Asbury Retreat Center comes out of a rich tradition of blending experiences of study, fellowship, worship, and recreation for the purpose of creating a sense of joy and wonder for faith in God and the Christian way of life. In 1873 a vision began from the Genesee Annual Conference of The Methodist Episcopal Church to establish a camp meeting grounds on an area of the Eastside of Silver Lake, NY, for Methodists to train and teach church groups so that they would be able to return home and carry on the teachings of Methodism.
Many people traveled from the larger cities by train which had a stop right on the East shore of Silver Lake. They spent the week sleeping, eating, and listening in tents. As the popularity of the Silver Lake Methodist Institute increased, people began to put up permanent structures on the holy ground rented from the Institute. Cottages for sleeping and buildings for meeting began to shape the landscape. Epworth Hall (remaining Silver Lake Institute property) and Epworth Inn were built in the 1880’s.
In order to expand, the Silver Lake Institute Trustees purchased the adjacent Sutton estate in 1944. Mr. Edward Sutton was the founder of the Fro-Joy Ice Cream Company of Buffalo which eventually was sold to General Foods. Sutton’s estate came with a three-story structure with twenty rooms, a ballroom and 32 beds, right on the lake. The name was changed to The Methodist Manor and was used to house the Institute faculty, students, and paying guests.
In the late 1940’s money was raised to remodel and refurnish buildings used for summer programs. Three additional summer cabins and a building (Snack Shack) to house the book room and soda fountain were built. Today, the Snack Shack is still a place where you can enjoy an ice cream treat or purchase Asbury souvenirs. Summer help was hired to staff the kitchen and dining room for weeks of junior high and senior high school camps. Volunteers (pastors, church men and women) came to provide the program. The Women’s Society of Christian Service came for a week as well. Young adults came for weekend camps. The Epworth League gathered youth groups every summer for one week.
In 1957, the approximately 60 acres on the South side of the Silver Lake Institute bordered by Chapman Ave and Silver Lake (Sutton Estate and additional purchases), were deeded to the Genesee Annual Conference to be a separate entity called, “Camp Asbury”. Intensive summer programs continued for young people to experience Christian living under creative leadership and wise counseling. Russell Lodge was built as a meeting and recreation space. Two winterized cabins were built to sleep 22 people with showers, bathrooms, and a common meeting space. Camp Asbury became a place for people to learn, work, play, and worship together in a Christian atmosphere surrounded by God’s beautiful Silver Lake setting.
With the emergence of The United Methodist Church in 1968, Camp Asbury became the property of the newly formed Western New York Annual Conference. Summer camp programs continued with events being added during the spring and fall. The Methodist Manor, Batavia, and Mabuce Cabins could host groups beyond the summer season.
In 1983, Koinoina Inn was built as the new year round dining and meeting space. In 1991, Willmott Lodge was built with help from a grant from the Willmott Foundation. Willmott Lodge created additional space for people of all ages to come year round, with two identical wings with bedrooms, shared baths, and a common meeting room between wings. A second meeting room was added in 2004 to Willmott Lodge.
In 2007, a New Asbury Manor was completed to replace The Methodist Manor. The Asbury Manor marked the entrance into a new century with motel-like accommodations. Bedrooms with private bathrooms, a full service kitchen, dining, and living room, as well as handicapped accessibility, modernized the ambiance of the previous Methodist Manor, still keeping the gorgeous view of Silver Lake.
With the creation of the Upper New York Annual Conference in 2010, and under the more inclusive name of Asbury Retreat Center, the Asbury staff strives to continue the vision of offering Christian hospitality year round as a site for retreats, conferences, seminars, and reunions for people of all ages and backgrounds to learn, work, play, and worship together in a Christian atmosphere surrounded by God’s beautiful Silver Lake setting.