Tag Archives: Georgia Tabernacles Singing Conventions & Campgrounds

Dooly Tabernacle & Campground, 1875

I’m grateful to Janet Joiner, Community Development Director for the City of Vienna, for sharing the following text. Source: History of Dooly County Camp Ground, published by E. G. Greene in 1934. Thanks are due Bert Gregory, as well, for a tour of the grounds.

In 1874, the Rev. George T. Embry, Sr. was appointed by the South Georgia Methodist conference as Senior Preacher for the Vienna and Dooly Mission, which was in the Americus District.  Rev. Embry’s charge was a large one that included all the territory from the Flint River west to Pulaski and Wilcox Counties on the east, and from Houston County north to Gum Creek on the south.  The mode of traveling throughout the territory was on horseback or in buggies following Indian trails.

One day Embry was traveling the Slosheye Trail toward Vienna. This trail connected the Flint River at Drayton with the Ocmulgee River in Hawkinsville. As he crossed the Pennahatchee Creek over to Sandy Mount Creek, he stopped to let his horse drink. He crossed the creek to the south side and discovered a large spring bubbling out from under a rocky hillside. As he and his horse drank the cool water, Embry felt compelled to explore further. 

He climbed the slope on the north side of the creek and came to a high flat area covered with nice large trees of all kinds.  As he stood there, he felt God urging him to build a campground on the site.  There was no longer a campground in this section of Georgia.  Feeling the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Embry envisioned a campground where people could worship and fellowship with God and with man. 

Embry began to share his vision with his parishioners and soon people agreed to meet at the Methodist Church in Vienna on Saturday, July 18, 1874 for a camp meeting rally.  Several prominent men in the community gave speeches advocating the project and the enthusiastic congregation voted unanimously to build a campground somewhere near where Embry’s vision took place.  Various committees were appointed to select a site, to obtain a deed, to select a name, and to solicit funds. They agreed to meet again the first week in August 1874.

At the August meeting, the site committee offered several locations, but the place chosen to build an arbor was the spot where George Embry had his vision and where the Tabernacle now stands. Thomas Whitsett donated eleven acres of land to be used for the camp meeting purposes. This was Land Lot 118 in the Seventh Land District, three miles northwest of Vienna. The deed was a revertible deed with a clause that if services were not held for three consecutive years the land would revert back to Whitsett or his heirs. Seven men were elected Trustees to take care of the property.  They were:  John Skipper, O. P. Swearingen, Sr., C. C. Clark, Belton O. Prather, Miles C. Jordan, James Butler and W. I. Brown.

The name committee offered two suggestions:  “Pennahatchee Camp Ground” or “The Dooly County Camp Ground”.  The latter was selected.  The solicitation committee had collected approximately $100.00 to be used for building a brush arbor and to cover the expenses of the first camp meeting to be held in September 1874. There was a large attendance and this first meeting was considered a success. At the close of the session, there was much enthusiasm for building a permanent tabernacle.  Money and in-kind donations amounting to $2,000 were pledged and a building committee was appointed and directed to begin at once in order to have a permanent tabernacle ready by the next summer. 

In March 1875, once the crops were gathered, those who promised to work were ready to begin. The building committee had arranged with a man from Montezuma to oversee the construction of the tabernacle, but after looking at the plan he decided he could not build it and backed out.  At that time Lucius J. McCall* was building a bridge across the Flint River at Drayton so the building committee approached him about the tabernacle project.  He looked over the plans and felt confident that he could build it.  It is not certain who drew the plan for the tabernacle but it is generally thought that the building committee drew the plans assisted by Rev. Embry and Mr. McCall. Men and boys came from all parts of the county to help in building the tabernacle under the supervision of McCall.  Much of the lumber used was either donated or sold at a very low price by local saw mills.  The Tabernacle was completed and the first camp meeting held under the structure began on August 26, 1875.  Rev. Embry saw his vision become a reality as he preached at that first service under the Tabernacle. [*- Many bridge builders in the years following the Civil War were former slaves, like the legendary Horace King. I have not been able to locate any further information about Lucius J. McCall, but will share if I learn more].

The Tabernacle is 84 feet 6 inches wide by 100 feet 6 inches long.  The entire construction was done with notches and pegs. The beams were so carefully crafted to be straight and true that they did not miss their notches more than one-half inch.  The beautifully cut, hand-hewn heart pine beams were 44 feet long and were raised by hand-drawn windlasses.  They were cut with a broad ax in order that the smooth edge would not absorb water. The posts and rafters are yellow pine; all are heartwood which lasts because it was grown to full maturity.

As centers of social activity attended by people from multiple counties, tabernacles and camp grounds needed shelters for the many families who frequented them. These were originally temporary and often in the form of tents. As families were able, they built more permanent, if primitive cabins, but the term tents remained in use. The few remaining tents at Dooly Camp Ground have been modernized.

