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A Brief History of Virginia's 4-H Educational Centers

The first county 4-H camp conducted in the nation took place in Randolph County, West Virginia, in 1915. Education was the focus of this first event, as the County Extension Agent taught club members better growing techniques in growing corn, and other important research-based educational information. The name of this 4-H camp was Camp Good Luck.

Virginia held its first county 4-H camp in Loudoun County in 1917. Conducted for girls only, (members of the county canning and tomato clubs), educational programming was provided in better growing and canning techniques with girls being able to sell their produce.

Although many early camps (called short courses initially) were conducted on college campuses, farms, and campsites owned by other organizations, the first 4-H camp built for the purpose of 4-H'ers was Jamestown 4-H Camp in 1928. Other camps were built, such as Holiday Lake (1941), Camp Farrar (1948), etc., with the focus being on teaching boys and girls, learning to work with others, having fun, and a variety of other interests.

Under the leadership of Dr. William 'Bill' Skelton, State 4-H Agent (1950-1962), Virginia's 4-H camping program changed to a concept unknown anywhere else in the United States. Instead of 4-H camps, there would be 4-H centers. Dr. Skelton conceived the idea of the 4-H educational center concept in the late 1950's. The model involved establishing a 4-H center in each geographic area of the Commonwealth, and was promoted for numerous reasons such as,

"(1) there was a dearth of 4-H camp facilities and equipment in Virginia;

(2) rented facilities within and out of the state were not adequate to accommodate the numbers who wanted to participate in the regular summer type camp;

(3) district and county Extension staffs wanted facilities within their districts for their client groups to conduct programs; and

(4) volunteer 4-H leaders, county 4-H councils, 4-H honor clubs…and other groups in many counties wanted facilities where they could meet at appro- priate times throughout the year to plan programs and/or receive training" (College of the Fields, 1987, p. 182).

The 4-H center concept was promoted by early Extension leaders in the belief that both the public and private sector leaders would support the 4-H center development because of their understanding of 4-H program principles. Additionally, the major concern was for cost effectiveness with the 4-H centers being designed for year-round use by 4-H, as well as other groups when not utilized by 4-H, as is true with so many other 4-H camping programs. 

As stated by Dr. Skelton:

"…the reason was we wanted the people to feel like this was their 4-H center… we could visualize that we wanted the key citizens in the area to feel this is our 4-H center, and we wanted the extension agents in each one of the six districts to feel like, this is our 4-H center…We have more public support, more public images for 4-H than through all the rest of Extension put together." (Skelton, 1996)

The development of the six 4-H educational centers came about over a period of about 20 years. They are recorded in the order in which they were founded.

Southwest Virginia 4-H Educational Center, near Abingdon, Virginia
o began operations in 1960
o home to 13 counties within the Southwest Virginia area of the state (Bland, Buchanan, Carroll, Dickenson, Grayson, Lee, Russell, Scott, Smyth, Tazewell, Washington, Wythe, and Wise).
o property contains 75.75 acres
o approximately 225 campers can be accommodated per week

W.E. Skelton 4-H Educational Center at Smith Mt. Lake, Wirtz, Virginia
o began operations in 1966
o home to 22 counties and cities within the service area (Allegheny, Augusta, Bath, Bedford, Botetourt, Campbell, Craig, Danville, Floyd, Franklin, Giles, Halifax, Henry, Highland, Montgomery, Patrick, Pittsylvania, Pulaski, Roanoke County, Roanoke City, Rockbridge, and Rockingham)
o property contains 120 acres
o approximately 300 campers can be accommodated per week

Jamestown 4-H Educational Center, Jamestown, Virginia
o began operations as a camp in 1928; converted to 4-H educational center in 1976
o home to 22 counties and cities in the northern neck of Virginia (Charles City, Chesterfield, Essex, Gloucester, Goochland, Hampton, Hanover, Henrico, James City, King & Queen, King William, Lancaster, Mathews, Middlesex, New Kent, Newport News, Northumberland, Powhatan, Richmond County, Richmond City, Westmoreland, and York
o property contains 16 acres
o approximately 208 campers can be accommodated per week

Holiday Lake 4-H Educational Center, near Appomattox, Virginia
o began operations as a camp in 1941; converted to 4-H educational center in 1976
o home to 18 counties and cities in the central area of Virginia (Albemarle/Charlottesville, Amelia, Amherst, Appomattox, Brunswick, Buckingham, Campbell, Charlotte, Cumberland, Fluvanna, Greene, Louisa, Lunenburg, Lynchburg, Mechlenburg, Nelson, Nottoway, and Prince Edward
o property contains 157.8 acres
o approximately 260 campers can be accommodated per week

Northern Virginia 4-H Educational Center, Front Royal, Virginia
o began operations in 1981
o home to 19 counties and cities in the northern area of Virginia (Alexandria, Arlington, Caroline, Clarke, Culpeper, Fairfax, Fauquier, Frederick, King George, Loudoun, Madison, Orange, Page, Prince William, Rappahannock, Shenandoah, Stafford, Spotsylvania, and Warren
o property contains 229 acres
o approximately 318 campers can be accommodated per week

Airfield 4-H Educational Center, near Wakefield, Virginia
o began operations in 1981
o home to 14 counties and cities in Southeastern area of Virginia (Accomack, Chesapeake, Dinwiddie, Greensville/Emporia, Isle of Wight, Norfolk, Northampton, Petersburg, Prince George, Southampton, Suffolk, Surry, Sussex, and Virginia Beach
o property contains 218 acres
o approximately 208 campers can be accommodated per week

Each 4-H educational center operates as a private, non-profit corporation under the guidance and direction of a board of directors. The volunteer board members are generally selected from a corporate membership made up of three representatives from each county and city within the respective center's service area. These boards are made up of Extension personnel, volunteer leaders, and representatives from business, industry, and community organizations. A Memorandum of Understanding between each 4-H educational center and Virginia Tech determines the linkages and methods of operations between the two entities.

Annually, each of Virginia's 107 counties and cities with Extension programs participate in the 4-H camping programs at their respective 4-H educational center. 


Written by: Dr. Bob Meadows, Extension Specialist, 4-H, Virginia Tech


College of the Fields: Some Highlights of the Virginia Cooperative Extension Service 1914-1980. (1987). Blacksburg, VA: Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, p. 182.

Interview with Dr. William E. Skelton. (August 19, 1996). Blacksburg, VA. Conducted by Bob Meadows.