History of Ridgecrest
In the early 1900's, the land which is now the home of LifeWay Ridgecrest Conference Center was a wilderness area with a few deserted cabins, a railroad track and a dirt trail leading west. Beginning with the vision of one man, it has become "the Mountain of Faith."
The man was born on Sunday, January 22, 1871, and was given the name Bernard Hardee. After his father's death, he took his father's middle name as a tribute and became Bernard Washington Spilman. (That same year, Spilman took another name as his very own and dedicated his life to the service of Jesus Christ.)
It was this service and dedication that God used to lodge within Spilman the vision of Ridgecrest as early as 1895. His vision was of a place for Baptists "to meet and to learn how to teach the Bible to the multitudes."
Spilman served as Sunday School secretary for the Baptist Convention of North Carolina for five years. During each of those years, he conducted mass meetings called Mountain Chautauquas. He was also on a quest for an ideal spot to fulfill his vision. He searched places such as Waynesville, Hendersonville, and Mars Hill in North Carolina, and Chattanooga in Tennessee. In Mars Hill he considered a site which he called "Little Mountain," but he knew it was the "Big Mountain" that God was leading him to.
He finally found his majestic "Big Mountain" on August 4, 1906, when he stepped from the train at Terrell, North Carolina. The first visit to the site of Ridgecrest was more than a memorable one. Spilman reminisced about that visit in a 1941 newspaper article.....
"Marvelous view! We strolled west leaving the railroad track and came to a spot where Pritchell Hall, the large assembly hotel, is now located. We found a small stream and followed it to its source (Johnson Spring). Then we climbed the hill west and found an old fence of rotten rails. It was already broken in places. All the party climbed over. I, as usual, weighing 260 pounds, came last. I climbed the fence. When I was well balanced on top of the fence, every rail except the bottom one broke. It was a fairly good show."
Spilman knew this was the place. It was not only the Mountain of his vision, it was centrally located within approximately 500 miles of New York, Chicago, Little Rock, New Orleans, and central Florida. With this location, it would be within the reach of multitudes of Baptists. In December of 1906 his vision began to be realized. In that year a Committee was appointed to find a place for an assembly. (Most had already selected Ridgecrest). The committee included I. H. Tucker, B. W. Spilman, High C. Moore, N.B. Broughton and H. W. Battles.
Spilman was elected as General Manager and General Secretary for the new assembly. The act to incorporate "The Southern Baptist Assembly" was ratified March 8, 1907, and by the end of that year, 940 acres were purchased. Both the North Carolina Baptist State Convention and the Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention (now LifeWay Christian Resources) endorsed the project. The very same engineering firm that laid out the magnificent Biltmore Estate, was employed. 1909 saw the first summer program and drew 600 people. Hence the beginning of a dream coming true.
Changing the Name - Keeping the Vision
Originally called Terrell, North Carolina, the name of the area was changed to Blue Mont to fit its surroundings. This became a problem for the railroad however, because their shorthand codes for Blue Mont and for nearby Black Mountain were the same. In 1912, Spilman suggested the name we have today, Ridgecrest.
In the first twelve years, the natural elements took their toll on the new assembly. A windstorm demolished the first auditorium in 1914. A fire destroyed two of the main buildings. Then the greatest flood in the history of the area almost put Ridgecrest out of business during the summer of 1916. Some personal tragedies also hindered the success. In 1908, Spilman lost his daughter only a couple of weeks after her birth.
Then in 1912 James Tucker, Spilman's personal friend and coworker died. After Tucker's death, Judge C. Pritchard was elected as chairman of the board. He was able to negotiate a loan for the building of an inn. J. D. Elliott was enlisted as a contractor and made significant financial contributions toward the construction of this inn. In their honor, their names were joined and the building became "Pritchell Inn," later to be changed to Pritchell Hall. Pritchell Inn officially opened on August 1, 1914 with 54 rooms, a kitchen, and a dining room. The dual front porches were remodeled in 1926 into large colonial columns. In 1962 old Pritchell was removed and the Pritchell Hall we see today was built. It opened in 1964.
After the windstorm that destroyed the first auditorium, it was not until 1938-39 that the original Spilman Auditorium with a classroom facility was constructed. It was then enlarged in 1953 by extending the front of the building. In 1972, it was enlarged and renovated again incorporating the older structure into its current design.
In the Spring of 2002, Ridgecrest initiated a revitalization plan constructing the new Rutland Chapel, a 300-seat auditorium nestled in a beautiful wooded hillside, as well as the Mountain Laurel Inn - with 228-deluxe accommodations complete with eight conference rooms, a fitness room, as well as a 240-seat mini auditorium. In May of 2009, the Johnson Spring Conference Center was opened with a 900 seat ballroom, exhibit hall and additional classroom space. Additional remodeling projects are planned throughout the next several years as Ridgecrest embraces a new century of ministry and mission.