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Camp meetings a summertime tradition
Since the 1800s, families have gathered to visit, worship at area campgrounds
Glen Davidson walks away from the arbor at the Antioch Campground after checking it Monday in preparation for the beginning of a camp meeting. - photo by Tom Reed

Camp meetings

Antioch Camp Meeting

When: Sunday-July 24

Where: Antioch Campground, Antioch Campground Road, Gainesville

Mossy Creek Camp Meeting

When: July 24-31

Where: Mossy Creek Campground, 7610 Ga. 254, Cleveland

Coming July 30: Look for a special photo slideshow from the Lumpkin camp meeting

In the early 1800s, the priorities of most settlers could be described with three F's: faith, farm and family.

During a time when most people were focused on survival, there was very little time for, or attention paid to, luxuries like vacations. There was no taking time off from

work because more than likely, "work" was tending the farm, which provided sustenance and income for your family.

Although there wasn't time for fancy trips, early settlers still found a way to renew themselves with camp meetings. These religious meetings were held during down time on the farm, typically after a harvest.

"The camp meetings at Antioch have been going on since 1837," said Julie Jones, a trustee of the Antioch Campgrounds in Gainesville.

"It was a week long gathering, sort of like church revival and a family reunion combined. I have been attending all of my life. My grandma went as a child."

Jones' parents, Glen and Gloria Davidson, have also been attending camp meetings for decades.

"I married into (it), so I have been going for 54 years, but my wife has been going all of her life," said Glen Davidson, who is also a trustee for the campground.

The camp meeting tradition is also alive and well at Mossy Creek Campground in Cleveland. The history of that campground dates back to 1833.

"When the camp was first established, people would set up their tents and stay for the week," said Bud Haynes, chairman of the Mossy Creek Tentholders Association.

"They would bring everything they needed to survive with them. My mom can remember going when she was little. They would actually come in wagons with the cow tied behind it.

"Both sides of my family have been affiliated with the campground dating back to the early 1900s."

In the early days, families would sleep in tents or under their wagons, and prepare their food on campfires. Since there weren't any convenience stores to run to, the families brought everything they needed, from pots to wooden trunks of clothes.

Crocks of milk and butter were stored in nearby springs to keep fresh and sometimes a coop of chickens was brought along for eggs and meat.

As time progressed, the campgoers built cabins, some with dirt floors, instead of pitching actual tents. Today, those cabins have been given a more modern touch with amenities like running water and electricity, but they are still referred to as "tents."

"There's still no AC or TV," Jones said.

"Some tents still have hay floors. For the most part, we try to keep things traditional."

Part of that tradition is focusing on what's important: spending time with family and worship.

"We still have three (church) services each day of camp - one in the morning, one in the afternoon and one at night," Jones said.

Each service is lead by a different church. This year's Antioch participants are Antioch Methodist Church, Mount Pisgah United Methodist Church, First United Methodist Church of Gainesville and Lakeland United Methodist Church.

Mossy Creek also has multiple church services each day of camp, which are also lead by different churches in the community. Mossy Creek's participating churches include First Baptist Church of Gainesville, Hopewell Baptist Church, Mossy Creek United Methodist Church and Trinity United Methodist Church.

In between services, the campgoers, who are generally descendents of the original founders, spend time catching up. Non-descendents are also invited to attend the worship services.

"It's something that everyone looks forward to every year. A lot of people set their vacations around this week, it's always the fourth week in July," said Haynes, who has been attending the gatherings since 1954.

"You get to visit with people that you may only get to see that one time each year. We sit on the front porches of our tents in the evenings and catch up and watch the kids play in the yard.

"When I was a kid, there were a lot of kids at the campgrounds, but then there was a period of time when the youth attendance wasn't that great. But over the last 10 years, we've seen the youth and children numbers really grow. Now, I think we have more kids involved in the camp meetings than when I was kid."

No matter how the times change, both Jones and Haynes say the weeklong camp meetings are a tradition they'd like to see remain intact.

"Life is so busy and crazy. We all have schedules to keep, emails to read and so much life to keep up with. But when you go to camp, it's like being taken out of the hustle and bustle of life for that week," Jones said.

"It lets you kind of refresh and regroup. For that week, we worship and sit around on our porches eating, talking and enjoying each other's company - that's a rarity these days.

"It's special to be able to pass this unique tradition down to our children. It's something you can't buy. I feel like if we don't hang on to it, we'd never be able to get it back."