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Historic Tent No. 1 has new owner and a complete makeover

ANNA J. FORTENBERRY

anna@newsatnorman.com

Since last Rock Springs Camp Meeting, the historic old No. 1 tent, owned by the campground, has been sold and its new owners have been busy getting it ready for this year’s campmeeting.

An auction held on Saturday, June 4 saw the ownership of the tent change hands from the Rock Springs Campground Trustees to Mary Ann Curtis of Davidson and her daughter Jennifer Thompson of Denver. And even though it was sweltering hot that day, a gentle breeze filled the air from time to time. A small crowd gathered near the tent late that morning for the anticipated auction at noon. Small groups gathered, chatted, and seemed to be scoping out the field as people wondered who would end up the next tent owner. Since tent ownership doesn’t change hands very often, this was a rare event.

The auctioneer started the bidding after he described the property. The bidding would be for the structure only, he told the crowd; the campground owns the land. Foster Auction conducted the auction on the 14 x 28 foot structure that was made up of some old logs and wood with dirt floors and no bathroom. After asking for an opening bid of $65,000 and no takers, the auctioneer kept lowering the opening offer amount until, at $25,000, Kenny Tucker and Jennifer Thompson started to trade bids.

The bidding war lasted only for about five minutes before Tucker gave up and “sold” was yelled out. The auctioneer pointed to Thompson. “Going once, twice…I’m gonna sell it…” warned the auctioneer as the price reached $34,500. And then it was gone.

Mother and daughter hugged and broke into wide smiles. They now owned a piece of Rock Springs history and tradition.

Tucker said that he hated to bid against a woman. He thought the tent would go high. “We already said it was gonna be ours,” Mrs. Curtis admitted when the bidding was over. The trustees were a bit disappointed in the number of bidders.

Van Barker, chairman of the trustees, said he thought it would have gone higher if there had been one or two more bidders. “I thought it would bring $40,000,” he added. The tent had previously been owned by Blair Abernethy, a longtime county tax supervisor, and son of a former sheriff. His sister, who was at the auction sitting on the bench in the front of the tent watching the activity, agreed. She said Blair owned tent No. 1 and she owns tent No. 255 – the first and the last in the numbering sequence of the tents.   “It was absolutely ridiculous for that tent to go that low,” said Kat Moore, sister of Abernethy. The tent has a long history but has changed hands very few times over the years since it was built.

“Only four people have owned the tent,” said Kathy Bumgardner, niece of the late Blair Abernethy. Kathy was there handing out cards with the correct spelling of Abernethy since a press release went to newspapers with the incorrect spelling and some papers printed it that way.

Blair, affectionately called “Booby,” sold the tent in 1997 to the campground for $20,000. Before Abernethy, the tent was owned by a Kelly, Gordan and a Howard. Tent No. 1. History The history of it and the significance of Tent No. 1 is almost immensurable. But it takes a Rock Springs Camp Meeting regular to understand that significance. “I met my husband at camp meeting 17 years ago,” said an excited Thompson after making the winning bid.

“We want camp meeting to continue.” And even before the bid was done, Curtis said she had lined up people to help rebuild the tent. And shortly after gaining ownership, the tent was torn apart, rebuilt and is now ready for camp meeting. Some of the original old logs were set aside to use in the new tent. The dirt floor has been replaced with concrete. The tent will now have a bathroom to bring it up to the “modern” standards.

They expected it to be completed in time for this year’s camp meeting. And while the new wood will stand out this year, before too many years pass, the wood will weather and not look too much out of line with the others. Although probably a bit more sturdy than some of the nearby tents, the historic No. 1 will forever remain the beginning with some of the hand hewed logs intertwined with the new wood. Its historic significance for the Rock Springs faithful will be forever on their minds.

Tent No. 1 now goes to the fifth owner and occupant after being idle for a few years. While the trustees had thought of using it first for the camp meeting preacher and then for a museum of sorts, they will now use the money made from the sale to help renovate the historic arbor. Plans are under way for that, with work expected to begin on the arbor in early 2012.

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