Appalachia Appalachian Dialect

Do You Know What a Brush Arbor is? Cause Chitter don’t!

Brush arbor in appalachia
Photo from Fentress County Family Photos

brush arbor noun A frame shelter, sometimes temporary, constructed of vertical poles secured in the ground and supporting a series of large, horizontal limbs on which fresh brush and smaller limbs are placed. The structure, usu adjacent to a church or cemetery, provides shade and shelter for preaching and worshipers, esp during the late-summer revival season.

Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English


Sometimes when I get an old Appalachian word, phrase, or piece of folklore on my mind I’ll test it out on the girls to see if they know what it means. Sometimes they quickly tell me the answer letting me know the piece of heritage has made it down to their generation. Sometimes they don’t have a clue what I’m talking about and that always makes me a little sad.

The other day I had brush arbors on my mind so I yelled down the hallway and asked the girls if they knew what a brush arbor was. Chatter said nope she didn’t have a clue. Chitter said “Of course I know what it is.” I said “Well what is it?’ She said “Its when a bunch of churches get together and burn brush.” The Deer Hunter and I are still smiling about that answer!

In today’s Appalachia the brush arbor revival has been replaced by tent revivals. They usually have a rather large one in Andrews each year. Even though the service is held in a tent I still hear folks refer to it as the brush arbor meeting.



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  • Reply
    March 17, 2020 at 8:16 pm

    Have read about them but never seen one. Tent revivals are making a come back and I attend all of them I can. Maybe one day, me being an evangelist,I can get one going before I go home. Brothers I’ll tell you now, we need to seek them old paths and do it now! There was power in it. And I am Appalachia.

  • Reply
    Nancy Schmidt
    July 14, 2018 at 9:30 am

    I left a comment back when you first posted this subject, but lately I’ve been rereading Tony Hillerman’s books about the southwest FourCorners area. I noticed that he commonly refers to brush arbors used by the Navaho people. He doesn’t explain anything about it, but in that often parched land of limited shade I assume they build them as semipermanent structures for shade near their homes. If anyone know about brusharbors used by Navaho people and maybe other southwestern people, I hope you tell “us” about it.

  • Reply
    April 8, 2016 at 4:18 am

    Yes I know what a brush arbor is & have been to meeting in one. about 55 years ago one of my cousins from Andrews & another guy from Marble N.C. came down & built a brush arbor near my house on my grandparents property .they held revival there at night for a week or two. we became friends with the family that helped with the revival. I was up there for a funeral of one of them in December. I had not thought about where the arbor was until you mentioned it. they had benches built out of sticks of firewood & rough cut 2×10,s & used lanterns for lights. this brings back old memories.

  • Reply
    Rev. Rose Marie "RB" Redmond
    April 6, 2016 at 10:07 pm

    They have (or had, haven’t been there since they bulldozed the maze to build a building which could have gone anywhere in the many acres there without disturbing the maze so many loved so much) brush arbors at the NC Arboretum in Raleigh that was used to shade some plants and support vines. They also have (or had a type of brush gazebo made of twisted grapevines that was just gorgeous.
    God bless.

  • Reply
    April 6, 2016 at 5:55 pm

    Guess I’m one of Miss Nancy’s “old folks” though I have a hard time thinking of myself that way – but – I am familiar with the term “brush arbor”. I never saw one used for church meetings but I heard the older generations talking about them, Dad built a few for my sister and I to play under in South Texas (we used palm fronds and arbor vitae branches), and I recall a romantic reference to one in some book I read long ago. A young lady was needing to work on quilts for her hope chest but was complaining it was too hot to work on them (she was getting on in years – somewhere around 18!). Her Daddy built her a brush arbor to work under. One day while she was working, a young man was riding by and saw her – he decided to ask for drink of water and, you guessed it, it wasn’t long before they were betrothed and she was spending a lot more time under that brush arbor trying to finish up her hope chest.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    April 6, 2016 at 3:50 pm

    I thought I’d mention this: Merle Haggard died at 79, he was one of my favorites…Ken

  • Reply
    Eldonna Ashley
    April 6, 2016 at 1:57 pm

    Brush Arbor is new to me, tent meetings seem to have been around for all my life. A Methodist church in out tiny village has had one each year for several years.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    April 6, 2016 at 12:58 pm

