Founded in Chesterfield, Indiana in 1891, Camp Chesterfield has served as the headquarters of the Indiana Association of Spiritualists. It is a gathering place for worship, recreation, and relaxation. It consists of 44 acres along the White River including gardens, a fountain, a stone bridge, a chapel, a cathedral, a bookstore, an art gallery, and a hotel.
The spiritual movement that founded Camp Chesterfield began in Madison County four decades earlier with the Union Hall in Anderson, built by Dr. John Westerfield. It promoted spiritualism, as well as clairvoyance, faith healing, and speaking in tongues. This spiritual movement was active in anti-slavery activities, including supporting the Underground Railroad via the Bronnenberg family, whose homestead still stands in present-day Mounds State Park. An Underground Railroad tunnel was connected to their farm.
By 1886, it would become the Indiana Association of Spiritualists and a grove meeting along the banks of the White River four years later became the site of Camp Chesterfield. The spiritualism of Camp Chesterfield attracted locals who were searching for something to give their life meaning. While séances and other spiritual practices mesmerized those who saw them as ethereal, others saw them as black magic contrary to the doctrine of traditional Christianity. Some locals felt Camp Chesterfield and its spiritualism were too unconventional.
On August 23, 1925, Camp Chesterfield made national headlines when Virginia Swain, a reporter for the Newspaper Enterprise Association, was assaulted during its 35th annual convention. Miss Swain had been investigating the camp and found evidence of a scam in which “mediums” were conducting bogus séances for a price and thereby gypping people out of their money. That afternoon she arrived with officers from the Anderson Police Department with an arrest warrant. The cult followers responded by attempting to lynch Miss Swain, who narrowly escaped injury. A total of 14 “mediums” were charged with fraud and taken into custody and Miss Swain’s six-part exposé of the paranormal was published in newspapers nationally. Nine months later the charges were dropped due to entrapment on the part of Miss Swain.