October 15, 2018

Heard County’s oldest event slated for August 17-21

This unique arbor at Flat Rock is made of hand-hewn beams that were cut and pieced together with wooden pegs around 1878.

This unique arbor at Flat Rock is made of hand-hewn beams that were cut and pieced together with wooden pegs by Mr. Foster James around 1878.

(Franklin, GA) — The Flat Rock Camp Meeting, the longest running event in Heard County history, is once again planned to take place this year from August 17-21.

This will be the 140th edition of the camp meeting taking place at the Flat Rock Campgrounds about four miles west of Franklin. The campground was originally built in 1876 and meetings have been held continuously ever since.

Two years after its inception, an open-air arbor was added. The unique structure is made of hand-hewn beams that were cut and pieced together with wooden pegs. According to the ‘Heard County History’ book published in 1991, the structure was constructed by a bride builder named Mr. Foster James on 20 acres of land donated by Mr. A.D. Lashley.

Families built cabins or ‘tents’ around the arbor for use during the meetings and some still exist today.

In the early days of the camp, lights for the arbor were kerosene lamps. A fire built of light wood and other materials would light up the entire campground.

For years, no refrigeration was available, so a big pit was dug and blocks of ice were put in and covered with sawdust. It kept the meats and perishables safe.

The camp meeting, an outdoor, continuous religious service, became a fixture of Georgia’s religious life in the 19th century.

In fact, according to the Georgia Encyclopedia, meetings were so popular by the 1890’s that the phrase “at a Georgia camp meeting” became a trite expression the world over. At least 30 of these sites, reflecting the camp-meeting movement and exhibiting its vernacular architecture, remain active in the state.

For one well-known local lady, the campground has been a huge part of her life. Mrs. Virginia Smith is widely known as the owner of the former Village Inn Restaurant, one of the most important businesses in the history of Heard County.

The Village Inn establishment was located on the square in downtown Franklin and served local patrons for over 30 years before she decided to retire in the early 1990’s.

Mrs. Virginia Davis has attended the Flat Rock Camp Meeting for 139 consecutive years

Mrs. Virginia Smith has attended the Flat Rock Camp Meeting for 93 straight years

Mrs. Virginia has attended the camp meeting for 93 consecutive years, including the first year when she was still in her mother’s womb.

“I love the Flat Rock Campground,” says Mrs. Virginia. “Nearly all my life I have lived near the campground. In fact, for a while, I lived in the Preacher’s tent on the campground.”

Mrs. Virginia says times were hard back in those days and her family lived at the campground because it was the only place they had to live.

Her son, Thomas Davis, was actually born at the campground in that Preacher’s tent on November 14, 1943.

Even though he weighed a whopping 12 pounds, Mrs. Virginia says it was a smooth delivery by her doctor and she could have “cooked a meal” later that day if she had needed to.

Long before she was in the restaurant business she served attendees dinner plates at the meeting for just $1 per plate.

Today, the camp meeting is always held the Wednesday before the third Sunday in August. Originally, meetings were held from Tuesday to Tuesday.

In the peak years of the event during the middle of the 20th century, the camp meeting would draw thousands of people. Mrs. Virginia says in those days there wasn’t much to do, so everyone went to the meetings, the biggest event of the year.

In addition to the main arbor, the grounds featured a dining hall, boy’s and girl’s dormitories, a pavilion, fire pit, and of course the wooden structures referred to as “tents.”

It was not uncommon in those days for families to bring livestock to the meeting.

“One year, my cow had just birthed a little calf, so I walked my cow and calf to the camp so we could tend to them. They stayed with us the whole week,” says Mrs. Virginia. “There were so many people there in those days — you couldn’t even walk hardly.”

It was against the law to park on the grounds, so a parking lot was built across the road for patrons to park. The main event for the camp meeting was of course the preaching. “We would have preaching four times a day,” she adds. “They would ring the bell about five minutes before preaching time.”

In those days, everyone would pitch in to make the thousands of people as comfortable as possible. Wagon-loads of sawdust would be brought in to cover the grounds. Families truly lived in the tents during camp meetings. “We cooked and ate three meals a day in our tents,” says Mrs. Virginia.

The ever-evolving camp meetings have experienced many changes throughout the 140 years. In the 1950’s, orphans from a Methodist Children’s home in Union City would attend the meetings on Sunday and each family would “adopt” one of these children as their own for the day.

Thomas Davis remembers some of the good times he had as a kid attending the meetings. “As children, we would jump from as high as 10 or more feet into big piles of sawdust,” says Davis.”We called it doodle-bugging.”

During the depression era and at other times of economic hardships, the organizers would have to get creative to raise enough money for the yearly event. One year, they actually cordoned off a small area and sold “deeds” to square inches of the property so individuals could “own” a small piece of the historic site.

John and Ross Henry’s grandmother and family were instrumental in establishing and building the campground originally.

“My mom’s favorite place was Flat Rock Campground,” wrote John Henry in a tribute to his mother after she passed away in 2014. “I remember when my brother and I went off to college she reminded us that we could stay over at college all we wanted to but if we could not make it home for the annual camp meeting in August that we could just skip coming home for Christmas. I think she was joking but I made sure I never found out.”

Flat Rock will host its 140th consecutive camp meeting August 17-21

Flat Rock will host its 140th consecutive camp meeting August 17-21

Originally a Methodist establishment, the campground has no denomination now and the oversight is provided by a group of trustees.

The trustees are now working towards being incorporated as a non-profit 501 (c)(3) corporation.

Everyone in the community is invited to attend this year’s meeting August 17-21.

Brandon Brooks from Prospect Church will be over the service on Wednesday and Sunday, while Dennis Farr of the Titus Baptist Seminary will be over the service on Friday and Saturday night. Andrew Owensby from Roopville Road Baptist Church will be over Thursday’s ‘Youth Night’ service.

Sunday lunch will be catered this year by Huckleberry’s Catering and BBQ from Lagrange as a Prospect Youth Fundraiser to help them to attend ‘Passion 2017.’ Huckleberry’s will serve 1/2 chicken plates with baked beans, potato salad and bread or slabs of ribs. Drinks will also be served.

A children’s class will be taught each night with a Bible lesson, craft, and activity.

Comments

  1. I remember working here during my high school years with my mother Jeanette Bailey, Annette Bailey. We also worked with a lovely lady Mrs. Cornel. We done all the cooking far the summer camp time far the kids church camp.

    Annette Bailey Thompson

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