Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association District
The Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2013, The Gombach Group.
Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association District is shaped like an irregular rhombus, with the east side facing the Atlantic Ocean, behind a boardwalk. Most of the avenues, which run to the sea, widen as they approach the sea. From a distance of two blocks back, to the oceanfront, avenues gradually increase their width by 2 1/2 times. This provides broadened ocean vistas for each avenue. It also provides an ocean view for each house. This "setback" concept also channels ocean breezes into the town.
The north side of the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association District, which abuts Wesley Lake, contains an area of several blocks, which constitutes the auditorium complex. The complex consists of the auditorium, a domed pavilion, and the Ocean Grove Tabernacle. The south side of the district abuts Fletcher Lake.
There are several parks, one of which fronts on the ocean. Known as Ocean Pathway, it widens toward the sea, in the same manner as the surrounding avenues.
The pathway continues back as far as the auditorium, and forms a grand vista from the auditorium entrance. However, the park and the auditorium are slightly off axis with each other, and the park vista is not emphatic because it is crisscrossed by the surrounding street grid.
Thompson Park, which fronts on Wesley Lake, has a rectangular plan, with a rounded corner. It is directly northeast of the auditorium complex. Park Square is a landscaped city block, which occurs roughly in the center of the district. Evergreen Park has an irregular rounded shape, which forms the northwest corner of the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association District.
There are several principal avenues. Broadway and Main Avenue run perpendicular to the ocean. Central Avenue runs parallel to the ocean and Ocean Avenue follows the oceanfront behind the boardwalk.
The auditorium has a large rectangular plan with an entrance vestibule on the shorter (west) side. The shallow pitched roof is formed of 161 foot steel trusses. The undersides of which form shallow arched ribs, with bays between. Each bay is surmounted by a lateral plaster vault, in which the ribs form the springing lines. A window is set into each plaster vault at the point where it meets the side walls. This is an acoustically effective arrangement. The 9,000 seat auditorium has a second story gallery which is supported on posts with trusses between.
The entrance facade has a one-bay, lean-to extension, which terminates in the entrance vestibule. The vestibule has a similar truss roof to the auditorium proper. Both roofs culminate in shallow gable ends, forming a porch within a larger facade.
The vestibule gable is articulated as a pediment with a frieze which runs the entire length of all the vestibule walls. The sides of the vestibule occur at a 45-degree angle to the facade, hence the vestibule is half a hexagon, in plan. The entire vestibule is surmounted by an octagonal tower with lancets, and a conical spire (repeated on the opposite end of the building). Two smaller but similar towers occur on either side of the vestibule entrance gable. The main gable is decorated with applied lancets. The surface applique is essentially Stick style-Gothic.
At one time much of the stick work was painted black, in imitation of Ruskinian Polychromy. This, together with the octagonal towers, suggests that the styling of the auditorium is an applied "builder vernacular" version of Ruskinian Gothic. The classical details are relatively minimal, but they suggest that there was some dissension, as to the appropriate style of the building. The architect of record is Fred T. Camp. 1894.
In front of the auditorium is the 8-sided pavilion. Its bell shaped roof, with round cupola, is supported on 2 concentric rings of Italianate columns.
Directly south of the auditorium is the Tabernacle, which is an elongated octagon in plan, with a central clerestory. The plain sheathed walls are punctuated vigorously with lancet doors and windows.
Adjacent to the Tabernacle is the original well, which has an ogee molded Colonial Revival roof and eight Italianate columns, with a frieze formed of barge boards.
Directly in front of the auditorium is the statue of Elwood H. Stokes, (seated) who was the first president of the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association.
Thornley Chapel is at the intersection of Pilgrim Pathway and Pitman Avenue, only a few houses away from the auditorium complex. The simple white clapboard house form, is one story high. It is given the appearance of a church by the device of architectural applique. The left side of the gable has an applied pyramid hip roof spire, with round but shingle sides. The front gable is articulated as a barge board lancet, resting upon double consoles. There is also a central rose window over an Eastlake porch. All windows are of the pointed arch type, with upper sections of stained glass.
St. Paul's Methodist Church is located on Park Square. The church dates back more than 100 years, but it has been extensively remodeled. There is a late 19th century rear portion, with Ruskinian Polychromy and Romanesque arches. The major portion, which is of the Gothic style, dates from 1958.
