A willow spring bubbled at the center of a new survey undertaken by two veterans of the American Revolution. In 1808, the 829 2/3 acres of No. 5476 & 5672 in Madison County consisted mostly of open prairie with scattered stands of oak, hickory, and elm trees. The area rewarded John Moore and William Creighton Jr. for their service as officers in the Virginia Continental Line. They immigrated to Ohio half a lifetime later as settlers opened up the region. Both were lawyers. Creighton set up shop in Chillicothe, then the state capital; Moore hung out his single in London, the county seat. He built his residence across from the Court House (next to present day Trinity Church). Neither man showed much inclination in further developing their holding in the south part of the county.
Cattle and sheep began grazing on the rolling landscape around Procter as Madison County became a center of livestock production. William H. Creighton took renewed interest in his father’s holding in Range Township. In all, the younger Creighton assembled an estate of 1177 acres which straddled modern Route 38. Probably between 1845 and 1861 he built an equally symmetrical brick house on the hill overlooking his domain. Two (four?) rooms on the ground flanked a central hallway and staircase, running north-south, parallel to the main road, and were surmounted by another four bedrooms on the second floor. Servants quarters were on the third floor and a seperate kitchen house was built on the north side. The big red barn stood on the adjacent hillock.Creighton’s fortune’s began to wane after the Civil War and he was forced to sell off some of his land during the years before his death in 1873. Lacking heirs, his administrators sold his land at sheriff’s auction to John Thompson, son of Madison County’s premiere judge. Thompson paid $32.95 an acre for 638.4 acres, for a total of $21,045.95. Route 38 now formed the west boundary of the estate. Thompson, though, led a quiet life around his London property and let his managers oversee the old Creighton farm.
For a brief time, the same person owned the sites of two great Madison County organizations: Procter Center and the London Correctional Institution (the Prison Farm). Thompson, “the richest man in the county,” died without heirs in 1909 at the age of 98, leaving almost two-thirds of his estate to John Ellsworth, who apparently managed the property. In 1913 the State of Ohio decided that the Thompson land between Old Springfield Road and Route 56 would be the ideal place for a proposed prison farm. Ellsworth refused to sell, so the state took the case before a Madison County jury, which awarded Ellsworth a cool quarter million dollars in 1914 for about fifteen hundred acres of land. Ellsworth poured the money into the old Creighton farm, doubling its size to almost two thousand acres, most of which lay to the east of the original estate. At the same time, he shifted production from, on average, 130 head of cattle to about 150 lambs and ewes and 350 hogs. Ellsworth also rebuilt the original farmhouse into one of the county’s social centers, adding the north wing and turning the spring into a combination swimming pool and boating pond. Ellsworth lived well for twenty years, until the Great Depression hit. He began bankruptcy proceedings in October 1932 and on March 2, 1934 the sheriff sold all Ellsworth’s possessions at public auction on the steps of the Court House. Jane E. Procter of Cincinnati bid $140,000 for the entirety. In October 1934 Mrs. Procter resold Ellsworth his original Summerford farm for the princely sum of one dollar.
Mrs. Procter proved a better steward of the land than had Ellsworth. Two years later she added another three hundred acres lying to the north. In June 1952 Mrs. Procter split her holdings. The newer additions became a joint venture with Orleton Farms, now the J. Sawyer Co. Mrs. William Cooper Procter donated about 1250 acres, the southern half of the property, including the original survey, farmhouse, and barn, to the Diocese of Southern Ohio.
Bishop Henry Wise Hobson welcomed the gift at the Diocesan Convention with the following words: “Another dream we have had for many years is about to come true. As you know, we have often talked about how much we needed a Diocesan Conference Center, and in recent years the need for such a place for our Southern Ohio gatherings and activities has greatly increased. we have been really blessed by being able to use the facilities of Orleton Farms, through the generosity of Miss Mary Johnston, for some of our smaller meetings, and the proof of the value of having a place for conference purposes has been amply given at Orleton. However, we could never have all our clergy at one gathering there, and for many other occasions, such as the Old Barn asked of me more than: ‘When are we going to have our Diocesan Conference Center?
Bishop Henry Wise Hobson welcomed the gift at the Diocesan Convention with the following words:
…“Today it is my privilege and joy to tell you that in our near future, Mrs. Procter will deed to the Diocese a farm property of something over one thousand acres located between London and Washington Court House east of Route 38. This gift is in memory of William Cooper Procter and the property will be known as the William Cooper Procter Conference Center. The farm is splendidly located near our Diocesan population center and easy access from all directions. On it there are a number of fine buildings, certain of which can be adapted for conference purposes, some beautiful woodlands (the present name of the property is Woodland farms), a large spring fed swimming pool, and considerable livestock. The farm has produced well, and it will be maintained under the same successful farm management which has had charge of it in the past. Should there be available profits from the farm, and its record would indicate that there will be, these can be used for the development of the facilities of the William Cooper Procter Conference Center and the extension of our Diocesan program.
“In the future, I can see many developments which will make this gift of greater and greater value to the whole program of our Diocese. Here our youth will be trained for more loyal and effective service; here our lay people can meet to plan more adequate programs and to gain greater inspiration for their work; here we can enlist the interest and service of many persons who now represent the Church’s greatest undeveloped resource; here our clergy can gather and gain knowledge, understanding, and the refreshment of body, mind, and spirit; here we can develop a more worthy rural program which will enrich the life of the whole Diocese; here we will have a chance to strengthen the unity and build up the team work which has always been the foundation open which we have depended for our progress and success in every venture.
“William Cooper Procter bought this farm and gave it to Mrs. Procter because he had a faith in the land, which was an expression of his faith in America. Among all the men I have ever known, Mr. Procter had the clearest vision of the future, the deepest and yet very humble understanding of true and eternal values, the greatest readiness to put the Church and the cause of Christianity first, and the most loyal and personal devotion to Jesus as his Master. It is most fitting that the Conference Center where people will gather to gain vision, to learn what is of essential value, to increase their loyalty to the Christian Church, and to come to know Christ more personally, should bear the name of a man who in his life expressed all these purposes, hopes, and ideals. It is also fitting that this gift comes from one who has always shared so fully in her husband’s spirit of loyalty to the highest principles of Christian living. ”In the years to come, when we realize the full benefits of this Diocesan Center, we shall be ever better equipped to meet every time of darkness and confusion, and we shall gain the courage, hope, and faith which will enable us to do our fuller part in making the future of our Diocese, our Church, our Nation, and our World such as. Will provide all people with the opportunity to live as free and loyal children of God. As we go forward in this venture, which will I know contribute so much to our ability to build a better world for which we long and pray, we shall always be conscious of the presence, strength and inspiration of a great leader who was great because he was a “servant of all” – William Cooper Procter.”
And so began the history of Procter Camp and Conference Center.