The historic Pleasant Valley Methodist Church, once located nearby, was relocated to the site for preservation.

Dooly Campground still serves its original purpose and is well maintained.





Filed under --DOOLY COUNTY GA--

Gregory Cabins, Dooly Campground

Among the “tents” or cabins remaining at Dooly Campground, these are the most authentic in spirit. [The following information comes from the 2013 Keep Vienna Beautiful Christmas Tour of Homes booklet]. This cabin was originally one room built by Mrs. Lula Virginia (Lou V) Moore. There have been three significant renovations to the structure; a kitchen was added first, later a sleeping porch and bathroom were added. Jake and Ethel Gregory purchased the cabin in 1968 and added a small utility room.

Bert Gregory purchased the cabin from his great aunt and uncle in 2003 and began a complete renovation and addition.

A back porch was added, along with a master bedroom, bath and closet. There is an artesian well behind the cabin on the creek. At one time water from the well was pumped up the hill and used for the cabin…the original colors of gray with black and white trim were maintained. The cabin is affectionately known as “The Thing” to family and close friends.

This cabin was built by William Swearingen, the son of one of the founding trustees of Dooly Campground, O. P. Swearingen. The date of construction is not certain, but thought to be in the late 1920s.

It was purchased in 2004 by Bert Gregory from Melody Harrison, daughter of the late Robert and Marie Newby.  She had purchased it from her great aunt, Alice Forbes…The cabin has a working open well on the back porch that was dug by hand in one day’s time according to an account by a nearby neighbor, the late John Morgan who observed the building of the well. During reconstruction of the porch in 2006, it was discovered that the frame of the porch floor was from an old military crate, dating the porch as an addition during the 1940s…Known as “The Green Thing”, it has a spectacular view of Sandy Mount Creek. 



Filed under --DOOLY COUNTY GA--

Camp Mt. Bethel, 1940s, Turner County

This was once the site of Camp Mt. Bethel, a campground of the Georgia State Association of Free Will Baptists. The property is located on an unusual natural landmark, distinguished by Ashburn Formation sandstone outcrops, that was a favorite recreation spot for early settlers of the area near the West Fork of Deep Creek.

I understand that the campground operated from circa 1948 until at least the late 1980s and holds many good memories for those who spent time here.



Filed under --TURNER COUNTY GA--

Royal Singing Convention Memorial, 1991, Mystic

Royal Singing Convention Memorial Mystic Baptist Church Irwin County GA Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing South Georgia USA 2015

In July 1893 delegates and members of vocal classes established by William Jackson “Uncle Billy” Royal assembled at Irwin Institute to organize the Royal Singing Convention. From 1893 until 1912 the Convention met in Irwin and surrounding counties in churches of different denominations or in school houses. In 1912 a huge tent was purchased to accommodate the large number of people attending. In 1919 the people of Mystic established a fund to build a tabernacle to serve as a permanent home for the convention. The tabernacle was erected on this site in time to house the 1920 session. Changes in society and advancements in technology brought an end to the Royal Convention after meeting continuously each July for 85 years. The final session was held in 1977. The tabernacle was razed in 1982. [The New Georgia Encyclopedia notes that the first documented gospel singing convention in Georgia was founded as the South Georgia Singing Convention by Uncle Billy Royal in 1875, prior to the convention profiled here].

Royal Singing Convention Memorial Entrance Mystic Irwin County GA Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing South Georgia USA 2015

As many of the old timers were passing on, the first commemoration of this special place was the placement of a granite marker by Uncle Billy’s grandchildren in 1953. It’s located at the entrance to the new memorial.

Royal Singing Convention Memorial Tabernacle Footprint Mystic Baptist Church Irwin County GA Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing South Georgia USA 2015

This memorial reproduces the plan of the original tabernacle at full size. A low brick perimeter wall supported wooden posts which held up a massive roof. Today granite cubes indicate where those posts were located. The singer’s stages is recreated with the monument to “Uncle Billy”. At its edge, permanent memorials are dedicated to friends and loved ones or recall precious memories, favorite hymns and treasured Bible verses. It was dedicated in 1991 after much work by the Royal Singing Convention Association. The Board of Trustees included: Charles C. Royal, Jr., President; Dorothy Royal Grimsley, Vice President; Helen Day Spacek, Secretary; Ralph W. Sims, Treasurer; and board members Eloise Royal Luke, Michael F. Royal, and Jacqueline E. Turner. Stanford Anderson, a nationally-known architect and professor at MIT was responsible for the design.