Ocean Grove High School is located in the northwest corner of the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association District. It is a symmetrical, hip roof Georgian Revival building, with an arched loggia framed in a Tuscan aedicule motif with double pilasters. The size of the cornice, the horizontal treatment of window groups, and the diamond brick pattern in the frieze, suggest a strong Craftsman influence.
There are a number of hotels, of which the largest and most opulent is the North End. The North End Hotel, which is located at the northern end of the oceanfront, is of the Mission Revival style, in its post WWI phase. It replaced an earlier building in the same style.
Most of the house lots are 30' by 60' but some are double-size. The houses follow this format, being more or less uniform detached townhouse plans, with 1, 1-and-1/2, 2 or 2-and-1/2 stories. Most houses have porches, some on both the first and second stories. Some of the houses have corner turrets. Most of the hotels occur on double, triple or quadruple size lots, with one or two extra stories. Other than this, they follow the form of the private houses. Architectural styles are mainly variations upon the Stick style. There are 754 structures which are relatively plain Stick style. Some have Italianate details. There are 164 structures which could be described as Eastlake-Stick style. Some Stick style structures have oriental details. There are 198 Queen Anne structures, many of which tend more toward the Stick style, in terms of their surface treatment. There are 118 structures which take their form from the basic ridge pole tent shape, which characterized the early grove. Some houses are of the Craftsman Bungalow style, with simple details. There are also a small number of mid-20th century houses.
On the whole, architectural details are of local manufacture and were used interchangeably, without regard to stylistic purity.
In the 19th century, western civilization was characterized by industrialization, speculation, and urban sprawl. Planned communities were rare. Ocean Grove is an 1870 vintage planned community, which incorporated town planning devices normally associated with the 20th century. Ocean Pathway is an urban vista, of the type which would be adopted by the City Beautiful Movement, some 30 years later. The avenues which widen toward the sea, demonstrate a property setback concept, to provide natural vistas. This is a concept which was later used by Sir Ebenezer Howard in the Garden City Movement. Ocean Grove appears to be the earliest user of this device. Taken within the context of urban planning, Ocean Grove is significant not only on a national scale, but on a world scale as well.
Ocean Grove's architecture is primarily Stick style, on the builder-vernacular level. It is a good example of the 19th century resort town. As such, its playfulness and elaboration was achieved through the application of manufactured details, to a standard form. The porches, the decorated gable ends, and the railings, have a thinness and multiplicity, which gives an ethereal, visual fluttering effect, along the principal streets.
Moreover, because so much has survived, Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association District can be viewed as an architectural museum piece of its period and style. This is more valuable than a restoration, for it is still much as it was in the 19th century.
The Great Auditorium is 161 feet across, an impressive span then as now. More important, the interior is an outstanding example of 19th century acoustical science. The auditorium is also notable for the ventilation system, in which sea breezes are "channeled through the floor and out the roof, by large circular ducts.
It was Reverend Osborn of Farmingdale who was commissioned by the Methodist Church to find a seashore location for a summer camp meeting ground. He made a year long search from Cape May to Long Branch, through almost impenetrable wideness.
Popularity of the camp meeting was on the decline in the 1860's. The purpose of promoting religious development through these summer meetings had been overshadowed by the social life enjoyed by the participants. With the exception of the Methodist Church many churches were abandoning the camp meeting.
Alarmed at the trend, the Methodist Church began an in-depth examination of the principle of the camp meeting. Leaders in New Jersey suggested an experiment. It was thought that if a location could be owned, through a charter granted by the state, the camp meeting could be better directed and thus more purposeful.
After searching the entire coast in 1867 and considering several locations, Rev. Osborn finally decided upon the land which is now Ocean Grove. Showing the site to church leaders in 1868 was extremely difficult. If one approached from the north through what is now Asbury Park, one had to pass over the Great Pond (now Deal Lake, Asbury Park's northern boundary), and travel south through a forest filled with blueberries and beach plums, penetrated by only wagon track. It was truly a wilderness inhabited by only the birds and small animals. An almost unbroken solitude permeated this acreage which was later to become the resort city of Asbury Park.
