UPDATE: Development Authority of Dawson County awarded $300,000 grant to help with manufacturer BTD’s local expansion project.
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Traditions alive, well
Week of worship and community still going strong
Families get together between meetings to sit, relax, reminisce and visit. From left, Colby Denard, Thelma Byrd, Debra Byrd Pelfrey, Brittany Anderson and Autry Anderson, 3 months, held by Anna Byrd. - photo by David Renner Dawson Community News

For one week during the summer, families from Dawson and Lumpkin counties get together at a small campground off Lumpkin Campground Road.

Called campmeeting, this week is set aside by family and friends to gather, eat, drink, reminisce and worship together in cabins they call tents.

"I've been going to camp meeting all my life. It's a good time for families to get together," Larry Taffer said.

Taffer says he has seen and been part of many changes to the living and meeting lodges.

"There have been a lot of changes. We added on to the Arbor here ... it was needed. The Arbor was like some of these old tents, almost ready to fall down. When we got in to it some of the wood had rotted," he said. "Not only did we take the roof off, we went on and built on to it and that gave us more space. You can see where we added on. We extended it on out and built new pews at the same time."

Taffer said the campground also added a sewer system to a number of tents this year.

"A lot of [the tents] were still working off of a little old septic tank. So we tackled 25 tents," he said. "This fall we're going to come in and do the rest of them. We couldn't afford to do it all at one time. After all of this rain, we felt like we needed to."

For other families, it's not about the amenities or improvements, but the sense of tradition.

"We try to carry on the tradition with the grandkids and let them be free and enjoy," Janice Turner said. "Our family tradition is you move in as quickly as you can and play as much as you can before services actually start. Then they still go to the services and enjoy each other and make new friends and carry it on to their kids."

Turner said that her family looks forward to getting together to "play dominoes and eat." They also have a tradition for cooking the week's meals.

"One person takes the night and prepares their favorite meal and feeds his whole family," she said. "It's your choice ... and you can choose whatever you want to do."

Others continue traditions given to their families to continue. Justin Denard has attended campmeeting his entire life. He is the latest in the family line to signal meeting times.

"Ten minutes and five minutes before every service we blow the shell just to let people know," he said. "It was started by someone in my family a long, long time ago. It's just been a campground tradition and it's been in my family."

But not everyone at campmeeting comes from close areas. Some come from all across the state to see their families and have never missed a single meeting.

"I've never missed a year," said Madison Phillips of Statesboro. "We don't live here, so this is a good reason for all of us to get together and see the family and everything. We are a big family but a pretty tight family."

But for most families, such as Diane Phillips' family, the week is one to quietly reflect and spend uninterrupted time together.

"I like coming because of the fact we all get to spend time together as a family without TV and without any interruptions, just low tech this week," she said. "We are away from everybody's hustle and bustle. Just sit around and rock and just sit around and play dominoes all night. Just spending time with the kids, grandkids, it's multi-generation. Where else do you get all that in one fell swoop?"

Staff writer Amanda Head contributed to this story.