Update: On the night of March 10, 2017, 15 of the campground’s 36 tents were destroyed by a suspicious fire.
Like Cypress Methodist Campground and Indian Fields in neighboring Dorchester County, Cattle Creek Methodist Campground in rural Rowesville was organized in the late-eighteenth century as Methodism was spreading throughout the South. (Two African-American campgrounds – St. Paul and Shady Grove – were founded in Dorchester County roughly a century later, at the end of the nineteenth century.)
The country’s first Methodist bishop, Francis Asbury, and other preachers traveled through the South on “riding circuits” in the late 1700s, inviting residents from surrounding areas to hear their sermons. This period was known as the Great Awakening and became the genesis of many current Methodist congregations. In fact, Bishop Asbury documented his visit to Cattle Creek in 1788, which was on the Edisto Circuit. It is thought that Cattle Creek Methodist Church had formed two years earlier, in 1786, after the denomination was introduced to the area by Isaac Smith and Henry Willis.
Small churches like Cattle Creek Methodist could house few people, so when circuit preachers arrived – usually quarterly – large crowds gathered on the church grounds and stayed in canvas tents for days in order to hear the sermons. Canvas tents were eventually replaced with hewn cabins, though the name “tent” continued to be used. To date, tents at religious campgrounds are owned by individual families and passed down through generations.
The tents are generally arranged in a circle to represent community and are very rudimentary, with each containing a simple kitchen and a sleeping space with a loft and a dirt floor covered with hay or sawdust. Outhouses are usually available behind the tents. Worship takes place within the tabernacle – shown above – an open-air building that stands in the center of the tents. The stripped-down living arrangements of the tents encourage worshipers to use the tents only for sleeping and cooking so that they spend the majority of their time in community with the other campground visitors.
Cattle Creek’s tents and tabernacle were destroyed by a fire on February 15, 1898 and rebuilt in 1899. The Cattle Creek United Methodist Church was also lost to the fire and rebuilt the same year as the campground structures.
Like the aforementioned campgrounds in Dorchester County, Cattle Creek Methodist Campground continues to serve its original purpose of sheltering people during camp meetings, as the annual gatherings of worshipers are called. Families come from surrounding areas once a year for a week of worship and fellowship. They stay in tents with their families, cooking for themselves and others, listening to rousing sermons from their seats in the tabernacle, and spending time in a rural setting that helps bring them closer to their spirituality and each other.
Cattle Creek Methodist Campground is listed in the National Register:
(Cattle Creek United Methodist Church and Campground) Cattle Creek Campground, situated near the Orangeburg County towns of Rowesville, Bowman and Branchville, consists of thirty-six cabins, called “tents,” arranged in a wide semi-circle around an open pavilion structure known as the “stand” or “tabernacle.” At the northwest end of the camp-meeting ground is Cattle Creek United Methodist Church; between the church and the tabernacle is a cemetery. The camp burned in 1898 and was gradually rebuilt over the next several decades. The Campground is one of only three Methodist camp-meeting grounds remaining in South Carolina. Significant for its association with the early history of Methodism in South Carolina, Cattle Creek Campground is also notable as a surviving example of a social institution important in rural America during the nineteenth century. The tents, so named because the first campers and worshippers stayed in cloth tents and lean-to’s made from limbs and branches, are built of rough, unpainted lumber, have gable roofs covered with metal or composition shingles, and generally measure about twenty feet by thirty feet. Each tent contains two rooms downstairs with dirt floors and one or two rooms upstairs, which are reached by a small stairway or ladder. All of the tents have porches with shed roofs. The cooking is done outdoors at the rear of the tent over an open fire. In the center of the campground is the “stand,” an open shed about fifty-six feet by eighty-one feet with a metal, gabled hip roof.
More Pictures of Cattle Creek Campground
Other Early Campgrounds in South Carolina