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. Poplar Springs Methodist Camp Ground is one of these, having been established in Franklin county in 1832 on 50 acres of land that was purchased for 25 cents per acre.
The very earliest camp grounds were held outdoors with attendees 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. Poplar Springs would be well represented in both categories and thusly named. There is a good history of the Poplar Springs campground published in honor of their Centennial Celebration that refers to the springs and the poplars. ‘The campground derived its name from the six big poplar trees which grew at these springs. The springs are still in place but hardly so good and cold as then, while the big poplar trees are felled and gone.’
One of Georgia’s first recorded camp meetings was held in February of 1803 on Shoulderbone Creek in Hancock County and the resulting attendees were said to have numbered in excess of 3,000. Tradition called for multiple services each day and the meetings lasted for five days. According to the history, a typical day began as ‘The trumpet blowed at 8:00 am and at 11:00. And at 3:00 pm and at early candle light. The tent doors were opened at the sound of the Trumpet and all went to the Arbor to hear gospel by the old veterans of the Cross with the old time religion in their hearts. And God was in it, and some were saved at every service’.
These old tabernacles nestled in the woods are majestic reminders of days gone by. It is comforting to see some of the old traditions that are still being passed along to future generations.
This view of the interior of the Tabernacle at Poplar Springs highlights its incredibly complex construction as well as displaying the artistic forms that emerge and are created by the way the supports are systematically placed. Its design is calculated to insure that it can withstand the mightiest gusts of wind, continual drenching by rains and the constant expanding and contracting constantly produced by the changing temperatures that come with decades of exposure to the elements. Poplar Springs Tabernacle is an excellent example of Post and Beam construction. This method dates back to early European construction techniques and was used throughout the Colonial era until ca. 1830 when dimensioned lumber (2x4, 4x4, etc.) began to be produced on a larger scale. The method utilizes heavy timber members in lieu of dimensioned lumber and is constructed in the "Aisle-framed" style that results in their being a central aisle or nave with side aisles… a perfect design for the large congregations that come with camp ground meetings.
In the old days, the men and women sat separately on log benches that were assembled with pegs and hauled from Brother Redwine's saw mill. In a rare concession to comfort, the pews today help soften the discipline required for attending three services a day. This view also provides a closer-up view of the heavy timber construction and primitive joinery utilizing mortise and tenon joints or joining the timbers with wooden pegs.
What a contrast to today's environment of computers, contemporary music and video screens. Social networking at the camp ground takes on a whole new meaning as long time friends and families gather in such a dramatic and simple way. Aside from some very minor concessions, such as a light bulb and a fan, these camp ground experiences are a committed return to the basics of yesteryear. A testament to the fact that their forefathers got it right the first time.
These traditional 'tents' are treasured by the attending families who own them for long periods of time and often pass them from one generation to another. You cannot help but be moved by the starkness, the rustic but elegant simplicity and the sheer commitment and concentration for the task at hand.
The family life and fellowship with other families has always been the very backbone of the Camp Ground purpose and spirit. We love the contrast here with the tents and the current parenting tools of the trade. Then were there brought unto him little children, that he should put his hands on them, and pray: and the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven. And he laid his hands on them, and departed thence. (Matthew 19:13-15)
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My church is looking for a place to host a retreat for November 11-13, 2022. Do you have facilities that would host 50-75 people? Please give me a call when you are able – 803-420-4051. Thanks, I look forward to hearing from you.
Sorry Scott, we are a non-profit focused on preserving the history of these old churches. We are not affiliated with them and can’t help with this kind of request. Best of luck with your event!
Hi, I recently saw that Quinton Mills will be singing at a Methodist campground in Cannon. Is this the correct location? Is the event open to the public? Also, will it be indoors or outdoors? Sorry for so many questions. Thank you!
So interesting to read and learn the history of this unique Campground! Hope someone has written a book about it! I would love to purchase one of it’s available!
Looking for up coming events at the Poplar Springs Methodist Campgrounds
Shoulderbone was the site where a treaty was signed between the Creek Indians and Georgia Government giving whites the lands east of the Oconee River!
I think my message was deleted. Bringing a group from Chapelwood UMC for the last service on Sat. PM. We need a date and time for the service. Thank you.