Balls Creek Camp Meeting
By: Mary Elizabeth "Mimi" Rink Harbinson
Being born and raised in the same county, as my Lincoln and Catawba County ancestors, there are parts of their past and ours that will never be forgotten. One such memory is the Balls Creek Campmeeting. For those not as fortunate as myself, the campground would be a most difficult place to explain or describe to the outside world of Catawba County, North Carolina.
This religious campground, has been in existence since 1853. My family ancestors of the Setzers, Rinks, Williams and Harbinsons, have been attending this event since the beginning of its existence. My grandmother Mary Etta Setzer Rink would tell us stories of how her father Calvin Setzer and his friend Martin Hass got in trouble when they were young and rolled a hornets nest down the center of the Arbor where the church services were held. I am sure is still remembered by the elderly people today. Of course there was a jail available on the grounds for any one who got out of hand.
[Catawba County Historical Assoc., from The Catawbans, pg. 323]
In the very beginning the early settlers, would meet at this campground, There was a spring that has supplied the Campground with its water supply. It is still in use today. My grandmother said there was a small stream that went through the campground and it was called Balls Creek, it is know that an old horse tried to cross the creek and it was muddy and it died, the creek was named after the horse. My Grandmother raised her family in this area after the death of her husband James Rink . They had lived in what is now the Hickory area; He fell off the back of a truck and died due to injuries. She moved to the Balls Creek area and raised my father and his brothers and sisters. The Seltzer family is a large family that has lived in that area for many years.
I am sure one of the main reasons for that area being chose as a campground was the spring and a source of water for the families to use while attending church services. The Balls Creek Campground was a place for the Settlers to meet, socialize, share stories and attend church. They stayed, in their covered wagons or make a circle of campsites around the center Arbor where they church services were held. Open fires were used for cooking the food for their families, and it was held in August when the crops were under control and they could share what they had grown with their family and neighbors.
Today the campground is operated by the Methodist church but in the early 1800's the Lutheran and reformed the religion of choice. But is a place to worship God no matter what the domination. It is not difficult to imagine the smells of the campground in 1853 or today, the smell of country ham frying and eggs cooking in the morning can be enjoyed by many for some distance away. My memory of the camp meeting, is the damson pie with lots of whipped cream, bananas rolled in vanilla pudding and then in crushed peanuts, and coconut cake that only my aunt Flossie Williams Beard could only make like no other person alive. Homemade pickles for the little white cucumbers that are known in Catawba County, the half runner green beans are like no other in the country. It is common to see people sitting on the porch stringing beans and canning at the campground today.
For the outside world of Catawba County, the tents were made of wood, very primitive, slats for windows, and the floors are either dirt, or in the early days, straw was used. Today people still use wood shavings, the smell of the shavings is Campmeeting, in our modern world of concrete, some of the tents have cement floors. After the fire in 1956 that destroyed about half of the tents, the new ones are a little more on the modern side. The Campground has rules and regulations to try to keep this apart of our past and tradition and not let them get too much like today's world. Very few has indoor plumbing, the old fashion out houses were used for many years, today public bathrooms are used and the need for the Sears and Roebuck catalogue is no longer needed. Of course the pots were always place beside the bed in order not to have to make that dreaded trip across the road in the middle of the night.
The one thing that has not changed in the past 100 years or more is the Shack. The Shack is an experience all its own and has to be enjoyed to be appreciated. They sell food today for the young and old a like; all enjoys Ice Cream and hamburgers. Inexpensive toys are sold to the children and a Paddle Ball is a must. The Cotton candy and other treats are looked forward to from one year to another. My grandmother told us that in the old days the settlers would sell their meat and probably the other things they raised or trapped, were sold to each other, and the beginning of the Shack was born.
The Campground being built in a circle around the Church Arbor, has always been a popular place for courtship. My sister met and married her husband there. This has been going on from the beginning of the campground ..It's a place to meet old friends and make new ones. Today you see old and young alike walking around the circle of more than 300 tents holding hands and reliving the past as well as making new beginnings. Everyone has a swing on the front porch and benches for family and friends to sit We usually put pieces of material on the wall behind the benches since the wood is rough in texture. Tents are painted different colors; lots are left in their original state of old wood. Flowers are hanging on the porch giving it a feeling of home away from home.
The most wonderful part of the tents they all have tin roofs, and when it rains there is no better place in the world to sleep and then wake up to the smell of the sugar cured country ham in the morning.
If you are not one of the Lucky people that their family has been handed down tents from, generation to generation, it is most likely that you will not be able to buy one. Today if one is sold they will sell for over $20,000. I can just imagine what our forefathers that started the Balls Creek Campground would think about having running water and not having to carry it from the spring. Electric stoves, to cook on and lights not candles. and the tradition that has been carried on. We must not forget the reason this tradition lives on is for the spiritual part, the meeting of friends and family. The Arbor when it was built had a section for the slaves to sit and worship with the settlers. Today that section is still there with the big exception we are all-free and created equal as one. The Balls Creek Camp Ground is a place for each and every one to come and worship and enjoy the closeness of family. Parts of our history is not forgotten but now we are all free thanks to our ancestors and can enjoy this wonderful place they started for us so long ago. Our tradition will live on, and we will remember who we are, and how, each and every one of us still has a large part of this tradition, being lost by many. The Balls Creek Campground is part of our wonderful heritage and one we will remember for a lifetime.
(c) Mimi Harbinson, 2001, all rights reserved
Derick S. Hartshorn - (C) 2004