Religious camp meetings, often led by Methodists, can find their roots in America as far back as 1799 but the movement really exploded after the Civil War. In the 1860s East Coast beaches were not vacation havens but generally regarded as bug-infested wastelands. At the time only four residents were living between Long Pond and Goose Pond, now known as Wesley Lake and Fletcher Lake respectively. Only a single sand road penetrated the dense forest, scarcely wide enough for a horse and buggy to squeeze through. So when the Reverend William B. Osborn of Farmingdale went scouring the Jersey shore for a place for a new camp meeting in 1869 he found abundant cheap land here (his 11-acre deed would cost $50) - and precious few mosquitoes. One other thing he was looking for was pine trees in which to build the camp for the annual prayer meeting.
With easy access from Philadelphia and New York City via the New York and Long Branch Railroad, the Ocean Grove camp meeting proved an immediate hit. The 1874 meeting attracted 40,000 people. Records indicate that in 1877 alone, 710,000 tickets were sold for the Ocean Grove-Asbury Park train station. In a generation the town went from a population of four to a fully developed community that was known as the “Queen of the Victorian Methodist Camp Meetings.”
The Camp Meeting Association owns all the land in town and leases it to homeowners and businesses for 99-year renewable terms. Until 1981, when it was folded into Neptune Township, the Association also wrote the rules of Ocean Grove. Among its requirements were strict blue laws prohibiting business and banning all driving on the streets on Sundays. This certainly put a crimp on the summer exodus from the cities that was inundating the shore in the age of the automobile. The town crept sleepily along without much change from its founding a century before. The result is that Ocean Grove now boasts the greatest number of Victorian structures in New Jersey.
Our walking tour will begin where the founders prayed in February 1869, although hopefully not in knee-high snow as covered the ground when Reverend Osborn first visited...
Central Avenue and Surf Avenue
It was in today’s Founder’s Park that the first Camp Meeting was held in Ocean Grove on July 31, 1869. With Dr. Elwood Stokes presiding over about 20 attendees. Walk over to Wesley Lake and look at the outstanding Victorian homes that line the water.
WALK DOWN PILGRIM PATHWAY THAT FORMS THE WESTERN BOUNDARY OF THE PARK. THE OCEAN WILL BE ON YOUR LEFT.
Pilgrim Pathway at Ocean Pathway
This was the fourth auditorium for the Camp Meeting, beginning with a “Preacher’s Stand” in a grove of trees. It took 90 days to construct the Great Auditorium in 1894 and it has been the heartbeat of Ocean Grove ever since. Considered to be the most impressive and largest enclosed auditorium in New Jersey, the building is constructed completely of wood on top of iron trusses laid across stone foundations. The Auditorium is ringed with barn door-type entrances that open for ventilation. Inside an arched ceiling enables preachers and evangelists to be heard without amplification. Concerts, exhibitions, and other entertainment are also held in the auditorium. The Auditorium’s pipe organ is one of the world’s largest; it was installed in 1908 and built by Robert Hope-Jones who s considered to be the inventor of the theatre organ. Although it has been vastly enlarged in the past 100 years it is one of the few Hope-Jones organs still in existence.
Auditorium Park around Great Auditorium
After the Camp Meeting was founded in 1869 there grew to be 600 tents. Only 114 remain today. The tents are attached to rustic wooden shed that contain a kitchen and bathroom. In September when the meeting ends the canvas tents are stored in the shed. In May the canvas parlors are taken out again and placed over wooden frames. Want to rent one for a summer? Put your name on a list and you may get a call in ten years or so - some of the tent families are into their fifth or sixth generation.
TURN RIGHT ON NORTH MAIN STREET. TURN LEFT ON CHURCH STREET AND WALK UP THE HILL TO BENEFIT STREET. TURN RIGHT.
Young People’s Temple
Pilgrim Pathway and McClintock Street
The first Young People’s Meeting was staged in 1879 in a small building and by 1887 it had been enlarged twice and a new temple was constructed for $7,500 on plans by Ocean Grove’s first police chief, Major John Patterson. Capacity was now 1,500 and that structure served for 90 years until it burned to the ground in 1977. Today’s temple is a reproduction of the 1887 building.
WALK ACROSS TO THE OPPOSITE SIDE OF AUDITORIUM PARK (THE WEST SIDE).
