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Camp Meant Opportunity for Black Youth

Campers gather at Camp Oceanside in Ocean City Beach, on Topsail Island. Photo: Wade Chestnut Chapel

Camp Oceanside began at Ocean City Beach, on Topsail Island, North Carolina, in 1955 by the Rev. Edwin E. Kirton, then rector of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Wilmington, North Carolina.

There being no camping facilities in the Diocese of East Carolina that Black youth could attend, the Rev. Kirton pursued the idea of giving Black youngsters this opportunity in this Diocese at Ocean City Beach on Topsail Island. Camp Leach, near Washington, North Carolina, was the Diocesan camp for white youngsters only.

Kenneth Chestnut

The Rev. Kirton had taken some youngsters to Pawleys Island in South Carolina in 1953 and 1954, but the distance was too far, and the area was devastated by Hurricane Hazel.

In 1955, at the invitation of Wade H. Chestnut II and Associates, the motel and the restaurant were used for the camping sessions for two weeks during the summer.

Father Kirton and all the other Black priests in the Diocese would participate and be responsible for various aspects the camp experiences. Father Kirton was director until his retirement in 1975.

Hundreds of black youngsters in the Diocese of East Carolina who could never have done so otherwise were provided camping experiences.

This camping experience was extensive and successful because of the support and dedication of Father Kirton, the Rev. Charles Johnson, the Rev. Joseph H. Banks, and the Rev. Richard Horsley, who spent their vacations leading various camp experience areas.

With the building of the fishing pier in 1959, and the continuous demand for the motel, land adjacent to the chapel built in 1957, was donated to the Diocese by Ocean City developers to build a camp for Black youth in the Diocese.

The Ocean City developers’ based the donation on the camp’s success and accomplishments in supporting the youth from 1955 to 1959.

Campers take a reading break at Camp Oceanside at Ocean City Beach, on Topsail Island. Photo: Wade Chestnut Chapel

A dormitory was built in 1959 to house 60 boys and girls and their counselors, as well as a dining hall/activity building and cottages for the staff and priests. Two sessions were planned for the first time in 1960 due to the overwhelming attendance.

The chapel and camp were dedicated on July 17, 1960, by the Rev. Daniel W. Allen, executive secretary, acting on behalf of the retired Rev. Thomas H. Wright, D.D., Bishop of the Diocese of East Carolina, who was on a mission for the National Church in Europe.

Camp Oceanside. Photo: Wade Chestnut Chapel

With the retirement of Bishop Wright, his successor, Bishop Hunley A. Elebash, visited the camp yearly and carried on the enthusiastic support of Camp Oceanside. His executive secretary, the Rev. Edwin B. Jefferies Jr., was a zealous supporter of the camp and it’s director and staff.

After Rev. Kirton’s retirement, Neal Stitt of Goldsboro accepted the position of Camp Oceanside’s director. He continued in that role providing outstanding leadership for the next 10 years.

In 1985, camping facilities in the Diocese of East Carolina were integrated when Camp Leach and Camp Oceanside were closed. And under the leadership of the retired Rev. B. Sidney, Bishop of the Diocese of East Carolina, a new facility was built at the Trinity Center.

The pavilion at Trinity was named the Kirton – Chestnut Pavilion in honor and recognition of Father Edwin E. Kirton and Wade H. Chestnut II and their commitment to serving the youth of the Diocese of East Carolina for decades.


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About the Author

Kenneth Chestnut

Kenneth Chestnut, who is on the North Carolina Coastal Federation Board of Directors, retired as president and CEO of IBG Construction Services LLC. in Atlanta, a company he founded in 1998. Chestnut was also a principal with The Integral Group, the affiliated vertically integrated real estate development firm based in Atlanta. A graduate of Williston Senior High School in Wilmington, Kenneth attended Duke University and majored in civil engineering. He is a Vietnam War veteran. Kenneth served on the boards for several nonprofits in Atlanta and is a trustee emeritus on the board for Oglethorpe University. He relocated home to Wilmington after retirement, where he is senior warden at his church. Chestnut is also commissioner for the Wilmington Housing Authority; a mentor at Williston Middle School through 100 Black Men of America; and a board member for the Cape Fear Community Land Trust.