Camp meetings, originating in Kentucky in 1800, are a distinctly American contribution to the history of Protestantism. Salem, one of the South's oldest camp meetings, has been held every year since 1828 except during the years of the War Between the States. As such, Salem is one of the oldest thriving camp meetings in the nation.
In pioneer days, after the crops were "laid by," families in several surrounding counties packed a week's provisions in the wagon, tied on the cow, and headed to Salem for their one vacation of the year. These people came for the serious purpose of seeking salvation.
Awakened at dawn by a trumpeter, they attended four services a day. At first there was simply a cleared space with a stage lit by bonfire and logs for benches. In 1854, the present tabernacle was built.
Campers originally slept in or under their wagons and some used wagon sheets as tents. The wealthier families built rough shanties with dirt floors and slept on wooden frames covered with straw. Well into the twentieth century each family brought their cows and chickens, and servants cooked on wood stoves and carried water in buckets. The big news of 1939 was the installation of electric lights and plumbing.
For 100 years Salem was a Methodist institution, although never officially part of the Church. In the 1930's and 1940's the Salvation Army had an active role in preaching and the music program. Now interdenominational, Salem features a Methodist preacher each year and one Baptist or Presbyterian preacher on alternating years. Photographs of many of Salem's outstanding preachers are on display in the hotel lobby. The Tabernacle at Salem is on the National Building Survey of the Library of Congress, and still features wood shavings on the floor. The entire Campground was put on the National Historic Register in 1998.
Salem's campus is covered with beautiful old trees, and the tents (cabins) are positioned in a semi circle around the 150-plus year old Tabernacle. The Camp Ground also features a hotel with private baths, a nostalgic wrap around porch with rocking chairs, and home style cooking. Camper hook ups and bath houses are to the left of the campus.
During the week, tenters are summoned to services and activities by Salem's bell. Morning Watch starts at 7:30am, followed by classes at 9:30am and worship at 11:00am. The afternoons are filled with an abundance of activities for children and students. After supper, everyone cleans up and prepares for evening worship at 8:00pm.
Everyone is welcome at Salem Camp Meeting. Participants come from all walks and geographical locations to take part in the offerings at Salem. It is a place of peace where worship, reunion, and spiritual renewal can be found. Families and friends return annually to stay for the week and participate in a variety of activities for children, young people and adults.
The campground is run by the Salem Board of Trustees:
Sam Ramsey, Chairman
W.T. Rogers, Secretary & Treasurer
Tom Elliott, Jr.
Roland Vaughn, Vice Chairman
Ann Ramsey Cook
Judson Shore Doster
Michael R Vaughn (Buck)