Our mission is to provide unforgettable faith, education, and renewal experiences in God's creation for all God's people.
Caroline Furnace Lutheran Camp and Retreat Center encourages spiritual renewal for the whole person by providing encounter with Scripture, experience of the environment, witness of staff, and opportunities for worship, recreation, and development of relationships. In support of and in partnership with parish ministries, Caroline Furnace Lutheran Camp and Retreat Center encourages a continued growth in Christian faith and enables people of all ages and needs to live lives of prayer, praise, thanksgiving and service.
First Year of Summer Camping
Who are we?
Caroline Furnace is a place to encounter God in God’s creation and through an intentional Christian community. We believe this experience has the power to permanently change lives. Caroline Furnace is committed to remaining a special place apart, with a focus on God’s grace and presence, and on positive community building.
Over 45 Caroline Furnace summer staff alumni are rostered leaders or currently in seminary.
"Nearly 70% of ELCA seminarians -especially those going directly from college to seminary - list church camp as a major influence on their decision to go to seminary." *
working with our ecumenical partners
year-round renewal through retreat
intentional Christ-like community
the value of diversity, inclusion & accessibility
the power of small groups
environmental stewardship and sustainability
the importance of time spent in God's creation
the life-changing potential of summer camp
What do we believe in?
We share a welcoming, prayerful, playful, and brave space - a simple environment, disconnected from the distractions of technology and the world.
We lead and teach based on Lutheran theology.
We offer our facilities, programs and staff to any group seeking to build community with one another.
We provide opportunities for outdoor, experiential education at a historically and ecologically significant location.
What do we do?
*Sevig, J. (2006). Natural Jump. The Lutheran (March) p. 41
To be an integral part of the life and ministry of the church
To be a servant of the gospel in outreach and to be resource to the community
To provide Christ-centered programs which meet the needs of the constituency
To provide opportunities to develop an awareness of and a sense of responsibility for our environment
To provide quality training for staff, governing bodies, and volunteers
To provide and maintain safe, functional and environmentally sensitive facilities
To serve other units of the church and to work cooperatively with them in providing services
To provide programs for young and old that enhance the development of faith in God through Jesus Christ and that promotes the development of the whole person (body, mind, and spirit)
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As an organization promoting faith, education, and renewal in God's creation, we have been discerning how to make Caroline Furnace a more environmentally sustainable organization. It is our aim to continue seeking ways to better serve the Lord and our communities in ways that are feasible for our staff, meaningful to our retreat groups, and educational to our campers and students.
Some of our current practices include waste reduction, property and facility improvements, and "unlittering." Goals for growth include further waste reduction through composting and limiting single use plastics, group recycling and education in all of our facilities, more local sourcing of foods and camp store items, and improved energy efficiency. Our long range goals include incorporating pollinator gardens and foodscaping, as well as adding a large garden to the field by the Farmhouse.
Read our full Sustainability Plan:
Caroline Furnace History
This is an interpretation of a lost painting of Caroline Furnace originally done in 1853 by R.E. Jarta. The 1997 rendition is by Rebecca Marston Wilson,
the great-great granddaughter of Joseph Vernon Marston, Sr., manager and part-owner of the furnace during the Civil War era.
We acknowledge and honor the original inhabitants of the land in Fort Valley. Caroline Furnace occupies the land of the Eastern Siouan-speaking ancestors of the Monacan and Manahoac. This is the land of Iroquoian-speaking ancestors of the Page Culture and the Tuscarora, who joined the Haudenosaunee Confederacy (also known as the Iroquois Confederacy by the French and the League of Five Nations by the English), and Algonquian-speaking ancestors of the Keyser Culture. Learn more about Land Acknowledgements here.
We are immersed in rich history, from the Civil and Revolutionary War to Colonial Settlement and Native Americans. On property are ruins of a Civil War era pig iron furnace, originally owned and operated by Benjamin Blackford and named after his daughter-in-law, Caroline. Our activity building, Marston, still has the original twin chimneys from the furnace era and is named after one of the furnace masters who lived there, Joseph Marston. One of 50 charcoal furnaces in Virginia, our furnace is believed to have been built in 1835. There were 35 buildings on property and up to 120 workers in the years of peak production. Before the Civil War, the railroad firm Bush & Lobdell acquired Caroline Furnace and began using the pig iron to build trains, including the first flange railroad wheels. During the Civil War, an estimated three tons of pig iron were produced each day and transported to Richmond for use by the Confederacy. The furnace, wagons, and surrounding homes were destroyed by 100 men from General Sheridan’s Union troops in February 1865, and were never rebuilt.
We are still reminded daily of our history with the iron furnace, in the form of slag. Slag is the waste material from iron production, and is essentially man-made obsidian created by the extraction of silicon dioxides during the iron firing process. All around property, the ground is dotted with slag in hues of blue, black, green, gray, and purple. Also visible is the location of a water wheel near our Farmhouse, as well as the mill race used to transport water from the spring, which follows along our Mill Race Trail.
We gained another piece of history, St. John’s Chapel, on our property in 1997. St. John’s Chapel came to us from an early Lutheran congregation that began around or before 1796 in Singers Glen, near Harrisonburg. The St. John’s congregation was one of the earliest to establish in the Rockingham County area of Virginia. In the field next to St. John’s Chapel is a 1740’s era log cabin that was relocated to our property in 1994.
We have found evidence of several earlier settlements in both our main field and chapel field, before the massive furnace establishment. We have record of land surveys done by George Washington for Lord Fairfax, beginning in 1748 at the northeast end of Fort Valley. From his work, he knew of the resources available to him and had intended to use the Fort as his last defense in the Revolutionary War. During colonial settlement, Fort Valley had been primarily used by settlers as a hunting area. Previously, the area was periodically inhabited by several Native American tribes, including Piedmont Siouan, Catawba, Shawnee, Delaware, Cherokee, Susquehannock, and Iroquois, who likely used our land as a common hunting ground. They referred to the Fort Valley area as Massanutton, meaning basket, in reference to the shape of the mountains surrounding the valley.
More recently, we began our life as a Summer Camp and Retreat Center when our 394 acre tract was purchased by the Virginia Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in 1957. We have been operating Summer Camp since 1959! We now serve as the primary summer camp and retreat venue of the Virginia, Metro DC, and West Virginia-Western Maryland Synods of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
We are surrounded by George Washington National Forest, acquired by the U.S. Forest Service in 1913. We sold a 137 acre tract of our original property to the U.S. Forest Service, setting our western boundary along the edge of Camp Roosevelt Road and reinforcing our belief in natural resource management and public land use. Our home in Fort Valley is nestled between the North and South Forks of the Shenandoah River, which flows to the Potomac River and into the Chesapeake Bay. Passage Creek runs through our 257 acre property and feeds our lake as well as the wonderful biodiversity we have here at Caroline Furnace. Our home of “a valley within a valley” provides incredible stargazing opportunities, and we have the darkest sky within two hours of Washington DC. This is partly due to our local geology. Our Massanutton “basket” is created by a vast syclinorium that can be viewed around property and in the nearby National Forest, and our mountains are primarily composed of Ordovician Shale and Silurian Massanutten Sandstone.
To help you appreciate the beauty of creation that we have been blessed with, we have an expansive network of trails around property. We also welcome you to go creekwalking in Passage Creek, a long-time camp favorite!