Madison Avenue is not a name commonly associated with a Methodist campground and tabernacle. However, on that street, in the small town of Ashburn, in the county seat of Turner, is a church edifice that hearkens back to the days of corporate and community worship.
Timber, saw mills and naval stores were vibrant industries at the time and the establishment of the railroad in the late 1800’s allowed the little town to prosper. The city was incorporated in 1890. Very early on it placed great emphasis on community and religious values and a number of businesses would begin their day with prayer and shut down for special religious services. Before long, the town became known in that area as “the Holy City”, and it was in this environment that small religious institutions were formed. It was in this location that the Wesleyan-Methodist Campground and Tabernacle was raised.
Among many interesting facts about this sacred place was and is its location within the city limits in downtown Ashburn (today’s population 3700). Almost all campgrounds in Georgia were located in remote locations. Thus, it is one of the few “urban” religious campgrounds in the nation. Still active today, camp-meetings continue to occur during the summer months with singing, prayer and preaching.
The buildings, which include the tabernacle and an ancillary kitchen and sleeping rooms, date back to their original construction at the turn of the twentieth century (1901). The tabernacle was built for camp-meetings where the town folk and others from around the area would meet for spiritual renewal. For out-of-town guests, the kitchen would supply the means for providing meals and the sleeping quarters, with up to eight separate rooms, would accommodate overnight visitors. The campground was purposely constructed to meet the physical needs of these people, while providing spiritual nourishment in these protracted services.
The tabernacle was constructed with a post-and-beam design is covered by a metal hipped roof that will accommodate about 400 individuals. It is a rectangular shape, open-aired on three sides and closed on one end with platform and pulpit area. In their services, attendees would sit on wooden benches and sing from shape-note hymn books. Services were of great comfort, hope, and joy to all the participants.
Another rarity is not only the structure, but also the Wesleyan-Methodist movement. One outcome of the Second Great Awakening, revivals and evangelistic emphases that occurred from 1790-1830, was the spiritual fervor that it brought to the nation. Especially in the South, religious movements and churches sprang up and dotted rural and municipalities alike. This excitement brought the W-M church (not affiliated with the United Methodist Church) into existence in 1843. This offshoot of Methodism was brought to Ashburn by pioneer and leading families at the turn of the 20th century. However, this denomination’s greatest strength in numbers was achieved in those early days and has dwindled in years since.
The city of Ashburn owns the property today. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1998. We are grateful to the leadership of Ashburn for the excellent stewardship of this historic treasure.