Q: What’s the story behind the religious complex called “Bibletown”?
A: In 1950, former Detroit preacher Ira Lee Eshleman, a Miami Christian radio commentator, took all his savings, about $1,000, and made a down payment on about 30 acres a few blocks west of downtown Boca Raton. The land had been the property of the former Boca Raton Army Air Field.
Soon the Boca Raton Bible Conference Grounds would sprawl across 320 acres and be valued at $2 million. “Doc” Eshleman called it “the miracle of Boca Raton.” The complex was later called Bibletown Community Church and is now Boca Raton Community Church, but it’s still colloquially called “Bibletown.”
A blaze in 1976 destroyed Bibletown’s cafeteria and conference center. The former air field officers’ club, made of hardy Dade County pine burned fiercely; the fire is still considered the biggest in city history. No one was hurt but damage was estimated at $750,000.
The organization developed homes on 300 acres and sold them and now operates on the remaining 20 acres. With 11 main buildings, a staff of more than 50, about 1,000 members and hundreds more visitors, it hosts Boca Raton Christian School and runs religious retreats, prayer meetings, summer camp, a winter bible conference, concerts, and, of course, Sunday services.
Eshleman retired in 1967 and lives in Boca Raton and North Carolina. He turned 86 in March. His son Dennis is director of Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation.
Boca Raton Community Church: 395-2400. Web page: www.bocacommunity.org
Boca Raton Historical Society: 395-6766.
Read More: Boca Raton: A Pictorial History, by Donald Curl and John Johnson.