Last week I wrote about the Wabash Campgrounds in Giles County, describing “The Night the Angels Sang.” The following is the story of the Campgrounds.
Early in the 1890’s there lived in the Hollybrook area of Giles County, a man by the name of Billy Evans. Billy had a son who moved northward to seek his fortune. After getting settled, he did so well that he invited Billy to come and live with him. Old Billy accepted, packed up his belongings and took off in his horsedrawn wagon with visions of his son on the banks of the Wabash River dancing in his head.
On the second day out his wagon broke down just as he was crossing a little stream in the vicinity of the present town of Staffordsville. That was as near to Indiana as Billy Evans ever got. In jest, a friend of Billy is said to have remarked, “Well, old Billy Evans has got to his Wabash already. From that day to the present, the place where he broke down has been known as Wabash.
Neither Billy, nor his sarcastic friend realized that the place where Billy’s wagon decided to go no more would one day be the hallowed ground on which thousands of men, women, and children would be turned in the direction of Christian living, For it was on this very spot that there grew up one of the most famous of the 19th Century campgrounds, where several times each year big religious revivals would be held. Sometimes these meetings would last as long as two weeks, and people would come from miles around to camp and worship.
Across Cloyd’s Mountain, a few miles north of Dublin, stands one of those familiar highway road signs that reads as follows:
“OLD FASHIONED CAMP MEETING- Adjacent to, and named for this stream, Wabash Campground was exemplary of a religious and social institution, indeed a way of life, which flourished during the nineteenth century. Hundreds of families would camp for two weeks or more while attending the revival meetings first held here in 1834. The campground functioned until the early 1900’s when a large shed used during worship and many family shelters were destroyed by fire.”
Out of the great American Revival of the late 1700’s came the campmeetings, and during the hundred years between 1800 and 1900, because of the sparsely settled country and the shortage of preachers, campgrounds were carved from the virgin forest, and people went to the preachers when the preachers could not come to them. Sometimes campmeetings meant an arbor of fresh scented leaves located in an area where there was plenty of fresh water for man and beast, or straw covered floors under a tent, with pine knot light stands, and sometimes a sanctuary under the open sky.
It was a time of preaching, singing, shouting, exhorting testimonies, sinners crying. These people came, leaving personal cares behind, with but one thing in mind, that being the divine services at hand. Stumps and logs served as pulpits, and sometimes there were several sermons and exhortations going on at the same time at different locations on the grounds. Some threw themselves upon the ground and lay as dead men.
Perhaps one of the most famous of the old-time preachers in this area was Brother Robert Sayers Sheffey. A most effective man at prayer and conversation with God, it is said that Sheffey usually got quick answers to his prayers. He was a very tenderhearted man, and the story is told that while visiting his son in Lynchburg at one time, he witnessed flies being caught on sticky fly paper. He expressed the desire to remove the helpless creatures from their captivity.
Campmeetings came at a time when they were needed; made their mark, then gave way to a growing America. Some lie beneath subdivisions, or shopping centers. Some were more lucky. Wabash Campground is much like the day Billy Evans found it, surrounded by forest, and watered by the Wabash Creek. Maybe the ground is too hallowed to accept modern day progress.
– Lloyd Mathews is a retired land surveyor and a historian who lives in Pulaski.