Mr. John Casey relaxes in front of his tent at Poplar Springs campground. Mr. Casey, aged 90, is one of the oldest persons tenting at Poplar Springs and has attended the meetings since a child. He is now at a nursing home in Athens. This photo first appeared in The Carnesville Herald July 21, 1966.

HISTORY OF POPLAR SPRINGS CAMPGROUND

Editor’s note: The following was first presented as a three-part series in The Carnesville Herald, The Lavonia Times and The Royston Record July 14, 21 and 28, 1966. According to a note at that time, “the history of Poplar Springs Campground was submitted by the Rev. Charles G. Johnson, pastor of Canon Methodist charge. This resume is taken from an old history printed in 1914 by the Franklin Printery, Canon, and was compiled by the Rev. Henry Osborne Sr., when he was 76 years old.

 

From The Carnesville Herald

July 14, 21 and 28, 1966

 

Its Location And Organization

It has been 134 years since the agreement and contract was made with Allan Groover and Dan Groover who sold the fifty acres of land on which Poplar Springs Methodist Camp Ground was located, to the Trustees viz: Thomas King, Dennis Phillips, Willis Scales, George Shell, and Rev. Nelson Osborne. The deed was made to these Trustees and their successors, for the compensation of twenty-five cents per acre. It has been said that the first suggestion of this site was made by George Shell and the Groovers and a committee was appointed to take up and consider the matter. The report, of course, was favorable and acted upon accordingly.

At that time this location was surrounded with a vast body of woods (and still is until this day), and the settlers were sparse.

The campground was easy to get to on account of the many roads that penetrated the forest. Carnesville (8 miles), Athens (34 miles), Danielsville (15 miles), and Elberton (25 miles) were the only towns around, and such a thing as a railroad was not thought of in those days. Later the Elberton Railroad ran within two miles of this old campground, on which railway the city of Canon was located, being the nearest town, about four miles west of the campground. The Elberton Railway offered an advantage to all who wished to attend the meetings.

The home of the Campground has ever been in old Franklin County near the eastern border, as the Hart County line passes through the town of Canon. The first meeting held was on the third Sunday in August 1832, and has been held each year since, except four years during the war between the States. The first meeting was held for five days under a brush arbor, with 30 tents on the ground. The second year there were 40 tents, while a wooden arbor was erected and covered with boards. This arbor was later burned by the army of General Sherman in the 1860’s, but was soon rebuilt. The second arbor still stands.

The arbor was lighted up inside and around the stand with tallow and beeswax candles. The men and women sat separate on the log or slab benches hauled from Brother Lewis Redwine’s saw mill, and made boring holes at the ends, with a two-inch  auger, into which were driven the peg legs, and one in the middle to keep the bench from sagging.

The altar was made fronting the pulpit, 20x16, with benches all around inside for the mourners to use when the invitation was given; and often the altar would be full of penitents, and the old preachers were doing all they could, singing and praying, to bring them to Christ. And they would stay with them till many found Christ as their Saviour, able to blot out all of their sins.

The old preachers would shout, “Brethren, how is it in this day? – There is hardly even a shout in the camp, but rather a fagging interest. Let us wake up and get into the vineyard, and work for souls while it is day. And the Lord will add many stars to our crowns which shall shine forever and ever.”

 

Living On The Camp Grounds 

John W. Osborne was appointed to look after the seating of the congregation, to see that they were accommodated with room to sit while the preaching was going on, which place he filled for many years before and after the Civil War. Brother John W. Osborne was born in 1821. At his death he was probably the only man living who was able to remember the first meeting in 1832.

This ground was incorporated, by the act of the Georgia Legislature soon after its organization, one half mile in every direction, measuring from the preacher’s stand, which law still remains in full force.

There was a horse lot on the branch, made especially for the preachers’ horses, while the meeting lasted. Four big troughs were made on this lot, to put feed in for the horses, and the junior preachers would feed them. Oats, corn and fodder were brought by the tent holders from their homes when they moved to the campground and put into the Preachers’ Tent to be used for the feeding of the preachers’ horses. (No gas tank has been installed as of now to fill the gas tank of the preacher’s car).

In the morning, at the sound of the trumpet, the old preachers rose up and washed at their tent, and then started, as they thought best, to some ten for breakfast, and have prayer and sing with the tent holder and family, at the sound of the trumpet. (How is it in these days?). This custom is still carried on until this day. The preacher is furnished a tent and he eats with the tent holders.