    One more thought. Chitter might be right in a way. After a few hot sunny days the brush would become mighty volatile. It wouldn’t take but one spark to set it ablaze. Maybe somebody dropped a lantern. Maybe somebody was sneaking a puff off a cigarette.
    Now all the men could gather around and put it out campfire style but that wouldn’t be considered proper at a church event. So in such an eventuality, what could you call it but a bunch of churches burning brush?
    Two songs that come to mind after reading today’s blog “He Will Set Your Fields On Fire” and “Echoes From The Burning Bush” I wonder if the inspiration for either of them could have come from a brush arbor gone wrong!

  • Reply
    Dee Parks
    April 6, 2016 at 12:51 pm

    When I saw the words Brush Arbor, I remembered a time when I had heard that expressed back when I was a child. Had never seen one but some years back I did see one depicted in an old movie. My husband and I were touring Savannah, GA., in 2000 and over on St. Simon Island we walked under the huge live oaks around Christ Church. Charles Wesley had conducted Sunday School under those oaks and I thought they might not have been a Brush Arbor but during the heat in the summer they would have provided the same type of protection from the sun. I’m sure the circuit preachers of the 1800’s would have used Brush Arbors. I looked on utube and there is a group of singers with the name “Brush Arbor” and even a song by that name. We are always learning something new.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    April 6, 2016 at 12:39 pm

    I have heard brush arbors all my life but actually never saw one until I was in my late 20’s. It was here in Connelly Springs on your right there coming off I-40 at exit 113. That was before they built the overpass over the railroad tracks. Anyway it wasn’t much more than a thicket off in there, but somebody cleared off a big area and built a brush arbor. It lasted only one year then they built a church. But, they didn’t give up completely on the idea of the brush arbor. Back in behind the church they built a open air structure something like a pole shed with an A-roof. It has benches and hay bales for seats and sawdust for a floor just like at tent meetings.
    In my mind a brush arbor is synonymous with a camp meeting.
    To learn more about I-40 at exit 113 go here

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    April 6, 2016 at 12:05 pm

    Chatter’s answer is exactly what my youngest daughter would have said when she was a teenager. My shop is located on Granny Squirrel just above Andrews and I know about the big tent revival there in the summertime.
    My mama’s mama (Grandma Delia) was a big believer in those tent revivals in her day. She’d even send Oral Robert’s Evangelist Ass’n part of her little S.S. check each month. One time she asked my daddy to address her letter while she was doing something and daddy didn’t have much education. He did the best he could but forgot the “n”. Anyway, when Grandma saw it she just rared him up one side and down the other. Come to think of it, daddy never cared for those TV and Radio beggers anyway…Ken

  • Reply
    Janis Sullivan (Jan)
    April 6, 2016 at 11:45 am

    When I was a kid we had brush arbor meetings every summer. My uncle was the preacher, so a lot of summers my sister and I got to help build the brush arbors. They were well attended revival meetings with lots of good old singing with lots of guitars and fiddles. The preaching went long into the night. Quite a few people would come to these meetings that would not set foot in the church. Many mothers would drag their young sons to these meetings and many, many prayers were continually offered up. You, Tipper, brought back many fond memories of my mother and grandmother praying at these meetings. Thank you again for enlivening my life. JaN

  • Reply
    Wanda Devers
    April 6, 2016 at 10:58 am

    I’ve heard of them all my life but tents had taken over by the time my family ever attended any of the revivals. I will never forget the night we all got tickled & had to slip out the side. they were letting people sing specials and it was a big mistake–at least for one lady. She was going to sing the 23rd Psalm. When she got to the “Law…” we knew we were done for. She way basically just yelling. One by one we made our way out by the cars and were just about to die–even Daddy had to leave. Of course we could still hear the whole thing and were just uncontrollably rolling with laughter.
    That was unusual, though. More likely I was in the back rows hoping the preacher wouldn’t come back there & begin exhorting me to come to the altar & repent. Those preachers were usually fire & brimstone for sure.

  • Reply
    Eva Nell Mull Wike, PhD
    April 6, 2016 at 9:58 am

    GREAT! Now tell us more about that beautiful photo and where it was taken! Eva Nell

  • Reply
    April 6, 2016 at 9:45 am

    Chitter’s answer made me laugh, too, but I wouldn’t have had the “right” answer either! I’m familiar with brush arbors, but in Navajo culture in the Southwest.

