Salem’s ‘tents’ are steeped in his­tory, tra­di­tion

The Covington News - - FRONT PAGE - DANIELLE EVER­SON de­v­er­son@cov­news.com

As fam­i­lies ar­rived at Salem Camp Ground Fri­day, set­ting up and clean­ing their tents for this year’s an­nual meet­ing, they knew that they were fol­low­ing, quite lit­er­ally, in the foot­steps of pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions.

Ann Mil­ton, 69, and her hus­band, Ken Mil­ton, 76, have been com­ing to the Salem Camp Meet­ing for decades. And for Ann, at­tend­ing the an­nual meet­ing of the faith­ful is the con­tin­u­a­tion of a fam­ily legacy that dates back to the late 1880s.

As fam­ily his­tory tells it, Ann’s great-grand­mother Jenny El­liot-Jenk­ins was the first to come to the Salem Camp Meet­ing in 1888, trav­el­ing in a cov­ered wagon. Ann said her great-grand­mother

Jenny came to meet­ing through the years with her fam­ily and hus­band, Ann’s great-grand­fa­ther, Gor­don Jenk­ins.

The tra­di­tion con­tin­ued with Ann’s grand­mother bring­ing her fam­ily, and then on to Ann’s mother, Martha McArthur, bring­ing her fam­ily. Ann at­tended her first camp meet­ing in 1944 as an in­fant, and she has been com­ing to Salem ever since, she said.

Ann’s fa­ther, Chap­lin Luther McArthur, was in the mil­i­tary, which meant her fam­ily moved from place to place as he was re­as­signed.

She said she at­tended four high schools grow­ing up. How­ever, even when the fam­ily was sta­tioned in places as far away as Cal­i­for­nia, they made their way to the Salem Camp Meet­ing.

“My fam­ily al­ways came and stayed at the tent dur­ing the Salem Camp Meet­ing… the tent was like se­cu­rity be­cause we moved around,” Ann said. “Salem re­mained the same.” Ann said her grand­mother bought a deed for their “tent” — a cabin where fam­i­lies stay dur­ing meet­ing — in the 1930s from a church that used it as a youth tent; her grand­mother later deeded the tent to her.

Ever since, the Jenk­ins tent has been filled with mem­o­ries each year as rel­a­tives come to­gether for a week of fel­low­ship and wor­ship.

In the Jenk­ins tent, one of more than 20 that sur­round Salem’s his­toric taber­na­cle, walls are marked with the heights of the fam­ily’s chil­dren from over the years, pic­tures of fam­ily mem­bers who at­tended the an­nual meet­ing line the hall­ways, and wooden stairs lead to up­stairs and down­stairs rooms filled with beds where fam­ily mem­bers rest their heads af­ter ser­vices and ac­tiv­i­ties.

The fam­ily tra­di­tion of tent­ing at Salem con­tin­ues to­day. Ann said her son Leigh Mil­ton, 47, and daugh­ter-in-law Tonya Mil­ton, 46, have al­ways made an ef­fort to come each year with their daugh­ters, Shelby, 19, and Natalie, 16.

Leigh has been com­ing to meet­ings since 1966 and Tonya said she has been com­ing since 1987, which was on a date with Leigh af­ter only dat­ing for about a month.

Tonya said both of their daugh­ters were bap­tized un­der the taber­na­cle and ex­plained that her chil­dren are the sixth gen­er­a­tion of ten­ters in their fam­ily.

“To me, it means giv­ing my chil­dren a piece of fam­ily his­tory,” she said. “You get to see peo­ple you haven’t seen within the last year and to be with fam­ily. It’s their legacy.”

The Jenk­ins tent is one of the ar­eas where youth ac­tiv­i­ties are held dur­ing the camp meet­ing.

Ann said out­side of their tent is where fam­i­lies gather to play soft­ball, and Tonya said she helps youths tie-dye T-shirts, which she has been do­ing for the past 15 years.

How­ever, be­fore all the fam­ily-ori­ented ac­tiv­i­ties take place, like many other ten­ters at Salem, the fam­ily has to pre­pare.

“It takes about three days to open up a tent … get­ting all the beds to­gether, clean­ing and mak­ing sure ev­ery­thing in the house is OK,” Tonya said. “It’s very rus­tic.”

Ann ex­plained that tent own­ers must con­sis­tently stay in their tents. If a tenter misses three years in a row, his or her tent is for­feited to the Salem Camp Ground.

In ad­di­tion, ten­ters pay for the main­te­nance of their tents dur­ing the week of meet­ing, and each tenter gets a util­ity bill at the end of the camp meet­ing.

Though get­ting ev­ery­thing to­gether may seem like a chore, the fam­ily is de­lighted to have a piece of tan­gi­ble his­tory to en­joy each sum­mer.

Ann, who sat out­side look­ing at her grand­mother and great-grand­moth­ers’ rock­ing chairs on their porch, said peo­ple who are in the tents now were chil­dren when she was a young girl. She re­called her child­hood.

“I would sit on the porch as a teenager… it al­ways gave me the feel­ing like I had a home.”

Danielle Ever­son /The Cov­ing­ton News

The Jenk­ins tent has been a fam­ily gath­er­ing site at Salem Camp Meet­ing for gen­er­a­tions.

Danielle Ever­son /The Cov­ing­ton News

Ann Mil­ton in her grand­moth­ers’ rock­ing chair with her grand­daugh­ter Shelby Mil­ton on the left and daugh­ter-in­law Tonya Mil­ton on the right.

Danielle Ever­son /The Cov­ing­ton News

Sev­eral twin-sized beds line the up­stairs wooden floors of The Jenk­ins tent.

Danielle Ever­son /The Cov­ing­ton News

Ann Mil­ton points out her great-grand­mother in a fam­ily photo. (Inset) Young Ann (front row, third per­son from the left) with her fam­ily at­tend­ing a Salem Camp Meet­ing in the late 1940s.

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