Posted in theology

CampMeetings: an outgrowth of the Second Great Awakening, and still going strong in Georgia

By Elizabeth Prata

EPrata photo

The second Great Awakening had an impact, of this we know. I was not aware of the impact it had on the south until this week. Encyclopedia Britannica says,

Second Great Awakening: Protestant religious revival in the United States from about 1795 to 1835. During this revival, meetings were held in small towns and large cities throughout the country, and the unique frontier institution known as the camp meeting began.

The Georgia Encyclopedia explains more:

Georgia has a wealth of extant camp-meeting grounds across the state. These historic sites developed as a result of the Second Great Awakening, a series of revivals that occurred from about 1790 to 1830 and planted the values of Protestantism deep in the American character, especially in the South. This religious movement galvanized the entire nation after the American Revolution (1775-83) and by 1820 helped to form the distinct national characteristic of a revivalist society. The Second Great Awakening, often called the Great Revival, became a regional phenomenon in the South, fostering the development of three major denominations, the Baptist, Methodist, and Presbyterian churches, and creating what some have called the Bible Belt. [1].

Oh my! That’s HUGE!

Awww, it’s so quaint. And long ago. Are they still having camp-meetings?

The camp meeting, an outdoor, continuous religious service, became a fixture of Georgia’s religious life. In fact, the meetings were so popular by the 1890s that the phrase “at a Georgia camp meeting” became a trite expression the world over. At least thirty of these sites, reflecting the camp-meeting movement and exhibiting its vernacular architecture, remain active in the state into the twenty-first century. [2].

One of those Great Awakening camp meeting grounds is near me! It’s the Poplar Springs Campground. Meetings have been held there every year since founding in 1832 till now. The only exception was the 4 years of the Civil War 1861-1865. I am in awe.

The surrounding landscape is another distinguishing feature of camp-meeting grounds. Given the idea that camp meetings provided a chance for worshipers to commune with God in nature, the topography and other landscape features played a significant role in the selection of the sites. The availability of a water source and the presence of trees, or the “sacred canopy,” often determined the place and name of the retreats. Site names like Fountain, Mossy Creek, Pine Log, Rock Springs, and White Oak indicate the importance of these natural features, while such names as Flat Rock and Pleasant Hill highlight other pleasing landscape features. The founders of Poplar Springs Camp Ground in Franklin County used both water and tree type to name their location in 1832. [3].

I made a jaunt to Canon, GA to see the National Register location of three historic churches. I decided on the way back to swing by the Poplar Springs Camp-Meeting grounds. I just love the idea of them being together with like-minded Christians, under the trees, united in love for Jesus and hearing sermons and music every night. Apparently at Poplar Springs there is a bugle that announces the opening of each night’s sermons!

The historic marker alongside the road says:

Camp meetings have been held here each year from 1832, except four years during the War Between the states. The 50-acre plot, “extending one-half mile in every direction from the preacher´s stand” was purchased by from Daniel and Jacob Groover for $25 by William Hammons, John F. Wilson, George Shell, John B. Wade, Dennis Phillips, Thomas King and Rev. Nelson Osborne, Trustees. The first meeting, August 1832, was held under a brush arbor with 30 tents on the ground. Women were seated on one side of the arbor: men on the other John W. Osborne, appointed usher served at every meeting until his death in 1914.

These are my photos of the place. It’s beautiful. The ‘tents’ are actually rough cabins. The tabernacle is open air on all sides, with hand hewn beams above and wood pews below. The tabernacle AKA the Arbor, is a pole and beam construction supporting a large roof. This July will be the 191st Camp Meeting at Poplar Springs. Tugaloo Holler will play bluegrass music.

There is a monument on the grounds that states:

Poplar Springs Methodist Camp Grounds. 1832 – 1956. Athens Elberton District Methodist Church

This memorial is erected in July 1956 by Friends of Poplar Springs Camp Grounds who feel that these grounds have constituted a shrine for the past century constantly pointing to the better life and dedicated with earnest prayer that “the faith of our father might live on

Amen. Amen.

Many of the cabins are owned by family members passed down from one generation to another. This blogger has some great photos of the growth pencil marks on the exterior of some cabins, or the hand prints of the family members, etc. His photos are here and worth looking at. He took them in 2018.

Further Resources & Footnotes

The last photo in the slideshow that’s black and white is from the Georgia Archives Virtual Vault.

You can see even more photos from R. Clegg photography, here

The Historic Rural Churches of Georgia entry for Poplar Springs Camp grounds is here.

Footnotes 1, 2, 3: New Georgia Encyclopedia, last modified Jul 31, 2018.


Christian writer and Georgia teacher's aide who loves Jesus, a quiet life, art, beauty, and children.