As early as 1838 congregants from local churches were gathering here for the annual camp meeting, held at the end of the Summer when they could take a break from crops. These farmers were looking for rest, fellowship, and spiritual revival after a long season working the land. They would come by wagon and many would bring their chickens and cows for the week-long gathering. Originally, the camp meeting was held in the center of the campground under the trees and attendees would set up their own sites encircling the revival space. In those early days before they had permanent structures, women would sleep inside the wagons while men would sleep underneath.
In 1839, an official campground was founded here when a local blacksmith named Jessie Holbrook donated 40 acres to the Methodist Conference for use as a campground. Mr. Holbrook was reportedly such a talented blacksmith that he had earned the 40 acres for the work he did on just one horse. A site at the center of the campground was identified to erect an arbor where congregants could gather for the two or three times daily services held throughout the meeting week. Wooden beams were milled from trees nearby and an arbor was erected with a shingle roof that stood here until a storm in 1889 brought the arbor down. By the annual meeting in 1890, a new arbor had been erected from wood salvaged from the original one. This 1890 arbor is still in use today.
As time went on, people began to build rustic structures called ‘tents’ which were made of wood with straw shavings or sawdust floors. Back then, meetings were lit by kerosene oil lamps and ‘tenters’ could get water from one of two wells or the small spring on site.
Since its beginning, few updates have been made to the meeting site to help remind visitors of the old days of worship. Of course, the oil lamps have been replaced by electric bulbs and fans now help to keep worshippers cool. But if you look closely, you’ll notice that both fixtures are attached to the original wooden beams that were salvaged after the 1889 storm.
Over the years, the campground has continued to host families each Summer and has expanded to 75 ‘tents’ including more contemporary structures built of cinderblock. Many of today’s attendees have been going for their whole lives, and today, they bring with them their children, grandchildren, and homemade ice cream recipes which are a favorite to share with other ‘tenters.’ And while the campground has grown and modernized as needed, the fellowship and revival that brought people together in 1838 are still bringing people together today.
In this view, we are getting a privileged look into the past as well as of the future of Holbrook Campground. The main tabernacle is sitting next to a smaller, more modern structure. The past is represented by the Large Tabernacle. That building has been standing for 133 years and represents the home and soul of Holbrook. The smaller, newer building is evidence of the vitality, continuing growth and need for more space at this Holy site. Holbrook has a bright future because of the continuing support of its expanding congregation. What we are looking at is an Historic Treasure and monument to the past and future.
In this photo we are standing before the chancel with its pulpit and enormous cross that hangs from the tabernacle ceiling above the rostrum. We also can appreciate the architectural beauty of the open and exposed post and beam roof. The only visible signs of modern convenience are the fluorescent lights hanging from the now 133, year old beams. The authenticity of this structure is breathtaking and it is a monument to the congregation’s, late 19th century carpentry skills.
Here we see a trio of similarly designed tents with the closest being #49. These three are all fairly large, made of very rough lumber and quite weathered. Even at their age, the buildings are all sound and quite habitable. Note that all have secure doors and wooden shutters that can be nailed shut that serve as “windows” when the tents are occupied. Also noteworthy is the fact that most tents have tin roofs that can withstand the rain, winds and storms that threaten damage to these primitive buildings.
Here we see three smaller tents, 17, 18, and one unmarked. This shows that Holbrook tents are each owned by individuals and often entire families. It is this personal ownership feature that has kept the campground’s buildings and grounds in good shape for many decades to come.
Here we have view of the tent interior taken from the pulpit. Once again, we see few signs of modern technology…. mostly electrical. The pulpit is wired for microphones, fluorescent lighting is hung and ceiling fans are installed to keep the Tabernacle as cool as possible.
As we earlier pointed out, this Tabernacle was constructed in 1890 using the building maerials salvaged from the original building when it was damaged by a storm. We are told that, “The old arbor stood in the center of the present structure reaching to just outside the present middle post. Carpenters used the old arbor as scaffolding .” In this photo we cam make out many of the salvaged items, particularly the 6x6 posts and other scavenged lumber. “Waste not want not”. We also know that the tin roof now installed was a great improvement over the Earlier board and then wooden shingles. This old building still has a lot of life in it.
As you can see in this photo, every tent at Holbrook has a front porch that faces out into the commons. They are the family gathering places where fellow members of the congregation can socially meet and greet. Here we see that #22 has one of the old pews that serves as a sofa on its porch. You can also see that each of the other tents shown has similar “furniture” and swings.
Here we have a view from the newer, small public tabernacle that abuts the BIG one. Here we see old pews, electric power boxes and other amenities that broaden the number of public gathering places. The view of the commons area further strengthens the premise that this campground is a wonderful little village where friends and family can meet to enjoy the tenets of these Christians.
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Our beloved Pastor Mike Orr (First Baptist Church of Chipley, Florida) comes up here to preach often at camp meetings. This is an awesome revival time, and many attend this event.