is ours. What are we waiting for?”
What, indeed! At the end of the conference, the men called for a vote. It was unanimous. They needed a western Northfield.
In September 1905, Pastors Gilchrest and Mills—along with Henry Sanborne, another of the speakers at the Glenwood conference—met at San Francisco’s Occidental Hotel. Their charge was to organize a committee to start a conference center. They spent most of their time in prayer.
They had a calling. They had a foundation of prayer. But, where should such a conference center be located? The men looked two hundred miles up and down the San Francisco coast, and as far inland as Yosemite. Glenwood, perhaps? Too small and not enough water. Point Lobos, south of Carmel? Great possibility, but again, little water. The Elim Grove of Redwoods on the Russian River? Certainly worth considering. But in the end, nothing compared with the stunning beauty, the flowing water, and the existing structures at two 200-acre parcels: the Tuxedo Hotel property, and the Arcadia property.
Neither Tuxedo nor Arcadia was an appropriate name, however. So Reverend Gilchrist sat down with his Bible, and directories of New York and Washington state, and put together a list of almost 1,000 possible names—including a few nice-sounding ones he made up. A committee of five women made the final selection. The top choice was Mount Hermon, the blessed place where Jesus went apart with His disciples and was transfigured before them. A perfect name, for through the years this has continually been a place for followers of Christ to draw apart with Him. Truly a place of blessed transformation.
Mount Hermon Association was formed and a board of directors appointed. They would raise money to buy the property by selling stock. By April 2, 1906, they had sold $30,000 worth, half paid for and the rest payable. On April 14, with praise on their lips, they bought the 400 acres for $44,000. Although they still owed $31,000, they had stock promises for every bit of it.
Four days later, the great San Francisco earthquake struck. With the city in ruins and countless fires burning, those who had paid pleaded, “We need our money back!” Those who hadn’t yet paid begged, “Please, we’re ruined! You cannot hold us to that debt!”
In the end, every last dollar was refunded. The fledgling conference center was flat broke. The trustees did the only thing they could do—they fell to their knees and prayed. When they finished praying they said, “God was in this before the earthquake, and He will be in it after the earthquake. We will go on. The need for the true teachings of the Word is as great now as before the disaster. We will go on in the dark, trusting God.”
That sound foundation of prayer and trust in God’s faithfulness that carried Mount Hermon through those dark days held secure through every challenge that followed.
On April 6, 1917, war shook our world. With sorely needed resources diverted from the fledgling conference center to the war effort, and everyday basics rationed, guests brought salt, sugar, and flour to donate to the kitchen. As men marched off to fight and supplies grew more scarce, a decision was made to hold at least one service at a campfire. They called it “Victory Circle.” A unique name for a unique concept where countless lives have been transformed.
“Mount Hermon started in 1959. At least, it did for me. At Victory Circle. I was in high school, and it changed my life forever.”
Four years later, on April 18, 1921, fire roared through Mount Hermon, burning Zayante Inn, the dining room, and cabins. With the summer season fast approaching, the timing was terrible. The first response was prayer. As God moved, people donated their time, their energy, even their cabins. Whatever it took to get the camp ready. That year, Mount Hermon’s operations moved to the conference center.
An even greater forest fire threatened the camp in July 1929. Once again people fell to their knees in prayer, and the wind changed. The charred ground showed how close the fire had come—two feet from Mount Hermon’s property!
Three months after the fire, the new Mount Hermon Association, Inc., was created to help with the resulting financial woes. Ten days later, on October 29, 1929, the Great Stock Market Crash rocked the country. Some people suggested it was God’s way of keeping the officers and directors conscious of their complete dependence on Him. It certainly did that!
On the heels of World War II, in May 1950, a group of Japanese pastors had a dream: If they could rebuild their churches and evangelize their communities, they could send the Gospel of Christ back to Japan! They intended to hold a one-time gathering at Mount Hermon, but the impact was so great that the Japanese Evangelical Missionary Society (JEMS) has become one of Mount Hermon’s largest annual events. Their 2,000-plus attendees fill Redwood Camp and the main conference center, and spill over into other camps in the area.
“I prayed my daughter would have a Mountain Top experience. She had something much better. Her experience was solid, knowing in her heart that God is real and present.”
From the beginning, Mount Hermon Road ran through the conference center—not a problem when it was a sleepy street. But by the 1950s, the 1,200 vehicles a day that roared along the thoroughfare became a troubling situation. Fences provided some protection, but they kept getting knocked down by drunk drivers. On Sundays, the road was so busy, police had to direct traffic. As years passed and traffic increased, the troubling situation became a disaster waiting to happen. Directors and conferees alike prayed that God would somehow close the road. But if that happened, where would the cars go? And how would people get to Mount Hermon? By 1968, a full 16,000 vehicles roared through each day. Trucks rumbled along so loudly that anyone speaking in the auditorium had to pause and wait until they passed. Once again, God’s people raised their voices to heaven. And God answered. A tremendous winter storm closed the road. But the county rerouted it to Graham Hill Road, and back up through Mount Hermon. People prayed on, and the rain poured down. The next year, the road washed out again, but this time it sank forty feet. Enough was enough. The county built a bypass around Mount Hermon.
“There is a perfectly logical reason for the giant hill slipping down onto Mount Hermon road… It has nothing to do with underground springs, earth fissures or pressures, I say. I contend it is all those Mount Hermon residents employing the ‘faith-to-move-mountains’ prayer program.”
Valley Press, 1969
Mount Hermon’s legacy includes many of the most influential preachers, teachers, and musicians. A few names from among the many greats: Louis Talbot, who led the Young People’s Conference in 1932, and Charles Fuller with the Fuller Seminary Conferences. Henrietta Meers, who so influenced both Billy Graham, and Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ. Dick Halverson, pastor of Fourth Presbyterian in Washington, D.C., who served as Chaplain to the Senate, and Luis Palau, the great preacher from Buenos Aires, Argentina.
When Billy Graham preached at Mount Hermon’s auditorium, the staff set up bleachers and chairs throughout the mall to accommodate the crowds at two consecutive meetings. Each drew 1,400 people! On a jeep ride with Mount Hermon director Bill Gwinn, Billy Graham admired the beauty of the area. It reminded him of his North Carolina home. At the summit, he prayed with the staff, claiming the 12-acre site for the Lord. Six years later, Kaiser Sand and Gravel gifted the entire 12 acres to Mount Hermon. The result was Ponderosa Lodge, where so many high school and college students have felt the touch of God.
Gospel Hall of Famer Andre Crouch, Dove Award Winner Paul Baloche, Grammy winner Charlie Peacock, and Mount Hermon’s own David Talbott join the countless men and women whose music had echoed through the redwoods over the decades.
Mount Hermon, established on a foundation of prayer, was built on utter dependence on God. Honed by earthquake and war and fire, it was made strong through unshakable trust in God’s faithfulness. Today its legacy lives on in the countless lives that have been transformed for eternity.