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.
This is a photo of the “community kitchen house” one of the three significant buildings still in place at Wesleyan. The other two are the Tabernacle and a “sleeping house”. This plan for a campground differs from the more typical campgrounds of the era with lots of residences or tents. The plan was adapted for its urban setting near a railroad in 1902, the very early 20th century. That was an unusual location in Georgia for a campground.
Here we see another support structure, the “sleeping house”. This is again something not often found at the rural campgrounds. This structure was for use by those that did not live near by but wanted to spend as much time as possible during the annual gathering.
These camps were Spartan and simple. Here we see a very spare, skeletal pulpit resting on a small raised platform… no scrollwork, walnut topped decorated pulpit for Wesleyan. It is worth noting that as most of these tabernacles, it is open on three sides. In this case the wall behind the pulpit covers only about 50% of the open space, another Spartan touch.
The main tabernacle was post and beam construction with a hipped tin roof. While somewhat exposed to the elements, the combination of a tin roof and good old Georgia heart pine will last for many decades.
This closeup of the tabernacle’s interior provides us an opportunity to see, appreciate and enjoy the post and beam construction used for structures like these. The spider web like intricate architecture becomes an intriguing, decorative tracery. In the old days, nothing but wooden pegs were used to miraculously hold these wind sensitive structures together for decades.
Here we get a close up view of the plain and spare sleeping house interior. All we find are crude, unpainted small rooms into which entire families squeezed themselves, often for the entire session. No hinged lockable doors in this accommodation. The rigid tenets of this sect are here on display.
Here is another view into another of the sleeping house rooms. In this view we can see that the wall boards are barely planed and the rafters not at all. The abandoned kitchen house presents another example of the denominations rigorous pursuit of simplicity.
In this final view, we see the still lovely Tabernacle, the kitchen house on the left and the sleeping house in the background. The buildings and well kept grounds stand today looking much as they did over 115 years ago. It would be a shame if these monuments to the past had been razed and destroyed as planned at the end of the 20th century. They depict a time and lifestyle worthy of remembering. The City of Ashburn has done a marvelous job in saving this site. It will have a positive impact on generations to come.
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Thanks for separating the captions from the actual photos! The photos are much more enjoyable now–and they are all and have been great photos. Wonderful website.