The wilderness between Long Pond (Wesley Lake) and Goose Pond (Fletcher Lake) was inhabited by only the George Rogers family. The terrain here was characterized by tangled thickets of scratchy briers, small bushes, and trees. Closer to the ocean these gave way to tall, wavy beach grass covering rolling sand dunes.
After examination of this site late in 1868, the leaders rejected several other sites and tentatively approved the land between Long and Goose Ponds. The final decision would come after the summer of 1869. One of the influencing factors decidedly favoring Ocean Grove was its location. Its situation on the mainland away from swamps and sounds, eliminated mosquitoes which were a problem at the other sites.
The foundations of Ocean Grove were laid during the last week of July 1869 when a small group of 20 persons pitched 10 tents in an area between the present location of the Auditorium and Founders Park. The first prayer meeting was held in the tent of Reverend J.H. Thornley on Tuesday night, July 31, 1869.
In December of that year, in Trenton, 13 ministers and 13 laymen formed the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association. The name Ocean Grove was selected because of the groves of trees nestled between the dunes. The New Jersey Legislature granted the Association a charter on March 3, 1870. Dr. Elwood H. Stokes was named first President with Reverend Osborn the first Superintendent.
The original land purchase was 11 acres of beach front; or more appropriately, 11 acres of sand, for $50. This land was later supplemented with further purchase extending the boundary from Wesley to Fletcher Lake, and the Atlantic Ocean to Main Street, for at total of 266 acres. It took until 1875 to accomplish this at a cost of $40,000.
In order to raise money for further expansion and to bring interested people into the community, the newly chartered Association began to promote a public land auction, to be held June 1, 1870.
Among those hearing of this unusual Camp Meeting community was one James A. Bradley, New York manufacturer and later founder of neighboring Asbury Park. He described his trip by coach through the wilderness north of the Grove, as a tedious experience. The turnpike, a rutted dirt road (now know as Main Street) wove through thick forests and heavy bushes. The slow trip from New York, made more wearisome by bad roads, consumed an entire day. Mr. Bradley arrived in Ocean Grove after dark, almost too exhausted to put up his tent.
The next day, Mr. Bradley, who was obviously in much better spirits, purchased two lots. His premium of $86 was the highest offered for any of the lots. The prices ranged below Mr. Bradley's down as low as $1 for a parcel of land.
To live in Ocean Grove during the summer of 1870 was to live in virtual isolation. The nearest village was six miles away, over impossible dirt and sand roads. Until 1875, when the track was extended to Asbury Park, the nearest railroad station was six miles away.
Several firsts took place during 1870. The first Camp Meeting was held for 10 days beginning July 26, 1870. Also the first permanent houses were built. The first of these was known as "Pioneer Cottage," build by H.Y. Lazear of Warsaw, New York, on Asbury Avenue near Wesley Lake.
After the summer ended the Association closed down the community, people removed their tents; and a small force of winter employees, whose task was to maintain the property, replaced the summer residents.
By 1871 the Grove began to develop into a permanent community. Greeting the returning visitors was a new town post office, police and fire departments. After the summer residents left in 1871, Ocean Grove acquired its first permanent residents, a total population of 25.
Most early settlers were of meager means and found it difficult to live in the Grove permanently, or even spend a summer tenting. Because of the lack of living and eating facilities, the lot owners began to build their cottages with an extra room. However, they were not able to provide enough facilities for the larger numbers of visitors who came to the Grove. Larger accommodations had to be built.
A nearby farmer, Corwell Howland, with an eye toward providing, an outlet for his produce, opened the Howland House. He offered rooms for visitors along with meals.
The first hotel in Ocean Grove, The Arlington, was built by Charles Howland shortly after the Howland House opened. The Arlington was a three story Victorian structure occupying the entire block facing the Auditorium Complex. Today the Arlington Court Apartments occupy the site of the old hotel.
By 1875 the popularity of Ocean Grove had pushed the value of the original lots up to $1,500, development was skyrocketing.
From the very beginning ocean bathing was popular. The first bathers did so in almost total seclusion, the women in a separate area from the men. Shortly after 1870 enterprising individuals began to erect small bathhouses along the beachfront.
For convenience, the Association found it much more practical to place the bathing business in the hands of one person. Captain W.T. Street appears to have held the first beachfront lease. "Captain Street erected the first safety lines secured to stakes set in the ocean, to form a safe bathing area. He also introduced other safety measures and built larger bathhouses. These safety measures, and improved facilities, made bathing more popular, and crowds flocked to the beaches.
