South Charlotte

Girl Scout captures the history of camp meetings

I recently visited a newly opened exhibit at the Museum of the Waxhaws. It's titled "Preserving Our Roots - Pleasant Grove Camp Meeting" and fills the museum's east wing gallery.

The exhibit was assembled under the direction of Jill Winchester, a rising Marvin Ridge High School senior and a Girl Scout Gold Award candidate. She came up with the idea last May.

Visitors learn from well-constructed timelines that put the history of the local camp meetings on a parallel line with the settlement and growth of Waxhaw and Union County. The exhibit abounds with well-catalogued artifacts and is illustrated with old photos and reproductions of newspaper articles.

I asked her what led her to choose this particular project.

"Many of my friends have moved to Union County from other places," she said. "They don't know much about the history of this area, and when I tell them that I am going to camp meeting, it is often difficult to explain just what 'camp meeting' means"

"The issue is that we lose our local history as our elders die, and newcomers arrive with no knowledge of what was here before," said Winchester. "My focus is on Pleasant Grove Camp Meeting. ... My dad's family was among the original founders of this campground."

To make this project happen, Winchester honed her management skills.

"In July, I began planning the museum exhibit. David Helms at Helms Haven in Minerals Springs was a major asset to me in collecting artifacts. Dean Greene took on the task of writing and filming the introductory video for the kiosk. Art teacher Diane Howie laid out the floor plan and gave guidance in placement and visuals.

"My friends Brenna Dwyer and Becca Risalvato spent hours cutting and pasting the timeline pieces to foam board. Kathy Baker put her teacher skills to use in putting the timeline wall together (after the first attempt fell off the wall), museum board member Bill Howie acted as fact checker and was very supportive in seeing that everyone had access to the museum to do their part."

At the exhibit, I learned that camp meetings arose from the visits of circuit-riding preachers in frontier days. The Pleasant Grove Campground in Mineral Springs was founded in 1829. Many of the early traditions carry over to this day.

Annie Mae Howie is an 87-year veteran of the camp meeting, and her recollections and insights are captured in a fascinating section of the exhibit.

I asked Winchester what lasting lessons arose from her work on this project.

"Perseverance," she said. "Along the way, many things did not go as planned - from a change in museum leadership to the timeline falling off the wall - I learned to press on and find another way."

All of this experience should serve Winchester well as she pursues her goal of becoming a biology teacher. She hopes to attend N.C. State University. In addition to her academic pursuits and Scouting, Winchester is in the Marvin Ridge marching band and is president of the Academic Booster Club, and secretary of Tri-M (Music) Honor Society.

The exhibit will remain at the Museum of the Waxhaws through October.

The legacy of Winchester's hard work will live on when the information she gathered is used to help build a historic archive for Pleasant Grove Campground.