Bishop Janes Tabernacle
Founders Park at Mt. Carmel Way
The tabernacle began as a tent supported by twenty-seven cedar poles in 1875. In 1877 it became the camp’s first permanent structure, seating about 1,000 camp goers. It was dedicated to the memory of Bishop Edmund S. Janes who preached the dedicatory sermon eight years before.
Founders Park at Mt. Tabor Way
All the fresh salt air and sparkling sand will not do a seaside community any good without fresh water. The Beersheba Well provided just that to the Ocean Grove camp meeting site when it was drilled in 1870. Temperance crusader Carrie Nation gave a lecture at the Beersheba Well on August 20, 1904.
CONTINUE WALKING THROUGH THE PARK, AWAY FROM THE GREAT AUDITORIUM.
northwest corner of Mt. Carmel Way and Mt. Tabor
This building was reworked as a Victorian chapel in 1889 as a memorial to Dr. James Thornley, a charter member of the Camp Meeting Association who passed that year. The cost, including a small organ, was $2,774.58. Dr. Thornley believed a structure should be dedicated to the services of the youth in the community and daily Children’s Meetings are still held here.
CONTINUE STRAIGHT ON PILGRIM PATHWAY (IT IS THE SAME PILGRIM PATHWAY THAT WAS ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE PARK. TURN RIGHT ON MAIN AVENUE.
St. Elmo Hotel
77 Main Avenue
With a distinguished history dipping back into the 19th century, the St. Elmo Hotel was already well established by 1901 when it was purchased by Reverend William Jones, a Baptist preacher from Belmar. Southside Johnny got his first job washing dishes at the St. Elmo Hotel when he was 15 and the Asbury Jukes were just getting under way.
TURN AND WALK EAST ON MAIN AVENUE, TOWARDS THE OCEAN.
59 Main Avenue
Once upon a time the original Camp Meeting Association offices were quartered here. So was the town’s jail and the post office. Save for the post office all are gone, as is the ornate Victorian tower that once loomed over the streetscape. The alien one-story brick shop building is an obvious later addition.
TURN LEFT ON CENTRAL AVENUE.
Washington Fire Co. 1
50 Olin Street at Central Avenue
Despite its small size - less than one square mile - Ocean Grove boasts three fire companies. The first was Washington Fire Company No. 1, incorporated in 1870. The eye-catching two-story firehouse with fancy brickwork and wood trim was erected in 1883.
northwest corner of McClintock Street and Central Avenue
This Stick Style house was erected in 1879 by Elizabeth Fell, who took advantage of the Camp Meeting Association’s edict that permitted married women to own their own real estate. In 1969 the house was donated to the Association and moved to this corner to serve as a 19th century living history museum.
TURN RIGHT ON OCEAN PATHWAY. IN ITS DAY OCEAN PATHWAY, LINED WITH VICTORIAN BUILDINGS WAS LAUDED AS ONE OF THE PRETTIEST STREETS IN AMERICA.
Ocean Avenue at Ocean Pathway
Billed as “Music and Worship by the Sea,” the open air venue plays host to concerts and Sunday morning services.
TURN LEFT ON THE BOARDWALK AND WALK NORTH TOWARDS ASBURY PARK.
Asbury Park Boardwalk
In 1869 James A. Bradley was vacationing in Ocean Grove when he began dreaming about the sandy dunes and the virgin maritime forestlands he saw stretching to the north. In 1871 he picked up 500 acres of oceanfront property for about $90,000 and began plans to construct a wooden walkway for visitors to stroll along the shore. He named the town Asbury Park after the founder of Methodism in America: Francis Asbury. By 1877 there were several large hotels occupying spacious lots that Bradley had sold to accommodate those visitors. In 1885 the nation’s second electric trolley system was constructed to bring ever more visitors to the shore. Iconic buildings like the Casino and Convention Hall rose along the boardwalk.
WHEN YOU ARE FINISHED EXPLORING THE BOARDWALK RETURN TO THE PAVILION AND WALK BACK UP OCEAN PATHWAY.
This rendering of first Camp Meeting leader Ellwood Stokes was rendered in bronze by Paul W. Morris. It was installed in 1905. Stokes remained president of the Meeting until his death in 1897 at the age of 83.
TURN RIGHT ON CENTRAL AVENUE TO RETURN TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT IN FOUNDER’S PARK.