That Old Time Religion

The Cypress Methodist Camp Ground tabernacle near Ridgeville.

Two hours’ drive will take you back to 1794 and some old-time religion. Drive south 113 miles to the Ridgeville vicinity and you’ll find the soul of the South, The Cypress Methodist Camp Ground where old time religion is alive and well. Such camps were once common throughout the South and to see one is to step back into history. Cypress Methodist Camp Ground continues to host annual weeklong camp meetings, a carryover from the Great Awakening in American religious life that swept through the American colonies in the 1730s and 1740s.

This daytrip is a good place to find peace and quiet, a time to reflect. Cypress Camp Ground has a beauty all its own and it’s no flash in the pan. Folks have been gathering here to sing, pray and hear the Gospel for 219 years. Families own the tents and specific guidelines determine how they are passed down. It’s an heirloom, a heritage.

I went and parked beneath a big oak dripping Spanish moss and walked the grounds, trying to imagine what a meeting must have been like in the old days. It had to be full of sounds, sights and sensations, Gospel songs ringing out, maybe an old foot-pedal organ too. Greens and sweet potatoes cooking. Lots of good food and conversation. For sure, far-flung families looked forward to a bit of a reunion. Kids played and laughed while old folks caught up.

Across the lane running along side the campground stands a row of around a dozen privies. Lined up, they look like an old-fashioned version of the plastic portalets we see at festivals today. The old wooden outhouses possess more class by far. Some were padlocked and two had wildflowers blooming yellow in front.

The campground takes the general shape of a rectangle bordered by “tents.” Calling the rough-hewn wood cabins “tents” is a carryover from the days when people slept in canvas tents. These cabins, roughly rectangular, are generally 1.5 stories with earthen floors. In the center of the rectangle stands the tabernacle, an open-sided wooden structure. Its pews, washed by rains blowing in, are weathered and worn smooth by many a rear end.

Other campgrounds are out there off the beaten path but you seldom hear of these throwbacks to the days when folks would live and pray together a week at a time. That old-time religion was rustic and it was passionate and it carries on. It was a time for the Lord and a time for family. More often than not it was hot, and now and then cold. The winds cut right through the walls. Sleep did not come many nights but each morning broke with hope in the air.

“We’re going to camp.” Those words carry the weight of well over 200 years. People carry on the tradition, living in a rustic religious way for a week once a year. They don’t need plumbing, televisions or air conditioning. Just give them that old time religion. It’s good enough for them. Go see for yourself.

 If You Go …

 • Highway 182 in the Ridgeville vicinity. For more information and photos visit www.nationalregister.sc.gov/dorchester/S10817718003/

Learn more about Tom Poland, a Southern writer, and his work at www.tompoland.net. Email day-trip ideas to him at [email protected]

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