The his­tory of the Campmeeting

The Covington News - - Front Page - A.J. Archer ajarcher@cov­

This year’s Salem Campmeeting, span­ning July 8 to 15, will be the 183rd gather­ing of the faith­ful at the grounds off Salem Road for a time of spir­i­tual re­newal, re­vival and ca­ma­raderie.

With that many years of op­er­a­tion comes a unique his­tory, and the fam­i­lies who have at­tended have ex­pe­ri­enced both changes and con­ti­nu­ities.

Ac­cord­ing to Smith­so­nian Mag­a­zine, the first campmeeting oc­curred in 1786 at Cat­tle Creek in South Carolina’s Low Coun­try.

The first Salem Campmeeting was in 1828, about 40 years later. Many fam­i­lies, in­clud­ing the Ram­seys, Ogle­trees and El­liotts, have been in at­ten­dance each year since, ex­cept, as salem­camp­meet­ reads, “the years of the War Be­tween the States” when the meet­ings were not held.

“My fam­ily, then the Cun­ning­hams, was at the first campmeeting,” said Cov­ing­ton res­i­dent Sam Ram­sey, chair­man on the Salem Camp Ground Board of Trustees. “I am the sixth gen­er­a­tion to come to the camp­meet­ings

and the fourth gen­er­a­tion on the Board of Trustees.”

Ac­cord­ing to in­for­ma­tion found on the in­sti­tu­tion’s web­site, typ­i­cal campers at the first meet­ing would travel to Salem by wagon, along with chick­ens, horses and mules. They’d live in their wag­ons dur­ing the meets.

In the morn­ings the campers were awak­ened by a trum­peter and be­gan their day, which con­sisted of four church ser­vices. Though the num­ber of ser­vices has de­creased, the trum­peter tra­di­tion con­tin­ues.

“He comes all the way from Texas to wake us up ev­ery morn­ing,” Ram­sey said.

Ser­vices were held around a bon­fire and at­ten­dees sat on logs sur­round­ing the speaker. This changed in 1854 when the taber­na­cle was built for speak­ers. It still serves as a meet­ing place.

Wag­ons be­came semi-per­ma­nent shan- ties around 1840. The shanties have since pro­gressed into cot­tages, re­ferred to as “tents” by the campmeeting at­ten­dees. The av­er­age tent to­day fea­tures small bed­rooms and bath­rooms, just enough kitchen space to cook some tra­di­tional South­ern meals and a large liv­ing area where the fam­ily can meet to dis­cuss its faith.

“Our tent was built in 1840 and it’s still stand­ing to­day,” Ram­sey said.

While some tents have been up­dated to in­clude air con­di­tion­ing and fin­ished floors, oth­ers con- tinue the old tra­di­tions started by the first campers, in­clud­ing win­dows with­out glass and floors cov­ered in wood shav­ings — both to pro­tect the feet from the ground and keep the tent smelling fresh.

“We’ve had to go in and do a lit­tle brac­ing, but other­wise our tent is just like it was in 1840,” Ram­sey ex­plained.

Camp fam­i­lies are there for a week of spir­i­tual en­light­en­ment, sal­va­tion and re­vival, but there are other ac­tiv­i­ties, too.



af­ter­noons the young peo­ple have all kinds of ac­tiv­i­ties to do,” Ram­sey said. “They swim, make T-shirts, play ball and use the Ram­sey pavil­ion and play­ground on their off time. They also en­joy go­ing down to the spring and stop­ping it up, too.”

Al­though the grounds have never been a part of the church, the campmeeting was a Methodist in­sti­tu­tion for its first 100 years. It is now in­ter­de­nom­i­na­tional. This year’s preach­ers in­clude Methodist Don Martin of Al­pharetta and Bap­tist Brian Dunks of Waco, Texas.

De­spite the rich, deep­rooted his­tory of the camp­meet­ings, new­com­ers should not be afraid to come be a part of the spir­i­tual cel­e­bra­tion.

“Some peo­ple think it might be hard to get into some­thing with a his­tory like this, but I didn’t have any prob­lems — al­though it may have helped that I had been go­ing to camp­meet­ings be­fore, too,” joked Reba Ogle­tree, who had her first date with her hus­band, Ans­ley, at the Salem Campmeeting.

Sub­mit­ted pho­tos / The Cov­ing­ton News

The rich his­tory of the Salem Campmeeting has been well pre­served in the 183 years since its in­cep­tion. Sam Ram­sey, bot­tom, has had an­ces­tors at each gather­ing since the first meet­ing in 1828.

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