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Tradition marks 179 years
Families flock to campmeeting
Campmeeting pic2
Playing ping-pong is just one of many pastimes among those who attended campmeeting. Cooper Kicklighter, center, waits his turn as Cody McGinnis, left, and Michael Garrett play a game. - photo by Photo/Elizabeth Hamilton

Lumpkin Campground held its annual summer revival last week.


Known as campmeeting, the week-long event featured three services each day that encompassed prayer, singing, music, Bible readings, preaching, personal testimonies and altar calls.


Organizers from Bethel United Methodist Church, located just across the street from the campground, say that the event was well attended, drawing 500-600 people to the event, which is held each year at the end of July.


“I have been coming to campmeeting all my life,” said Gene Hardy, of Dawsonville. “My family has made this a tradition since campmeeting started, and it is something that I look forward to every year.”


Gene Hardy’s grandson, 10-year old Kyle Hardy, has enjoyed coming to campmeeting each year, and is proud to have roots in the historic campground.


“Seeing friends and spending time with family is what I like most about campmeeting,” the young Hardy said. “Being a fifth generation Hardy family member to come is pretty neat too.”


Kay Hardy, Gene Hardy’s wife, says that the gathering is a unique tradition because time spent worshipping the Lord as well fellowship with friends and family are irreplaceable parts of life.


“You can always feel God’s presence here,” Kay Hardy said. “He is here all the time, and brings feelings of peace and rejuvenation to those who come.”


Since 1830, the destination for Methodists in the Dawson County area has been a 40 acre grove of trees originally purchased by 40 members who each pledged $1 for the land.


It was there that an open air pavilion, or “bush arbor” was constructed, named because the first of campmeeting gatherings would have been held under a simple shelter of saplings.


The original building was revamped last year due to infrastructure and safety issues that come with aged wood, but gathering officials made efforts to use as much of the original material as possible.


Although the arbor has had a facelift since its first days,  you can still see signs of  evidence of passing generations in the carved timbers and hard packed red clay floor, which is spread with sweet smelling hay for the gatherings. Electricity is the only concession to the 20th century in the arbor.


Traditions are alive and strong among the campground and its yearly visitors, which is what attendees say keeps bringing people back year after year.


Katrina Holbrook shared one such tradition of the annual event in which the call to worship is signaled by blowing on a near 100-year old conch shell.


“Just as the Lord calls those who believe in him to worship, blowing on the conch shell is our way here of calling everyone to gather before each service,” Holbrook said.


Surrounding the arbor, located in the campground’s center, stands a collection of rustic cabins called “tents,” some of which bear the names of families who maintain the buildings, although ultimate ownership of everything is with the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist.


Between the tents and arbor is a large open grove of trees. The trunks are painted with whitewash about 4 feet up from the base.


The history of white is a very practical one: during the time before electricity, the trunks were painted white so that the members would not run into them as they made their way to the arbor.


Even though the campground is well lit, it is a tradition to gather prior to campmeeting to whitewash the tree trunks.


Initially, the yearly gathering was a way for Methodists in the community to get together once a year, exchange ideas and pass along stories of faith and devotion, while at the same time, enjoying worship services.


As years passed, the younger generations began to branch out, marrying into Baptist families, who eventually joined in during campmeetings. Now Methodists and Baptists both have tents in the campground.