Royal Singing Convention Memorial Mystic Irwin County GA Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing South Georgia USA 2015

The memorial is located next to the historic Mystic Baptist Churh on Highway 32 in Mystic. It’s an open air memorial and therefore always open to the public. There is no admission charge.

Royal Singing Convention Memorial Mystic Irwin County GA Bust of Uncle Billy Royal by Marshall Daugherty 1953 Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing South Georgia USA 2015

Famed sculptor Marshall Daugherty, who created the John Wesley Monument in Savannah’s Reynolds Square, completed this bust of Uncle Billy Royal in 1953. Following are archival photos from the memorial.

Royal Singing Convention Tent in 1916 Mystic Irwin County GA

This is a view of the tabernacle tent in 1916. It was used from 1912 until 1919.

Royal Singing Convention Tabernacle Mystic Irwin County GA 1953

This photo from 1953 shows the tabernacle which was first used in 1920.

William Jackson Uncle Billy Royal Founder of Royal Singing Convention Mystic GA

William Jackson “Uncle Billy” Royal (16 April 1850-24 May 1931) – Founder and 1st President of the Convention.

James A Uncle Jimmie Royal President of Royal Singing Convention Mystic Irwin County GA

James A. “Uncle Jimmie” Royal – 2nd President of the Convention, 1931-1950. Son of William Jackson Royal.

Erston B Royal President of Royal Singing Convention Mystic Irwin Count GA

Erston B. Royal – 3rd and last President of the Convention, 1950-1977. Grandson of William Jackson Royal.


Filed under --IRWIN COUNTY GA--, Mystic GA

Tattnall Camp Ground, 1867

Tattnall Campground GA Tabernacle Religious Folklife Landmark Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing South Georgia USA 2014

Camp grounds and tabernacles of this sort were once so common in Georgia that the phrase “at a Georgia camp meeting” was known the world over as an indication of religious fervor. Today, about thirty remain throughout the state. Tattnall County pioneer William Eason Tippins donated the land for the Camp Ground in 1867. The first trustees were: A. D. Eason; L. A. H. Tippins; Martin G. Tootle; D. H. Smith; J. J. Grooms; William Harden; and W. J. Jordan.

Tattnall County GA Campground Tabernacle Historic Marker Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing South Georgia USA 2014

The present tabernacle is not the original, though it is built in a similar style. It’s one of the neatest such camp grounds I’ve seen in my travels and it’s obvious how much pride the members take in the place.

Tattnall County GA Campground Tabernacle Altar Pulpit Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing South Georgia USA 2014

The interior of the tabernacle features lights and ceiling fans, a nice improvement over the old days.

Tattnall County GA Campground Tabernacle Pews Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing South Georgia USA 2014

Tents of the Tattnall Camp Ground

Tents Vernacular Houses Tattnall County Campground GA Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing South Georgia USA 2014

The term “tents” is used to describe the small vernacular cabins that surround the tabernacle, a reference to the early days when actual tents were used. Most of these structures are quite modest, though they generally feature modern conveniences today. They are owned by member families and usually passed from generation to generation.

Tattnall Campground Vernacular Tents Dogtrot Cabin Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing South Georgia USA 2014

Tattnall Campground GA Tents Religious Landmark Folklife Old Time Religion Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing South Georgia USA 2014

Tattnall Campground GA Old Cabin Tent Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing South Georgia USA 2014

Tattnall County GA Campground Tents Vernacular Cabins Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing South Georgia USA 2014

Tattnall Campground GA Tent Interior Vernacular Architecture Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing South Georgia USA 2014

Tattnall County GA Campground Tabernacle Reverend William Eason Memorial Local Founder of Methodism Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing South Georgia USA 2014

A monument beside one of the tents is dedicated to Reverend William Eason, the founder of Methodism in Tattnall County. It lists the children (and spouses) of Reverend Eason and his wife, Sarah Mattox Eason: Nancy – Died Young; Mary E. – William Tippins; Elijah – Died Young; Elizabeth – Dr. Daniel Sikes; Michael M. – Nancy James; Jane – Died Young; George – Died Young; Sarah Miriam – Elijah H. Mattox; William – Harriet Hurst; Abraham D. – Susan Tillman.


Filed under --TATTNALL COUNTY GA--

Antioch Institute, 1850s, Louvale

Antioch Institute School Primitive Baptist Church Louvale GA 1850s Antebellum Architecture Landmark Community House Picture Image Photograph Copyrigh © Brian Brown Vanishing South Georgia USA 2013

At first glance it’s not as imposing as the other three structures on Louvale’s wonderful Church Row, but the Antioch Institute is the most historic of the lot. Antebellum school buildings are rare in South Georgia. It was built in the 1850s and operated by the Antioch Primitive Baptist Church until 1895. It is believed to have also been used as the church until the structure to the south was built in 1885. Today it serves as the Louvale Community House and is the home of the Sybil and John B. Richardson School of Sacred Harp Singing.

