In October of 1829, a circuit riding Methodist preacher held a meeting under a brush arbor near Mineral Springs. He was a product of the Second Great Awakening, which began in the last decade of the 1700s and continued for the next 60 years. By 1820, membership in Baptist and Methodist churches had started to explode, mainly due to circuit riding preachers, who would connect with the rural population by traveling to their location and holding days-long, passionate revival-style services.
A few months after that first meeting, the local people decided the spot should be used as a permanent campground and meeting place. There were two springs on the grounds, one on either side, which gave easy access to water. According to church records, “When the area was cleared off, the grove was so beautiful that it was called ‘Pleasant Grove.’”
On March 26th, 1830, Matthew McCorkle deeded 24 acres of land to a group of trustees and their successors. The total sum was only $60. Arch Brown, Jack Starnes, William Irby, Peter Wolfe, Michael Polk, Robert Howey,
Robert G. Howard, Thomas Winchester, and John Lawson were appointed as the original trustees. The original deed specified there would be nine trustees, and that the trustees were responsible for the grounds, and for naming their own successors. It also stipulated that eventually a church should be built on the property.
Work on a permanent arbor began that year in 1830. John Rape was given the building contract, which he agreed to do for $125. According to church records, “This was not enough money to complete the arbor, even in those days, so his neighbors helped him complete it.” Later, in 1885, four more acres were given by J. C. Bates. Since then, the total acreage has approximately doubled. The number of trustees has also expanded to 16.
A Building Boom
After the building of the arbor, for the next 30 years, visiting ministers would come in and preach for one or two weeks every year in August, between summer planting and harvesting. There would be five services each day, from morning until about 11:00 at night.
Gregg Winchester, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, said, “Before the Civil War, according to our oral records- and some written- there were over 200 tents. And by tents, they mean primarily it was built of hand-hewn logs.” The structures had fireplaces for cooking, with chimneys built of poles or boards. Lighting was accomplished by homemade candles.
In 1890, with respect to the terms of the deed, Pleasant Grove United Methodist Church was built on the property. The church began having traditional weekly services, and today stands virtually unchanged since the turn of the century.
The fervor of the Great Awakenings began to wane in the early 1900s. By 1902, the trustees decided that the camp meetings should be ended, and the property was mostly abandoned. All but one of the original tents were torn down.
But this sabbatical of the land didn’t last long. After only about ten years, Rev. Henry Byrum started encouraging the reopening of the camp. Through his efforts, which included newspaper articles on the subject, the public became interested in building tents on the grounds once again.
According to church records, “Baxter F. Howie built the first tent. By 1935, there were 71 tents on the grounds. After 1977, the number of tents on the grounds was 89, and this number remains the same today.” A stroll around the campground now will show you structures ranging in age from the 1920s to 2015. While the number of tents holds steady, families will occasional reconstruct and update the structures.
Many tents are owned by the original families that came both before the Civil War and again during the 1920s revival of the property. While the trustees own the land, the families own their individual tents. The turnover is low, since families typically just pass their tent down to the next generation, or the sell their different-sized tents among themselves as the number of family members wax and wane.
Gregg said, “We still call them tents, although that confuses people when you say a tented campground. They think canvas. These are actually little structures. Some of them are very nice, and some are still pretty rustic.” He explained that original homes often had wood shaving floors, while newer homes had concrete. The single log tent that remained from before the Civil War was taken down in 1992 during a restoration project.
The intention was to restore it, but the decay was too great. Up until the early ‘70s, families were still using outhouses. Now all homes have electricity, water, and sewer. No structure can be larger than a story and a half.
Restoration and Preservation
The arbor itself underwent a $60,000 restoration project between 1987 and 1990. Timbers on the outside of the perimeter were replaced, and the roof was shingled with wooden shingles. The benches are rebuilt in sections about every 15 years. But from inside the arbor, a look around shows that the main beams still standing from 1830.
Pleasant Grove Campground holds its yearly historical revival and Camp Meeting every summer. This year the gathering will be from July 16th to 23rd. Families come and stay in the tents.
Services and activities stretch throughout the day, including sermons, children’s programs, meetings, and choir practices. Throughout the rest of the year, other churches and organizations use the grounds for retreats and camps, and tent-owning families often come down to celebrate holidays together.
To find the camp by GPS, visitors can plug in the address, 2220 Billy Howey Road; Waxhaw, NC. To get more information about the campground, call Gregg Winchester at 704-533-5600. While most people won’t have access to a tent during the yearly Camp Meeting, all daytime activities are open to the general public. They are also welcome to attend weekly services at Pleasant Grove United Methodist Church.