Concerned about the growing number of at-risk youth they are seeing, the Mission’s leaders begin to scout for a place to build a children’s camp. They stumble across a promising property on Lake Maryland 10 miles from St. Paul. The site is known as “Paradise Park,” a dance hall, roadhouse and bootleg liquor operation associated with the infamous Kate “Ma” Barker. Ma Barker is part of the Barker-Karpis gang, one of the longest-lived criminal gangs of the Depression Era.
When Paradise Park turns up on the delinquent tax rolls just a few weeks later, Peter MacFarlane borrows on his personal life insurance policy to make the down payment on the property. Gospel Hill Camp is born. The first groups of young campers sleep in the dance hall. By 1932 a true lodge is built, and campers are treated to a host of fun summer activities between morning and evening chapel services.
For 90 years, Gospel Hill Camp provides an important space for respite and life transformation. In 2020, after analyzing current and future utilization rates, the Board of Directors makes the difficult decision to sell the property. Funds from the sale go to further deepen core areas of Mission programming.
Photos courtesy of the Union Gospel Mission, the Minnesota Historical Society and the FBI.