In 1875 Captain Street passed his bathing concession lease on to George W. Evans. Mr. Evans held the lease until 1876 when by executive decision the Association decided to locate two bathing places, on the North and South Ends.
Mr. T.W. Lillagore, in 1877, took his first five year lease at the foot of Fletcher Lake and erected the South End bathhouses. He built 205 bathhouses, an ice cream saloon, soda fountain, and two pavilions.
Also in 1877, Mr. Joseph Ross acquired the Wesley Lake lease, Street and Evan's bathhouses, and other facilities at the North End. Mr. Ross built more bathhouses to a total of 360, erected a restaurant, ice cream saloon, soda fountain and two pavilions. By 1884 he had increased the North End bathhouses to 700.
Mr. Ross and Mr. Lillagore aided in the construction of the first boardwalk in 1877. Known then as a "plank walk," it was nothing more than a temporary footway near the surf, six feet wide extending 2,835 feet from Fletcher Lake to Wesley Lake. There were 21 gas lamps set up to provide light for promenading at night. The walk was dismantled in the fall and stored over the winter. In 1880 a wider, permanent walk was constructed.
The Ross Pavilion and Bathhouses were situated on the site of the present North End Hotel. An open air pavilion extended over the beach east of the Boardwalk while the bathhouses, restaurant and concessions were to the west. The Ross Pavilion, a landmark for over 30 years, was finally razed in 1910 to make room for the much needed hotel.
The first businesses to be located in the new North End Hotel building (1911), were the Ocean Grove Scenario; bowling alleys; Morris and Company, photographers; John L. Schneider's rolling chairs; Louis N. DeCou, fancy fruits; Mme. Adele Haddad, lace store; and C.A. Brown, souvenirs and jewelry.
Ocean Grove literally grew up around the Auditorium. The first camp meeting structure was known as a "Preacher's Stand" and it served the needs of the Camp Meetings for about five years. The Preacher's Stand was an octagonal edifice with a platform capable of holding 75 preachers. The congregation sat around it on rough pine boards seats.
In 1875 a frame roof was put over the structure. More extensive renovations and a new permanent roof were installed later in the year. By 1876 the church could accommodate 1,000 people; a bell tower and reception room had been added and gas lamps had been installed. Successive enlargements to the structure were made the following years, but all proved to be inadequate.
The Association razed the piecemeal building in 1893, and Dr. Elwood H. Stokes broke ground for a new auditorium on December 2, 1893. Construction began almost immediately and continued throughout the winter months. The Great Ocean Grove Auditorium opened July 1, 1894, and cost $69,112.16.
Ocean Grove is one of a number of 19th century Methodist Camp Meeting towns. Of these, it is the oldest, largest, and most successful, one still functioning in the United States. The Camp Meeting Association still owns much of the land and leases it to home owners.
Ocean Grove is known world wide as a unique Victorian religious camp meeting, and has had national events of importance. Notable visitors include President Grant, Stephen Crane, Enrico Caruso, President McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, Dr. Web Du Bois, President Taft, President Wilson, William Jennings Bryan, Will Rogers, Russell H. Conwell, Booker T. Washington, Mme. Schumann-Heink, John Philip Sousa, Albert Spalding, and Walter Damrosch. Clergy include T. DeWill Talmage, Billy Sunday, Gipsy Smith, E. Stanley Jones, Ralph Sockman and Billy Graham.
The nature of the camp meeting is that of a religious retreat. Ocean Grove was an expression of religious philosophy, peculiar to the 19th century, and fairly widespread in that period of America's history. Ocean Grove may be seen as having transcended its popular and periodic creation by continuing in a role that ended for many other camp meeting towns by the first world war.
Ocean Grove was established as a religious camp meeting ground in 1869 by a group of 13 ministers and 13 laymen. It was granted a charter of incorporation by the New Jersey State Legislature in 1870.
The founder of Ocean Grove was Reverend William B. Osborn. Its first President was Reverend Elwood H. Stokes who guided the development of Ocean Grove until his death in 1897.
