Rowesville, SC (WIS) - A suspicious fire destroyed more than a dozen "tents" at the historic Cattle Creek Campground on Friday night.
The Orangeburg Times and Democrat reported multiple fire departments responded to the fire while many concerned members of the community stood nearby.
Cattle Creek trustee Harry Wimberly said the campground lost 15 of the 36 cabins. The church was unharmed.
"It's a tragedy tonight. It's certainly a loss to the Cattle Creek area, to the Cattle Creek community," Wimberly said.
The blaze was initially reported as a grass fire at 10:46 p.m., according to Cattle Creek Fire Chief Jonathan Berry.
Orangeburg County Chief Fire Operations Officer Teddy Wolfe said the fire is suspicious. It is under investigation.
Cattle Creek Campground consists of 36 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.
Cattle Creek Campground was named to the National Register of Historic Places on May 19, 1983.
Although local tradition had it that Cattle Creek Campground was established in 1786, the National Register nomination form states it's likely that the campground was not functional until the early 1800s.
The campground burned in 1898 and was gradually rebuilt over the next several decades.
Just like after the earlier fire, Wimberly said, "I think community will come together and it will get rebuilt."
Wimberly has been attending Cattle Creek's camp meetings during the last week in July since he was a child, and said it's a time for religious services, fellowship and food.
Cattle Creek is one of only three Methodist camp meeting grounds remaining in South Carolina.
The tents, so named because the first campers and worshippers stayed in cloth tents and lean-tos made from limbs and branches, are built of rough, unpainted lumber, have gable roofs covered with metal or composition shingles, and generally measure about 20 feet by 30 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.