Saturday, January 3, 2009

Author seeks stories about the Nolanville Encampment

Telegram Staff Writer

Not much of the Nolanville Encampment remains.
There's an old water tower, a few rundown cabins and a cement slab. But the 12-acre site isn't barren. It plays host to more than a century of memories.
From 1885 to 1996, the Nolanville Encampment was the annual destination of hundreds of Christians - the congregation members of the Nolanville Church of Christ and their friends and families.
'It was a tent meeting gospel revival,' said Paul Chapman of Killeen, a history enthusiast who's writing a book about the camp's history. 'Baptisms would take place in the creek behind the woods.'
They'd meet the Friday before the first Sunday of August and camp there for 10 days.
'And it was rough living for the first 40 years or so,' Chapman said. 'Mosquitoes were bad, and you had to haul water from the creek. Any food you ate you brought with you.' In the early years, the camp's attendance ranged between 100 and 500. But each year it grew more popular. By the late 1950s, more than 2,000 people came to the Encampment.
'Every family had their tent pitched,' Chapman said. 'Some of their relatives had come in from out of town or out of state just to hear the preachers talk.'
It wasn't like a traditional church service.
'They didn't use notes,' Chapman said. 'They all knew the Bible well and could recite it by heart. And they all had their own ways of looking at the Bible, so sometimes they'd disagree. They were great debaters, and the people loved to hear them.'
Chapman's insight on the subject comes from several sources: newspaper articles, interviews, a thesis paper written in 1967 by an Abilene College student and a 100th anniversary magazine published in 1985 by Nolanville Church of Christ.
'But all the records are so scattered,' he said. 'That's why I'm writing my book. I want everything to be in one place, and I want it to be available to the public for generations to come.'
He's had the desire to document the camp's history since 2001.
'We lost something special when the annual revivals stopped,' Chapman explained. 'I'd like to document it and maybe somehow get back to what we lost.'
Even though he's had time for the project, no real progress was made until this year.
'There was a lot of procrastination,' he admitted. 'This was a huge undertaking. I didn' ¹t realize what all had to be done.'
But after some research, some organization and prayer, Chapman decided his goal was not out of reach.
He began writing in the spring, and he started scheduling interviews with former camp attendees after Thanksgiving.
'I want to get as many memories as I can,' Chapman said. ' ³The most valuable information out there is trapped in people's minds, people who haven't been asked. Well I'm asking. I want to know anything that can help me weave this story together.'
People who remember attending the Encampment or relatives who remember their stories are urged to email Chapman at
'Nobody knows what went on at that camp except for the people who were there,' Chapman said. 'I'd like to get that information before it's too late'
He says the number of former camp attendees is decreasing.
'They're starting to pass on,' Chapman said, explaining that the people who attended the camp in the 30s and 40s would be 70 or 80 or older.
Chapman's book, however, won't be limited to memories of former campers.
'I want to give biographies of all the preachers who spoke at the Encampment,' he said. 'And I want to tell it as a narrative with bits of U.S. history plugged in here and there. That way the local history will have a frame of reference.'
Chapman doesn't have a projected completion date for his book. He says it'll probably take him another year or two to get it finished.

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