It was surveyed by the father and son team of land surveyors, Frederick H. Kennedy and Isaac C. Kennedy. Other communities surveyed by the Kennedys are Elberon in 1871 and Asbury Park in 1872-1874. It is not known who designed the two-block setback concept, but it is felt that the combination of the Kennedys, Reverend W.B. Osborn and General John C. Patterson all had to be involved.
"Minutes of the Executive Committee of the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association, 1874-1878," Unpublished manuscript in the possession of the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association, Ocean Grove, New Jersey.
Stokes, E. H., "Footprints in My Own Life." Original prepublication manuscript containing autobiographical sketch of the author. Unpublished manuscript in the possession of the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association, Ocean Grove, New Jersey.
Acts of the Ninety-Fourth Legislature of the State of New Jersey, Newark: E.N. Fuller, 1870.
Bacon, George F., Asbury Park and Ocean Grove: Their Respective Businessmen and Points of Interest, Newark: Mercantile Publishing Co., 1892.
Bradley, James A., Three Ways of Telling the History of Asbury Park, Asbury Park: M., W. and C. Pennypacker, 1897.
Beegle, Mary Porter, Ocean Grove As It Was and As It Is, Ocean Grove: (no publisher listed), 1882.
Daniels, Morris S., The Story of Ocean Grove Related in the Year of Its Golden Jubilee, New York: The Methodist Book Concern, 1919.
Journal of the Twenty-Sixth Senate of the State of New Jersey, Being the Ninety-Fourth Session of the Legislature, Newton: Thomas G. Bunnell, 1870.
Kobbe, Gustav, The New Jersey Coast and Pines, Short Hills New Jersey: Gustav Kobbe, 1889.
Minutes of the Twenty-Eighth Session of the New Jersey Annual Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, 1864, Philadelphia: C. Sherman, Son and Co., 1864.
Minutes and Missionary Report of the Thirty-Second Session of the New Jersey Annual Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, 1868, Trenton: The State Gazette, 1868.
Minutes of the Thirty-Fourth Session of the New Jersey Annual Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, 1870, Philadelphia: James B. Rodgers and Co., 1870.
Minutes and Missionary Report of the Thirty-Fifth Session of the New Jersey Annual Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, 1871, Philadelphia: James B. Rodgers and Co., 1871.
Minutes of Votes and Proceedings of the Ninety-Fourth General Assembly of the State of New Jersey, 1870, Freehold: James S. Yard, 1870.
Osborn, Mrs. William B., Pioneer Day of Ocean Grove, New York: Methodist Book Concern, (no date).
Stokes, Elwood Haines, Footprints in My Own Life, Asbury Park; M., W., and C. Pennypacker, 1898.
________, compiler, Ocean Grove, Its Origin and Progress, as Shown in the Annual Reports Presented By the President To Which are Added Other Papers of Interest including List of Lot-Holders, Charter, By-Laws, etc., etc. (first five annual reports bound together), Philadelphia Haddock and Son, 1874.
________, compiler, Summer By the Sea. Sixth Annual Report and the Historical Address of the President of the Ocean Grove Camp-Meeting Association, Philadelphia: Haddock and Son, 1875.
________, Centennial By the Sea. Seventh Annual Report of the President of the Ocean Grove Camp-Meeting Association, Philadelphia: John A. Haddock, 1876.
________, Worship By the Sea. Eighth Annual Report of the President of the Ocean Grove Camp-Meeting Association of the Methodist Episcopal Church, Philadelphia: John A, Haddock, 1877.
________, Service By the Sea. Ninth Annual Report of the President Of the Ocean Grove Camp-Meeting Association of the Methodist Episcopal Church, Philadelphia: Grant, Faires and Rodgers, 1878.
________, Ten Years By the Sea. Tenth Annual Report of the President of the Ocean Grove Camp-Meeting Association of the Methodist Episcopal Church, Philadelphia: Grant, Faires and Rodgers, 1879.
The Asbury Park Journal, 1876-1881.
The Asbury Park Press, 1887-1975.
The Christian Advocate, (New York), 1868-1902.
The Daily Spray (Ocean Grove), 1882-1886.
The Methodist (New York), 1870-1883.
The New York Daily Tribune, 1899-1890.
† W. T. Bell, Jr., Ocean Grove Historical Society and Margaret Goodrich, Neptune Historical Society, Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association District, nomination document, 1975, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.