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. Lumpkin Camp Ground is one of these, having been established in Dawson County in 1830 on 40 acres of land that was purchased when forty men of the Lumpkin County community each donated a dollar.
From the campground history – Since 1830, the destination for the Methodist in the Dawson County area has been the forty acre grove of trees originally purchased by the forty men. Here they built an open air pavilion or “brush arbor”, so named because the first of these gatherings would have been held under a simple shelter of saplings. The original building is still in use and shows evidence of passing generations in its carved timbers and hard packed red clay floor which is spread with sweet smelling hay for the gatherings. Electricity is the only concession to the 21st century in the arbor.
In the early days, those who attended camp meetings would come in covered wagons which would also serve as their home for the coming week. Many pulled behind their cows behind them to furnish milk along with coops of chickens to be killed for meals during the week. They would pack enough ham, eggs pies and cakes for themselves and enough hay for the animals for a week. In times past when August rolled around and the days stretched out like the long singing of the katydids, it was time to plan for the big gathering of neighbors at Camp Meeting. Farm chores slacked off for “lay time”. This was when you laid aside your hoe and let the crops mature in the hot sun. Then the wagon would be loaded with fresh vegetables, canned goods and watermelons, blankets and bedding, pots, pans, buckets and cooking utensils. Fresh Sunday clothes were also packed for dress up time.
The arbor later came to be surrounded by a collection of rustic cabins called “tents” by the church members. Some of these bear the names of the families who have passed the tents down through generations, although the ultimate ownership of everything here is the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church. Between the tents and the arbor is a large open grove of trees. The trunks are painted with whitewash about four feet from their base. In the time of kerosene lanterns when a family was coming to evening service the dim light would reflect off the painted surface and keep people from bumping into trees. The whitewash also helped to protect the shade trees from insect and fungus attacks. This custom still holds today as the trees are given a fresh coating of whitewash on the Saturday before camp meeting.
Singing and preaching takes place three times a day – eleven in the morning, three in the afternoon and seven forty-five in the evening. The call to worship is blown on a conch shell which was brought from a beach in Alabama by Bunyon Elliott in 1910. Traditions are alive and strong at the campground and are an important component of what keeps people coming back year after year. Between services, families gather to visit old friends and relatives and share dinner on the grounds. There are some members that have been coming to Camp Meeting every year of their lives. As years pass by some of the younger families move away. Others marry outside the Methodist church, which is why today the services are shared by Methodist and Baptist ministers in the pulpit.