By Buddy & Carol Smith
The 42nd annual Camp Meeting slated for July 25-30, 2014 at South Union Campground will commemorate the 100th birthday of The Arbor. This is the last of three Arbors that were constructed on this site. The first Arbor that stood forty by fifty was constructed in 1872, after three South Union principals, the Reverend Archie Moss, the Reverend Humphrey Buck, and Parham Pollard held a prayerful meeting at the nearby, ever flowing spring known as South Union Spring.
The first Arbor came to an end on April 23, 1883, when the skies darkened and spawned tornadic winds referred to in that day as a cyclone. The tornado of 1883 not only destroyed The Arbor but all of the tents and trees and damaged part of the monuments marking the graves in the nearby cemetery.
The Arbor was destroyed but not the spirit that built it. For, according to local historians, planning began the very next day and a new Arbor was built some thirty percent larger in size according to these same historians, the campground meeting was held late in August. Stave shingles were used to shield worshippers from the elements on this new structure.
On July 22, 1914, thirty-one years into the life of this structure, The Arbor, again was destroyed. Fire this time was the culprit. The fire destroyed The Arbor and eighteen of the forty tents. Again spirits were not daunted. Friends and patrons of the camp meeting immediately following this disaster began rebuilding the tents and this Arbor. The hard work paid off and the regular camp meeting was held in 1914.
The first tents that were erected around this tabernacle for the encampment of the worshippers were somewhat crude in style and structure. In the absence of nearby saw mills the farmer, with axe, saw and fro felled the giant virgin pine trees, cut them in sections of uniform length and split them into slabs or boards, out of which the walls and roof were made. Split logs with pegs driven in, formed the crude benches that first seated the tabernacle. Oat straw was a substitute for floors. After the farmer had his oats thrashed he would haul the oat straw to South Union to cover the floor of the tent or tabernacle.
The entire camp ground was lighted at night by huge pine torches placed upon earth-covered scaffolds. The tabernacle was lighted at night by the use of tallow candles made and donated by the generous women of the church. These required the care of at least two persons during the services in order to have anything like satisfactory lights. Each woman who camped was busy before the day set for the camp meeting to begin molding candles from tallow which she had made from the fat of beef.
This year, 2014, the 142nd South Union Camp Meeting will be held one hundred years after the fire; one hundred and thirty one years after the tornado and one hundred and forty two years after those three men in prayerful thought gave birth to the idea of the Arbor. The Arbor still stands, and the week of July 25th through July 30th, members and friends will celebrate the spirit that has allowed this physical plant to exist, as they celebrate their faith in God.
My wife, Carol, and I return year after year to South Union because of the powerful legacy of the Christian faith passed to us through our grandparents who loved camp meeting and brought us with them during our early years. My late grandfather, Casey T. Smith, told me that he came to saving faith at South Union when he was nine years old. The year was 1905. He explained that Camp Meeting at South Union was a very special event because people didn’t travel much in those days and it provided a unique opportunity for fellowship. He recalled that before electricity and therefore ice was unavailable how they would go together and kill a beef with leftovers being salted heavily and put into a hole in the ground behind the tent. He said that they had a chicken coup behind the tent and would get a couple out to cook each morning. He explained that they had an underground box behind the tent and would buy a 50 pound block of ice. He recalled that a one-horse wagon would deliver 100 pound blocks of ice from Ackerman to South Union at 15 cents a pound. He remembered the special times when they would make home- made ice cream. My grandfather told me how he and his father, Dutch Smith, helped to rebuild The Arbor in 1914. On display at camp meeting this year will be the very broad axe belonging to my great grandfather that he used in building the present Arbor one hundred years ago. He graduated to Heaven only a few months later in 1914 and is buried in the cemetery at South Union.
A prayer service will be held at 7:00 p.m., Thursday night, July 24 to cover the upcoming camp meeting with God’s presence. This year’s services will begin officially Friday evening, July 25th at 7:00 p.m. The Reverend Kevin Yearber is the pastor at South Union. The visiting evangelistic team will be Reverend Mike Childs from Louisville and Reverend Buddy Smith from Tupelo. Reverend Childs is pastor of Louisville First United Methodist Church and will preach each day at 11:00 am and 7:00 pm. Reverend Buddy Smith is also a United Methodist minister and executive vice president of the American Family Association who serve as song leader. There will be four services each day; 8:00 and 11:00 am, 3:00 and 7:00 pm.
Tradition has it that worshippers are called to the meeting with the trumpeting loud blast of a “Texas” horn owned and used in John Buck home as a dinner horn. On Friday evening, July 25 at approximately 6:55 pm, the sound of the cow horn will again echo around the holy grounds and hollers at South Union and everyone is welcomed and invited to come to all of the services.
Find us on Facebook at South Union Campmeeting and the website is SouthUnionCampmeeting.org.