Growing up in a Pentecostal preacher’s household, one of my earliest memories is attending camp meeting each summer at Beech Springs Campground near Pelzer, South Carolina. Those earliest memories were of an open wooden tabernacle with sawdust on the floors. The activities lasted all week with Bible studies during the day and services at night.
On my most recent kayaking trip I stopped by Shady Grove Camp Meeting in the lower part of the state, so Glynda and I started reminiscing about our camp meeting experiences. Of the old wooden tabernacle we remembered the benches and sawdust, but not much else. The building was constructed in 1934 and marked the beginning of camp meeting at Beech Springs. After much searching I finally found a photo of the old wooden tabernacle. The image below is from the July 1934 edition of The Advocate, the Pentecostal Holiness Church newsletter.
That article described the new campground.
This is a fine section of country; in view of the Blue Ridge Mountains; and healthily located, and not disturbed by heavy traffic. The people in this community are kind and hospitable. It is our purpose to make this the greatest occasion ever experienced by1 our Conference. To do this, we must have the cooperation of the entire body. Let me ask all the churches to excuse their pastor for this period; and make them an offering sufficient to pay their board while there; and we are anxious for every member of the Conference to attend the entire meeting if possible. See that your pastor comes. We are arranging to have the Conference tent for the men to use for sleeping and the church will be used for the ladies, for the same purpose.
There will be a restaurant on the grounds where you can obtain your meals, at the lowest cost possible. Those wishing to bring their camping tents will find plenty of room…
…Let us all pray, that God will do a work here at this time, that will stand until Jesus comes-in saving the lost, sanctifying believers, and baptizing the saints with the Holy Ghost as on the day of Pentecost and sick bodies healed and devils cast out as He did while on the earth.The Advocate – July 26, 1934
The Greenville News announced the construction of the tabernacle back in February of that year.
Eventually a row of cabins was added for campers, along with a small dormitory and a cafeteria. In either 1964 or 1965 the wooden tabernacle was replaced with a brick structure that still had open sides. Glynda and I both remembered the summer storms that always seemed to roll through during camp meeting. The old wooden structure was probably a fire trap with the threat of lightening, etc.
Regardless of whether it was the old wooden building or the new brick structure, the open sides provided a means of escape. The altar call and prayers after the service could go on for a LONG time, complete with professions of faith and speaking in tongues. As kids we would slip out the sides and go meet our friends. Older kids would rendezvous with boyfriends and girlfriends behind the headstones in the nearby cemetery.
My favorite part of Camp Meeting was the canteen. Dad would buy us an Orange Crush and a piece of candy. After service we would stand around and socialize with local church members and relatives that had also attended the service. It became part of our family reunion.
Beech Springs Camp Meeting changed over the years. The tabernacle was enclosed and air conditioned. The meetings were shortened from a week to a single weekend. Now the services are no longer held at the campground but at a new facility a couple of miles away. I haven’t been to a camp meeting service at Beech Springs in over 30 years.
And to be honest, I’m not sure I’d like what I’d find if I did go. There are too many childhood expectations. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t other camp meetings that might fit that bill.
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