DENVER Hazel Richard is selling her tent. Her asking price: $50,000.
The structure a bit more than a tent is a shack with a concrete floor and bathroom. But the importance of this and other structures at the United Methodist Churchs Rock Springs Camp Meeting Ground, goes beyond the shelter they provide. Theyre part of a religious tradition there that dates back 183 years.
With roots that stretch back to the 18th Centurys Great Revival movement, the camp meeting tradition began as religious and social celebrations after farm crops were harvested.
Today, the meetings all over America are still part revival, part family reunions.
Rock Springs has been around at different locations since 1794, making it the oldest in North Carolina.
In the early years, blacks and whites worshiped together at the campground, but before the Civil War black families began a tradition that continues at nearby Tuckers Grove campground, which has about 100 tents that are seldom available for sale.
The name tent comes from makeshift structures early campers fashioned from cloth, pine bark and other materials. These portable tents were gradually replaced by permanent frame tents built like row houses with shared walls.
This summer three tents are available. The equivalent of ocean-front real estate at Rock Springs is a tent near the arbor a large, open-sided, roofed shelter where religious services are held. Its in the center of the campground, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Life-long camper Richard, 74, of Pumpkin Center owns two tents and recently put a for sale sign on the one nearest the arbor. It sits on the same spot where in 1973 she bought a tent for $1,200. The structure needed so much work she had it torn down and rebuilt the following year.
While the $50,000 asking price might sound high some would give anything to get ahold of a tent, Richard said. How much theyre worth is according to how much you love camp meeting.
She wont be disappointed if no buyer comes along.
If I sell it, thats OK, Richard said. If not, thatll be OK, too.
The 40-acre campground is about a mile from Lake Norman.
The 258 unpainted, tin-roofed tents at Rock Springs all 14-by-24 feet are handed down in families from generation to generation. Occasionally, they come up for sale and are much sought after commodities. At least one has sold for $45,000.
The price includes only the structure, not the land, which belongs to the United Methodist Church. Also, tents can be used only during the few weeks of summer camp meeting when water and power are available.
Former Rock Springs trustee Gary Holbrooks, who runs real estate offices in Denver and Oak Island, said the campground land is probably worth $35,000 to $40,000 per acre.
Its prime land, he said. But the raw land value has no bearing to the value of the structures. Theyre priceless.
Six generations of Arthur Abernathys family have tented at Rock Springs. Abernathy, 58, of Landis and his sister, Genera Langford, 61, of Pisgah Forest, co-own the tent and their families will be there from July 26 through Aug. 11.
The gist of it is we go for the church services more than the socializing, Abernathy said. Thats whats in your heart.
The tent will never be for sale, he said. It will always be passed down in the family.
Theres no price on family heritage, said Langford, who was born on Big Sunday, the last day of camp meeting. Six generations of my family have been going to Rock Springs. Theres no way to put a price on that.
In neighboring Catawba County, there are three Methodist camp grounds: Balls Creek, McKenzies Grove and Motts Grove.
The Rev. Lyn Sorrells, superintendent of the five-county Catawba District of the Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church, doesnt know why the meetings have survived.
I think theyre still serving a social function for these folks as much as a religious one, he said.
Van Barker, chairman of the Rock Springs board of trustees, said attendance is strong and if anything, its going up.
If someone wanted to buy the campground and handed Barker a check for several million dollars Id tell them to tear the check up, he said. Were going to keep this vibrant keep it going for the kids.
The present site of Rock Springs off N.C. 16 near Denver was sold to the Methodist church in 1830 by the Munday family for $90, according to Terry Brotherton, who has written two books of Rock Springs history.
The original hand-written deed is recorded in the Lincoln County Courthouse, he said.
Improvements vary among individual tents. Some still have dirt floors with straw; some have bathrooms with sinks and commodes.
In the old days, campers bathed in tin tubs. They can still do that, or go home or to a motel. The campground has two permanent toilet facilities, but no showers.
Sweet, sweet memories
Camp meeting starts the first Sunday in August. But the week before is whats called Little Week, which focuses on services for young people and children. Big Week comes next and winds up with a singing that draws thousands.
People start trickling into the campground by early July, cleaning their tents and unpacking household items.
Many plan to stay on the grounds for weeks; others come and go from their homes.
Jane Lowe and her husband Wayne, of Terrell havent spent the night in their tent for more than 15 years. Theyve rented it out, but continue going to camp meeting services.
Last year, they put the unit up for sale and are asking in excess of $20,000. So far, theyve had some nibbles but no takers.
Jane Lowe, who co-owns the tent with an elderly aunt, said its mid-sized with a sitting area, restroom, and two bedrooms with decks. The kitchen has a refrigerator and hot plate and a back wall folds out to make a table on the back deck.
Lowe, 63, didnt want to sell the tent, but said were all getting old and its more than we wanted to keep up.
She has two daughters one in Durango, Colo. and the other in Chicago who hate to see the family tent go. But their lives have gone in another direction.
Like many others at Rock Springs, shes a life-long camper. Sometimes up to a dozen people slept in her tent.
Its been a great experience in my lifetime, Lowe said. My kids enjoyed it. I feel very close there to all the family members who are no longer living. There are some sweet, sweet memories.
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