Instant House

A blog tribute to the manufactured, mass-produced, modular and kit homes that grace the American landscape.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Ocean Grove Camp Meeting

The tents of Ocean Grove
The Tents of Ocean Grove, NJ  
I recently had the opportunity to take a trip to Ocean Grove, NJ.  This is a shore town immediately south of Asbury Park, but the two towns are more than a world apart.  Ocean Grove is home to a unique colony of canvas platform tents.  These tents are actually a huge part of Ocean Grove's history.  The town began as a Methodist Church Camp in 1869.  The Methodist Church built a HUGE auditorium for meetings in the center of town, which is still standing (and still very much in use).  This was the heyday of what was called the "Holiness Movement" (sometimes referred to as the Revivalist movement) and these summer communities sprung up all over the country with the idea of people coming together for worship and cleansing.  The tents of Ocean Grove were the first structures to be used at the site.  ...But why are they still there???

The inside of the ENORMOUS Ocean Grove Auditorium.  It seats almost 9,000.

St. Paul, inspecting material for his trade.
Why Tents?  (Warning--History/Religious Content)  
There is a very long history in the Christian faiths of tents as a metaphor as well as practical use.  Most people point to the fact that this is because the apostle Paul (arguably one of the most influential apostles for the spread of early Christianity) supported himself as a tentmaker.  These camp meetings are often called "revivalist" meetings or "tent" meetings.  The term "tentmaking" is used to describe someone who works for the church but supports themselves in another manner (like Paul).  Ever hear our political parties refer to their range and scope as "a big tent"?  Guess what--same root usage.  Tents can be put up quickly and can be used for a variety of uses--sleeping, cooking, worship, etc.  So tents and Christianity have a long, symbiotic relationship.

A common sight during the "Holiness" Movement.
Back to the Tents  
The tents themselves are almost all 14' wide by 21' long.  Originally there were several sizes, but now all are a standard size.  Interestingly enough, all have uniform fronts, though they are not decorated in uniform colors.  The tents are elevated on wooden platforms and are supported by wooden outriggers on either side.  The tents have wooden front doors that lock, offering a small amount of security.  The tents have a rain fly which is suspended above the actual body of the tent--this gives some protection from the rain, but also some relief from the heat.  If you talk to those who inhabit the tents, privacy is hard to come by--sound travels very freely between the tents--but that increases the feeling of community (one of the original goals of the meeting!).  The tents are rented on a yearly basis and are inhabited, as is the tradition, from May 15th to September 15th.  

Tent with the auditorium steeple in the background

Front of a tent showing the door and porch.
Close-up of the fly/roof assembly.

Outriggers provide support, as well as a means to decorate!

View of the side of a tent showing the cabin.
The "Cabins"  
The canvas tents are actually only half of a two-room structure.  Over the years, one-room cottages were added to the rear of the tents (all of them have this now).  This room acts as the kitchen.  All of the tents currently have a small bathroom and have hot water and electricity.  This is all done through the cabin.  As I was wandering through the tent community, it was about 3:00 and the temperature was almost 100 degrees.  Lots of the tents had window air conditioners installed in the rear cottage portion.  The cabin is also where the canvas tent and furnishings are stored in the winter months.

View of the rear of the tents showing the cabins.

A patriotic row.
The Tents Today  
Today, the tents are still rented by the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association.  As far as modern real estate law is concerned, the tents are treated like condos--some individual ownership, some communal ownership.  At one point, there were nearly 400 tents in Ocean Grove, but now there are only 114--a number that will most likely remain stagnant for the foreseeable future.  The tents are still rented on a year-to-year basis, but priority is given to families who have rented one in the past.  There are many tents that have been in the same family for three or four generations.  Modern zoning is prohibitive to such an establishment, but the tents are grandfathered.  The tents are as much a part of the identity and history of Ocean Grove as is the Auditorium, the beach, the boardwalk, or any other civic establishment.  

Patriotic Row

Unusual diagonal row.
Historic view of Ocean Grove.  My how beachwear has changed.

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