As early as 1926 an attempt was made to establish a girls’ camp under the supervision of the Baptist Education Board. Camp Star Note, the girls’ portion of Camp Swannanoa, only operated in the summer of 1926 and 1927. Other brief attempts at short summer sessions were made, but none were successful enough to continue the operation. These efforts, however, were enough to keep alive the hope and dream that one day a camp for girls similar to Camp Ridgecrest for Boys would become a reality. In 1950, those dreams began to take the form of concrete actions to establish such a camp.
T.L. Holcomb, executive secretary of the Sunday School Board, received a $25 check designated for a girls’ camp. Holcomb planted that seed money immediately, and growth began with the formation of a committee to study the matter and select a site. Holcomb led the Board to allocate $100,000 for 1953 and $50,000 for 1954 to begin the development of a girls’ camp.
The director of Camp Ridgecrest for Boys strongly supported the effort for a girls’ camp. The success of Camp Ridgecrest and dedication of the directors built a strong base for the girl's camp. Many of the programming concepts and administrative techniques developed in the boys’ camp were shared with the girls’ camp to make its beginning much easier. It was suggested that the name of the boys’ camp with the syllables reversed be used as a name for the girls’ camp, and Camp Crestridge for Girls was born.
Groundbreaking ceremonies were conducted on August 4, 1954. Heavy rains in the area forced the ceremony indoors. James L. Sullivan, the new executive secretary of the Sunday School Board, broke ground in a bucket of dirt. Construction started the next month, with the camp opening for the summer of 1955.
As early as 1952, Willard Weeks, manager of Ridgecrest Baptist Assembly, began the search for a director of Camp Crestridge. The same high quality director and staff demanded at Ridgecrest were required for Crestridge. Pickering aided Weeks in the search and was the first to meet Miss Arvine Bell, the one who would direct the camp for almost 25 years. Arvine Bell was selected as the person who could make Camp Crestridge the camp everyone wanted. She began her work in 1954. The camp, its development, staff, and hundreds of young women who have attended Crestridge all stand as testimonies to the effectiveness of her ministry.
Crestridge opened for its first session on June 6, 1955. The first meeting was held in a combination dining hall and gymnasium. All of the facilities were not complete, and the staff and campers had to spend the first few nights at Ridgecrest. They also walked back and forth to the Conference Center for meals. The camp was set up based on the model Pickering had established at Camp Ridgecrest for Boys with two five-week sessions. Fifty girls attended the first session and 92 participated in the second session. Susan Harrell, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. W.A. Harrell was the first to enroll.
Johnnie Armstrong, a charter staff member enlisted by Miss Bell for the very first session, has continued on staff for most of Crestridge’s history. Johnnie was land sports director in 1955, program director in 1956 and was named Assistant Camp Director in 1957. When Arvine Bell resigned in 1979 to become principal of a Christian school in Florida, Johnnie Armstrong was named Summer Director. After her tenure as Summer Director, she has continued to return to camp for a couple of weeks each summer, leading campfires and helping around camp. Camp Crestridge continues to challenge girls to grow in their physical, mental, social, and spiritual life in every aspect of camp. The Crestridge motto states “With my feet on the ground and my heart attuned, I shall reach for the stars.”
*Historical Information obtained from Ridgecrest: Mountain of Faith by Kenneth McAnear.