Antioch Institute School Primitive Baptist Church Louvale GA Interior Community House Richardson School of Shape Note Singing Picture Image Photograph Copyrigh © Brian Brown Vanishing South Georgia USA 2013

The historic marker, placed by the Historic Chattahoochee Commission and Antioch Primitive Baptist Church in 1986 reads: Built in the 1850s, the school was operated by the Antioch Primitive Baptist Church until it was sold to Stewart County in 1895. The building is believed to have been used for church services until the handsome building to the south was erected for that purpose about 1885. The county operated the Louvale High School here until 1928 when the upper grades were transferred to Lumpkin. The elementary school remained until 1942. The school is now used as the Louvale Community House which serves as the home for the Sybil and John B. Richardson School of Sacred Harp Singing.

Louvale Church Row Historic District, National Register of Historic Places

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Filed under --STEWART COUNTY GA--, Louvale GA

Effingham County Methodist Campground, Springfield


Thought to be the oldest campmeeting in continuous existence in the South, the Effingham County Methodist Campground has been held at several locations since 1790, with the present tabernacle dating to 1910. The family “tents” which line the campground are actually permanent structures where people gather during events, which were once much longer in duration than today.


A historical marker placed by the South Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church in 1990 notes: Effingham Camp Meeting has the longest record of continuous service in South Georgia-from 1790 according to oral tradition. The first camp ground was off Sisters’ Ferry Road on land of George Powledge, later sold to Gideon Mallette. In 1864 the site was burned during Sherman’s March to the Sea. In 1865 and 1866 encampment was held at Turkey Branch Methodist Church. In 1867 the camp ground was rebuilt on the Edward Bird tract at Springfield. In 1907 the present site was occupied after an exchange with G. M. Brinson. August encampment includes the third Sunday.

“Tents” of the Effingham County Methodist Campground

effingham-county-methodist-campground-zettler-tent-photograph-copyright-brian-brown-vanishing-south-georgia-usa-2012The Zettler Tent



Filed under --EFFINGHAM COUNTY GA--, Springfield GA

Royal Singing Convention, 1977, Mystic

This photo was made by Howard Marshall in 1977, as part of a folklife project funded by the Library of Congress. It depicts a dinner-on-the-grounds, which is a communal dining experience sadly disappearing from today’s church and family gatherings. To see more images like this, please visit the wonderful South Georgia Folklife Collection.


Filed under --IRWIN COUNTY GA--, Mystic GA

Wesleyan Methodist Tabernacle, 1902, Ashburn

ashburn ga historic wesleyan methodist tabernacle photograph copyright brian brown vanishing south georgia usa 2010

This is the typical style of pavilion used for gospel music “singing conventions” throughout the Wiregrass Region in the early part of the 20th century. Typically, these conventions were day-long or weekend-long gatherings. The structure was built by R. V. Ayers in 1902 when J. S. Shingler leased the site to the South Georgia Conference of the Wesleyan Methodist Church. In the nomination form for the National Register of Historic places, it’s noted that its urban setting makes it unusual for a Georgia campground. Most are located in rural areas. The form also notes, “The campground is also significant in religion as a product of the Wesleyan-Methodist faith, which began in 1843 and is a rare faith for Georgia but one that still exists today, as the Wesleyan Church. The Wesleyan Mehodist Church, a different Methodist faith than the Methodist-Episcopal Church (now the United Methodist Church), had a small following in Georgia, with the Ashburn-Tifton circuit being the largest in the state. This campground is said to be one of six associated with that faith that survive in Georgia. At the height of this faith’s activities is when the tabernacle was constructed about 1902, which was  before Ashburn became the county seat of Turner County in 1905. The Wesleyan Church itself stood nearby but is now gone. The religious campground/camp meeting movement was widespread in the 19th early 20th centuries and continues to this day.”

National Register of Historic Places



Filed under --TURNER COUNTY GA--, Ashburn GA

Uncle Billy Royal Monument, Mystic

william jackson uncle billy royal memorial mystic ga photograph copyright brian brown vanishing south georgia usa 2010

The inscription reads: William Jackson Royal “Uncle Billy” Apr. 16, 1850 – May 24, 1931 – Founder and First President of the Royal Singing Convention – Stalwart in heart, mind and body, gentle, kind, and considerate: his lilting gospel songs thrilled and admonished, lifted and inspired. He loved as he was beloved by the thousands who joined with him here and throughout his native section to sing joyously hymns of praise and petition. Leader, gentleman, and nobleman of God, his spirit and influence will live throughout the ages.


Filed under --IRWIN COUNTY GA--, Mystic GA