  • Reply
    Nancy Schmidt
    April 6, 2016 at 9:34 am

    My mother was raised in the Tennessee Smokies in the early 20th century, and she spoke to me of her growing up years. The words “brush arbor” stuck in my mind all my life and I had a hard time finding out about them—-until I was able to check the Internet. There are a number of good sites giving good historical information about brush arbors, even as far back as the Civil War, when soldiers used them for rough shelter at times when they were on the road. Mostly they are remembered, as you say, for revival type meetings. I think they were eventually superseded by “tent meetings”.
    Thanks for bringing this old term forward. Maybe other older folks will bring their memories of their families memories to your comments. I hope so. Nancy Schmidt

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    April 6, 2016 at 9:33 am

    I have not heard that either, but suprised it is not more well known around here when the heat and shade are paramont to our lifestyle.

  • Reply
    April 6, 2016 at 9:05 am

    I have never heard of a brush revival and only heard of tent revivals when I got older.

  • Reply
    April 6, 2016 at 8:52 am

    At least Chitter made a connection with the church. I kinda like her idea of a bonfire revival. Maybe a hell fire brush arbor inferno. I grew up near a church ground where large brush arbor revivals had been held in the past, but it was prior to my time.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    April 6, 2016 at 8:31 am

    There was a brush arbor meeting just down the road from my Grandma’s when I was a boy but I never attended. I think she did some. It was the only one I ever knew of, though I expect there probably were others.
    I have wondered about the history of brush arbors; whether the idea of that kind of shelter came from the Indians, the Jews feast of tabernacles or was simply a practical adaptation on the frontier when there were few or no church buildings yet just as county business was conducted at ‘law grounds’ before a courthouse was built. Probably they were a mixture of the three.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    April 6, 2016 at 8:30 am

    Tip, I didn’t know that one. I may have hard the words but I didn’t know the meaning. Wonder how I managed to miss that one?

  • Reply
    Ann Applegarth
    April 6, 2016 at 8:26 am

    I am sorry that these aren’t still used — they were pretty, fragrant, and useful.

  • Reply
    Carol Rosenbalm
    April 6, 2016 at 8:20 am

    My mom & her sister every year go down to an ole camp meeting in greenback. It’s a different preacher every night for a week.
    I on the other hand prefer old harp singing. I go to about 3 a year. The one that is my favorite is at Cades cove primitive baptist church. My great-uncle and my papaw used to go their for signings. I can’t do the actual singing part but I love the poetry.
    Carroll Rosenbalm

  • Reply
    Barbara Gantt
    April 6, 2016 at 7:23 am

    Every August, we go to a church camp that began around 1880 as a brush arbor. They have pictures of people coming with their horses to hear the preaching. There is a detailed account of the history of brush arbors in a book by Peter Marshall. Cant remember the name off my head. He wrote three books on Americas history.
    Our camp went from brush arbor to tents to a large building with a roof, later they added sides. It is still there with 10 days preaching each August. Brush arbor preaching was in August because the farmers had most of their hay cut and crops were not being harvested in New England at that time. I know of at least 6 camps that are still here that were started as brush arbors. Barbara

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    April 6, 2016 at 7:01 am

    I’ve heard brush arbor days or meetings in past years. Not much anymore, actually haven’t seen one in years..
    The church sign usually advertises a revival for a particular coming week. Now a days most revivals are held in the church. I haven’t seen a tent revival in a long time either, much less a brush arbor meeting. I have seen a good ole country church sign that advertised…”Old time Brush Arbor” then under those words, “Revival” and the dates of the revival in the church sanctuary.
    A few years ago a preacher or traveling group (?), new to the area, would set up a big tent on a land owner’s property near a highway close by. There the tent would be more visible. A sign was placed to advertise the revival. Sometimes the meetings lasted more than the advertised weeks on the sign or until the crowds fell off or until the farmer got tired of the tent in the pasture.
    Many a new church was started with a brush arbor meeting and a traveling pastor.
    Thanks Tipper, interesting thoughts that I had not thought of in a long time…

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