”O come, let us sing unto the LORD: let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation. --Psalms 95, (KJV).
Folks have been gathering around the second Sunday in October in the town of Harmony to praise the Lord with joyful voices since 1846, for sure more than 170 years. It is believed that area where the first meetings were held is now the campus of Harmony Elementary School. After the elementary school was built, the meetings were, for some years, held in the nearby Harmony Baptist Church.
People used to spend a week or more in temporary shelters they referred to as tents and assembled for worship under a brush arbor. Iredell historian and dentist Dr. P. F. Laugenour (1852-1916) wrote of the early days, saying, “A large arbor was erected and around it in a square were two rows of tents. Here many interesting meetings and great revivals were held, all denominations in the community taking part. Many of the ablest ministers of various denominations gave it their influence and took part in the meetings.”
In 1914, Dr. Laugenour described the grounds in more detail for the old Statesville Sentinel: “The ‘tents’ were small houses built generally of small logs, adjoining each other, in a row around the square in the center of which was the ‘arbor’ under which the religious services were held. At intervals were places in the row of tents for the purpose of going in and out to and from the arbor. The arbor was usually a wooden roof supported on posts, but not enclosed on the sides.”
The last meeting on the original campground was said to have been held in 1858, while others stated that it was around the year 1900 that most of the tents had fallen into disrepair. Either way, “Late in the 1880s or early 1890s tenting began to be discontinued and once begun, the discontinuing went rapidly and in a few years none were occupied. After having ceased to be occupied, the tents rapidly disappeared.” The people still came, though for shorter periods and eventually held their singing and praising indoors.
Again, according to Dr. Laugenour, “People came from far down in Davie; they came from Rowan; they came from Wilkes, and Yadkin, and Statesville usually turned out to the extent of the conveyences that could be obtained.”
The old Landmark carried a “letter” about the Harmony Hill camp meeting from “Harry,” one of its rural correspondents, in the fall of 1884. He wrote, “This camp-meeting was established about 35 years ago, as a union meeting for all denominations. With the exception of one or two years during the [Civil] war, there has been a camp meeting here every fall since. The first meeting lasted 10 or 12 days, and there were 130 professions of religion.”
It is important that the camp meetings preceded the town of Harmony. A U.S. post office was established near the school in 1883, a high school building was built in 1907. This school held its first graduation ceremony — for seven students — in May of 1910; it was said to have been the first graduating class of a high school in Iredell County. The town was incorporated in 1927 as “Harmony.”
The camp meetings waxed and waned with the times, burgeoning crowds at times, not as much in others. A report on the annual event was reduced to just two sentences in The Landmark in 1899. In October of 1900, the newspaper reported, “The Harmony campmeeting has ceased to be a “camp” meeting. Nobody camps or tents there now. At least the tents have fallen into decay and disuse. The fact is campmeetings, so far as religious work is concerned, have about had their day. But they are great places to go to — for social intercourse, to talk politics and the like.”
The camp meetings, since their inception, had been opportunities for people to get away from their farms for a few days, to socialize, talk politics, catch up on gossip and for the young people to have a chance to meet other young people, perhaps to meet a future spouse.
In October of 1905, The Landmark’s Harmony correspondent, who signed his column as “One H.”, reported, “The campmeeting at Harmony closed on Thursday night. There was but little revival, but some very excellent preaching that will doubtless be as bread cast upon the waters, to be gathered many days hence.”
Around 1929, the old brush arbor was abandoned and the camp meeting more of a revival with a service at 11 a.m. and another at 2:30 p.m., with both services being held in the high school auditorium.
By the mid-1930s, in the midst of the Great Depression, the old meetings once again became a source of strength for the faithful. Reported the newspaper on Oct. 10, 1935: “[Campmeeting]…will be held here Sunday, Oct. 13, with services in the forenoon and afternoon. Mr. C. A. Dearman and others are making preparations for large crowd to be here. For the past few years attendance has been small, but it is hoped that those interested in keeping this memorial day will be here Sunday to meet their friends of long ago.”
The year 1936 was a banner year for the old meetings, with “a great crowd” attending both morning and afternoon sessions. “The singing,” according to the newspaper, “was voted the best in its history and the attendance was far greater, the church filled to capacity, with a large number who were unable to get in.”
In 1985, with waning attendance, the organizers seriously considered discontinuing the Harmony tradition, as the attendance had slipped to only about 100 in 1983, and had gone down to about 50 attendees in 1984.
However, those organizing this year’s camp meeting have smiles on their faces, as all indications lead them to expect a good turnout. This year’s services will be held, as in days of yore, outdoors, under a fabric tent said to be capable of accommodating 450 people. On Saturday evening a community hallelujah choir will sing the old hymns: 200 singers are expected, coming from 14 or more area congregations.
The Harmony Hill Camp Meeting, 2019, will take place over three days: Friday, Oct. 11; Saturday, Oct. 12 and Sunday, Oct. 13. On Friday and Saturday there will be a meal at 6 p.m. and worship at 7 p.m. On Youth Sunday, worship begins at 3 p.m., “at the tent on the square, Harmony.” All are invited.