This past week, Lumpkin Campground in Dawson County celebrated its 192nd consecutive year of camp meetings.
The camp meeting kicked off on Monday July 25 and ran every day through Sunday July 31. The host pastor was David Sanders, ministers were Warren Lathem and Jason Hamby, and the song leader was Barry Slaton.
The week began with congregants gathering and moving into their “tents” at the campground on Monday, where they stayed for the week. Gordon Pirkle, owner of local restaurant The Pool Room, and his family set up tables and provided hamburgers and hotdogs for all of the preachers and congregants who were there on Monday night.
Pirkle, whose great-great-great-great-grandfather started the campground in 1830, said that he’s extremely proud to have Lumpkin Campground as part of his family’s history.
“My great-great-great-great-grandfather was the one that got the 40 people together to start this,” Pirkle said. “This is the proudest part of my history is [him] starting this.”
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Pirkle’s daughter, Hayley Garrett, said that the tradition of kicking off the camp meeting week by feeding the congregants began around 20 years ago when Pirkle decided to make it a little easier on all of the families moving in on Monday who may not have time to go get food before Monday night services begin.
“Each side of the campground took turns and fed the preachers; when it was our turn we fed the preachers and Daddy said ‘well if we’re feeding the preachers we’re feeding everybody’ and we’ve done it ever since,” Garrett said. "It’s a great fellowship night; everybody gets together and gets to know each other; the ones that are new get to enjoy it and then we kick it off and start meeting.”
Pirkle, along with his cousin Larry Taffar and the rest of their family, grew up coming to camp meeting each year. Taffar, who has attended every year for 82 years and who now serves as the chair of the campground’s trustees, said that it’s always been something he’s looked forward to each summer.
“I grew up here; it’s just a good family get together,” Taffar said. “Camp meeting is something that, growing up, you look forward to it every year.”
When Lumpkin Campground was first started, camp meetings were always the last week of August, right before school started back in September. Since then, the camp meeting dates have shifted back to the last week in July, before school starts back in August.
Today, both Methodist and Baptist preachers take turns preaching during camp meeting. Services are held twice a day, at 11 a.m. and 7:45 p.m.
When Pirkle and Taffar’s great-great-great-great-grandfather first began the campground, he did so by gathering together 40 men who each donated money to purchase the land the campground still sits on to this day.
“40 men went in and paid a dollar apiece and bought 40 acres and that’s what this sits on; the only thing that’s been cut off of it was when we needed some for the church but everything else is still under the trustees of the campground,” Taffar said. “When it started in 1830 they brought in the wagons and everything and the way it’s been handed down to us is they said the Cherokee Indians would sit out in the woods and congregate and listen in.”
Throughout the years, Taffar and Pirkle said that they’ve been able to really get to know and love the families who attend camp meeting each summer.
“We’ve seen people’s kids come in and get grown and get married and then have their own family and bring them back,” Taffar said.
As part of Pirkle’s family, Garrett also grew up coming to camp meeting every year. Both of her children were married at the campground, and her grandchildren make 10 generations of her family that have attended camp meetings each summer. To Garrett, the best way to describe the campground can be summed up in just a few words.
“To me it’s sacred here; holy ground,” Garrett said. “That’s really the way to describe it.”
To learn more about Lumpkin Campground and camp meetings, go to https://www.facebook.com/LumpkinCampground/.