The camp meeting, an outdoor continuous religious service, became a fixture of Georgia’s religious life in the early 1800’s. A crowd of 3,000 is purported to have attended Georgia’s first recorded camp meeting, held in February 1803 on Shoulderbone Creek in Hancock County not far away. For the next several years, camp meetings thrived in Georgia, setting the stage for a revival element that became a customary feature of religion in the state, especially in the Methodist Church. Trees served as the architecture of early camp meetings, with candles and pine-knot torches lighting the evening services and campfires illuminating the worship area. Large open tabernacles, or arbors, covered the preachers and worshipers during the services, while permanent wooden cabins known as “tents” housed the attendees during the encampment. Today most meeting grounds are managed by self-perpetuating boards of trustees that own the land, while individual families own the tents, which are often passed down through generations.
After the American Revolution, a Protestant religious movement referred to as the Second Great Awakening or the Great Revival swept across the new nation, and especially so in the South. It fueled the growth of Baptist, Methodist and Presbyterian congregations across Georgia. An outgrowth of this movement, the camp meeting ground, became a cornerstone of the movement and resulted in the establishment of many of these special meeting places across the state, many of which still exist and are going strong. Fountain Campground is one of the earliest ones and is still thriving after almost 200 years.
The very earliest camp grounds were held outdoors with attendees coming from miles around with their families and camping on the grounds. Over time, camp ground meeting sites came to be distinguished by a particular type of architecture involving a large open tabernacle or arbor, surrounded by permanent ‘tents’ which are owned and populated by families who often hand them down from generation to generation. The topography of the land and location of suitable shade trees and water sources were critical in site selection and are often featured in the naming of the site, thus…..Fountain Campground. Camp meetings last for several days and involve multiple services each day. Families find this a good time to get away, enjoy each other’s company and reflect on the spiritual side of life. Georgia campgrounds are a wonderful tradition and a feast for the eye.
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.
People are said to have been coming to Fountain Campground as early as the late 1700s – even though history has the founding of the camp meetings being established in 1822. In the early days, people traveled for many miles by horse-drawn wagons to Fountain Campground. The wagons carried entire families – some numbering as high as eight family members. The wagons were packed with enough food and other supplies to last for an entire week.
Family “tents” have been handed down from generation to generation. As you can see here, the creature comforts are in short supply. But, to keep the congregants happy, electricity has been brought to the site and nearby bathrooms and showers made available. As you can see, this is an event for all the family, young and old. Those who have been party to this experience for all of their lives swear that it is a tremendously important part of their heritage and filled with fond memories.
Families have been coming here to commune with nature and God for almost 200 years. What a charming alternative to have this family experience in contrast to the digital world we live in. The meeting place above with with chairs, benches, a large porch swing in an open-air gathering site are indicative of the community-life emphasis that is fostered and nurtured in a place like Fountain Campground.
It’s a place of rest and relaxation for many of the camp goers, and camp week is a time to reflect on the past as much as today. Perhaps most importantly though, it’s a time when families can get away from the grinding, everyday hustle and bustle of their normal lives and draw closer to God and all the beautiful things he has created.
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. Still going strong for almost two centuries.
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Do you have a schedule of events / singers for this week’s camp meeting. Looking forward to it, as always. Thanks.
My family went to lots of meetings there. So many memories of services, neighbors, the many smells (fresh sawdust, outdoor cooking) and so many other special times. Simple times and appreciation of the good things in life.
Very interesting! Wish that would come back
June 3-10 this year
My favorite place to camp. I wish I was able to actually go and camp now. Grew up with sawdust floors and poor lighting. Hwy 80 between Cadly and Washington, Ga June 3-10 are the dates this year. Come join us.
I attended Fountain as a pre-teen with my grandmother, Imogene Dyer Chupp. Her forefathers, the Dyers helped build Fountain on land nearby to their grant. Behind the clubhouse was a spring fed creek that had the best tasting water. Generations of Dyers and offspring to follow would come back for “camp meeting” as time permitted.