Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Camp Meetings

Camp meetings have been a unique tradition on Delmarva for over two hundred years. It is still a tradition, but on a more limited scale today. At one time there was a Camp Meeting in every town on Delmarva. Rehoboth Beach, Delmar, Laurel, Seaford, Bridgeville all had Camp Meetings. People would come, set up tents, built a tabernacle of brush and branches and stay for a week or two. I have often thought it gave people an excuse to have a little pleasure under the umbrella of being religious. Most of the sites have disappeared and I have no idea where they were. 

Camp meetings time was more than a religious gathering it was a social event. The camps came at a time without automobiles, television or computers and people made their own amusements. The main reason for camp meeting time was of course religion but courting rituals went on, horses were raced, people talked politics, there was a whole lot of gossip, and occasionally out of sight they drank a little liquor.

above "tents' at  Carey's camp

This week Carey’s Camp opens for two weeks of camp meetings.  It is perhaps the best known camp meeting, simply because it is near and still active. It is affiliated with the United Methodist Church and its first camp meeting was in 1888. Since it is one of the few active camp meeting places left on Delmarva I am sure many of you have been to it.  The physical camp has 47 cabins that circle the tabernacle structure. It has its camp in the first part of August. This certainly is the hottest part of the summer on Delmarva. Maybe the ideal was to make you think you were close to hell and would convert more easily. With no air conditioning, certainly sweat figures heavily in the camp meeting. While one group may be in the tabernacle listening to the sermon or singing, another group, usually younger, is in constant motion walking around the camp circle kicking up dust to settle on your sweat covered sinner of a body.

People from Delmar would have gone to almost any of the camps within a fifty mile radius.  Certainly the Laurel-Bethel Camp would be popular as you could take the train to Laurel and catch a horse drawn cab out to the camp grounds.  If you were not staying in a “tent” you would pay a nickel to fifteen cents to spend the day. 

above laurel- Bethel camp
There was a Commercial aspect of camp meetings.  Camp meetings didn't just happen they were planned out and there was a commercial side to them. The church had to make money to pay visiting preachers etc and hopefully have some money left over for their projects. The camp itself had a number of tents the families sleep in, supplied by the families. They also had a concession stand for food and ice cream, a horse stable, a boarding tent for those individuals that didn't have a tent and a barber shop (for that daily shave). 

The village of Melson in August of 1900 put on a camp meeting. It went from August 3rd to August 13th and had more than 50 tents. Back in early July they granted the privileges for concessions at the camp. The confectionery privilege was sold to I. T. Morris for $46.00. The Horse Pound privilege was sold to Z. Evans for $47.00. G. W. White got the Boarding Tent Privilege for $28.00 and Ernest Brittingham paid $1.00 for the barber shop privilege. It was not unlike today in which booth fees are sold at fairs and festivals and I am sure there are still concession fees at camp meetings.

It was also mentioned in the same article that the Melson church had a picnic and over 250 Sunday School Scholars received treats, perhaps paid for by last year concession fees. The boys also played a match game of base ball with the West Corner Nine (Where was West Corner?). The score was 8 to 30 in favor of the Melson Nine.

Concession fees from some other camps in the area would be; James Camp, between Laurel and Georgetown, in 1905 the Boarding tent concession went to G. W. Bryau for $30, the confectionery tent went to T. C. and Robert James for $53.50 and the Horse pound went to John Spicer for $70.00.

At the Laurel-Bethel (Delmarva Camp) in 1905 the concessions went to Allan Gabel the confectionery tent at $55.50, the horse pound to John E. Allen for $90.00, and the Photography concession to A. H. Waller for $1.00. The Barber and Boarding tent was held back until later.

The concession fees was but one part the income at camp meetings. There was usually a gate fee or entrance fee for the people that just came for the day. It was usually a dime or fifteen cents. This was an additional amount of income money for the larger camp meetings such as the Laurel-Bethel (Delmarva Camp) which would have 5,000 visitors in a day.

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