The streets of the grounds were laid off and named as follows:

 Southwest – Mosquito Street,

Southeast – Dutch Street,

Northeast – Hogpen Street,

Northwest – Mud Street

The name of the first trumpeter was Bird Cheek, who blew at daybreak for the people to rise from bed and at sunrise for prayer in their tents, and the sound was obeyed by all. You could hear all the old tent holders singing and praying at this time, in their tents. Today the trumpet is sounded about 20 minutes before worship services, that the people might be alerted and come to the arbor for worship. The trumpet mouthpiece that is being used today is well over a hundred years old. The trumpet is brought to the campground each year by the family of Rev. Allen Phillips, of Lincolnton, Georgia.

The Cooking was done under shelter, in the rear of the tents, over a log heap fire in pot vessels, ovens, skillets, and kettles. The meat used was pork, mutton, and beef kept in the spring house at the branch, to cool. Chickens were kept in coops near tents. Beans, cabbage, roasting ears, cucumbers, cucumber pickles, peach and apple pies were favorite foods of the early campers.

The boys went barefoot, and wore home-spun copperas breeches, and ten cent straw hats and wool hats, made near the campground by Sam McCollum. The girls wore homespun dresses and straw sun bonnets, while many went barefoot. The arbor was strawed by the tent holders – a free will offering – no pay at all was asked.

Four fire stands were made, one at each corner of the arbor, and supplied with pine knots to give light for all the services.

 

Preaching Hours

The trumpet blew at 8:00 a.m. and at 11:00. And at 3:00 p.m. and at early candle light. (This is still being carried out). The tent doors were shut at the sound of the trumpet and all went to the arbor to hear gospel preached by the old veterans of the Cross, with the old time religion in their hearts for God was in it and many were saved at every service.

The Campground was blessed with four big springs to water the camp – two on the northwest, and one on the Southwest and one on the Southeast. These springs furnished abundant clear cold water. It is said that the young people, of courting age, found these springs a most welcomed spot to quench their thirst. In connection with the springs, the Campground derived its name from the big poplar trees which grow on the grounds near the springs.

At the time of the campground opening, the forest was very dense and extended around these grounds. It is said that on one year 18 big rattlesnakes were killed and laid out on a log to be seen by the people.

Another incident proving the unselfish interest manifested by the early tent holders, in the first days of the meetings, is related in regard to Dennis Phillips, who had a large wagon and a team of four horses. Many tent holders had no means for moving their goods to Camp. It is said that Dennis moved eight families to their tents in one day, and charged nothing, at the first meeting in 1832. The horse in the lead of his big four team wore a chime of bells, and went merrily on in service for others. (A neighbor indeed).

At the close of annual meetings, on the last morning the trumpet was blown at the stand for prayer. All the tent holders were there. A chapter from the scriptures was read, a hymn sung, then prayer. The benediction followed at the close. Then the benches were piled up, and the arbor cleaned out. Then a line of march formed and headed for home.

The first sermon at this Old Campground was preached by William J. Parks, who was then Presiding Elder. His text was “He loveth our Nation and hath built us a synagogue” – Luke 7:5. The second Presiding Elder was Henry Pitchford. His first text at this place was “And I say also unto thee, that thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my church” – Matt. 16:18.

Here are the names of some of the preachers who served here earnestly and faithfully many years ago:

Rev. Benjamin Parker, Rev. David Varner, Rev. Nelson Osborne, Rev. David Garrison, Rev. Wm. F. Bowers, Rev. Stephen Shell, Rev. Jackson Deavors.

Rev. Henry Tyler, Rev. John Wade, Rev. James Wade, Rev. Eli Garrison, Rev. Burgess Smith, Rev. Billy Adams, Rev. William Morman, 

Rev. Jackson Oliver, Rev. Joel Ledbetter, Rev. John Henley, Rev. James Danley, Rev. W.J. Cotter, Rev. Watt Adams, and others.

Following is a list of the old original tent holders and others who came to the Campground up to the time of the Civil War:

Joseph Jones, Mrs. Jones, Natt Holley, Green B. Holbrook, James Cosby, Abe Mullinax, Willis Scales, Dennis Phillips, David Starr, Pate Jones, Thomas King, Mrs. Terrell, Pleas Holley, Calvin Watson, Thomas Stribling.

Billy Wilson, James Smith, Russell Baker, Harmon Gable, Sidney Jones, Job Bowers, John Sewell, Jake Parker, Bird Cheek, James Allen, Jackson Phillips, Lem Shell, Jacob Redwine, Rev. Nelson Osborne, and others.

The last sermon preached before the camp was closed for the War Between the States was taken from the Book of Job 14:14, “If a man die, shall he live again?”

After the Civil War, Leonard Rush was the first presiding elder to hold forth at this ground, and for his first sermon he took the following text, “And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven”- Matt. 16:19.

Since then there have been many gifted preachers who have attended and taken part in the annual Camp meeting here.

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