NGE >> The Arts >> Architecture, Landscape Architecture, and Historic Preservation >> Saving Special Places and Properties >> Camp-Meeting Grounds
The camp meeting, an outdoor, continuous religious service, became a fixture of Georgia's religious life. In fact, the meetings were so popular by the 1890s that the phrase "at a Georgia camp meeting" became a trite expression the world over. At least thirty of these sites, reflecting the camp-meeting movement and exhibiting its vernacular architecture, remain active in the state into the twenty-first century.
Although many camp-meeting grounds have become "interdenominational," most remain affiliated with the Methodist Church. Other denominations represented today are Congregational Holiness, Church of the Nazarene, and Presbyterian. Smyrna Campground in Rockdale County is the only Presbyterian site in the state. Founded in 1831, it is one of the state's oldest sites and one of only three Presbyterian campgrounds in the nation.
Architecture and Setting
Camp-meeting grounds are distinguished by a particular type of architecture and layout adhering to three general patterns of arrangement: oblong square (rectangular), horseshoe (semicircular), and occasionally circular. The establishment of a church and cemetery was a common physical development pattern at many Georgia sites, and camp-meeting grounds often served as the center for religious activity within a community.
Arbors, the most important feature of southern campgrounds, constitute an American building type that is noticeably consistent from Virginia to Texas. As a landmark structure, the arbor was the major organizing feature in the planning of the grounds. Arbors are powerful architectural forms constructed with large square timber supports, angle braces, and exposed trusses topped by massive sheltering roofs, which are usually covered with tin. The roofs are pyramidal, hipped, gabled, or a combination of these, and some roofs feature clerestories for light and ventilation. Many of Georgia's arbors display hand-hewn timbers and use either pegs or mortise and tenon construction. Most campground arbors are oriented on a north-south axis to avoid the glare of the sun and function like the common public space of a village green or courthouse square.
Camp-meeting tents in Georgia are almost consistently one-story, one-bay wooden buildings with front gable roofs and shed porches, dirt floors covered with sawdust or straw, and partial partitions and screened vents for air circulation. Shed-roofed porches ran along the front of each tent at some sites to encourage community bonding. Examples of this type of construction may be found at Effingham Camp Ground (Effingham County), Lebanon Camp Ground (Hall County), and Tattnall Camp Ground (Tattnall County).
Indian Springs Holiness Camp Meeting (Butts County), the flagship campground for the holiness movement in the South, is unlike any other in Georgia. Established in 1890, the camp is larger than others in the state and laid out like a small town, with 141 cottages. (In contrast most campgrounds have an average of 27 more traditional tents.) The oldest cottage at Indian Springs is believed to have been built in 1896.
The surrounding landscape is another distinguishing feature of camp-meeting grounds. Given the idea that camp meetings provided a chance for worshipers to commune with God in nature, the topography and other landscape features played a significant role in the selection of the sites. The availability of a water source and the presence of trees, or the "sacred canopy," often determined the place and name of the retreats. Site names like Fountain, Mossy Creek, Pine Log, Rock Springs, and White Oak indicate the importance of these natural features, while such names as Flat Rock and Pleasant Hill highlight other pleasing landscape features. The founders of Poplar Springs Camp Ground in Franklin County used both water and tree type to name their location in 1832.
The tradition of painting the trunks of trees encircling the grounds is maintained at Holbrook Camp Ground in Cherokee County and at Lumpkin Camp Ground in Dawson County. An alley of water oaks and laurel oaks leads up an incline to the arbor at Morrison's Camp Ground in Floyd County.
Recent interest in the preservation of historic camp-meeting grounds has resulted in the listing of four Georgia sites in the National Register of Historic Places. Two are still "active": Pine Log Methodist Church, Campground, and Cemetery, located in the historic district of Bartow County, was listed in 1988, and Salem Camp Ground in Newton County was listed in 1998. These two sites, dating from 1834 and 1828 respectively, still hold yearly meetings. Union Point Wesleyan Campground, located within a historic district in Greene County, was listed in 1991. And Wesleyan Methodist Campground and Tabernacle (1902-94) in Turner County was listed in 1998. One early site, a precursor to the Great Revival camp meetings, was a brush arbor constructed in 1786 at Cracker's Neck (later Liberty Church) in Greene County. Today the site is marked by a Georgia Historical Commission plaque.
From a simple religious gathering held in a grove of trees, camp meetings evolved into a religious movement characterized by a distinctive architecture that survives today as part of the state's built heritage. Despite regional differences in the buildings and, eventually, in the focus of some of the camp-meeting gatherings themselves, these meeting grounds are all physical reminders of a socio-religious phenomenon that is deeply rooted in America's history, cultural landscape, and vernacular architecture. Camp meetings became an institutionalized feature of Georgia's religious history and remain a strong component of religious practice in the state today.
Bonnie Angelo, "Family and Faith Fire the Spirit of Camp Meetings," Smithsonian, August 1996.
Kenneth O. Brown, Indian Springs Holiness Camp Meeting: A History of "The Greatest Camp Meeting in the South" (Hazleton, Pa.: Holiness Archives Publishing, 2000).
Jacquelyn Cook, A Tabernacle of Living Water (Vienna, Ga.: Dooly Campground Trustees, ).
Claudia Head Deviney, "From Spirit to Structure: A Study of Georgia's Historic Camp Meeting Grounds" (master's thesis, University of Georgia, 2002).
Harold Lawrence, A Feast of Tabernacles: Georgia Campgrounds and Campmeetings ([Tignall, Ga.: Boyd Publishing, 1990]).
James W. May, "How the Great Revival Came to Georgia," Historical Highlights 4, no. 2 (1974).
Claudia Head Deviney, Historic Preservation Foundation of North Carolina, Inc.
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