Tuesday, August 20, 2019

An Old Take on Going to Church Camp by Jo Ann Brown

Today, we send our kids to camp in the summer, either day camp or sleepover camp. In the 19th century, the whole family attended camp meeting together. The first camp meetings, as they were called, were held on land purchased by a church or a generous donor. Families either rented or bought small plots of land, just big enough to erect a generous sized tent where everyone could live—along with the mosquitos and other bugs—for the duration of camp meeting. Eventually, those families sought permission to build a more permanent structure on their tent site, and camp meeting communities evolved into what today are still highly sought after vacation communities.
My first visit to a camp community was when I was invited to teach for a week at Craigville Conference Center on Cape Cod. I immediately fell in love with the collection of homes and other buildings. A grand open-sided structure, called the Tabernacle, sits on a hill overlooking the village green where once a post office was the gathering place for residents and visitors.
That post office now is a gift shop, but still provides a bulletin board with member information. The once simple tents have become adorable Gothic-style cottages or large vacation homes, where the original footprint of the tent-sized house has been augmented by expansive construction.
Craigville was built on a bluff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, and the views remain glorious as the sun sets over the marshes surrounding it.
There are several other camp meeting communities in Massachusetts, including another Cape Cod one that was built in Yarmouth (near Hyannis) and one on Martha’s Vineyard. My husband and I chanced upon another community last fall, this one named Rustic Ridge in western Massachusetts. Again, I fell in love with the architecture and the sense of community, though the place was nearly deserted as the summer people had already moved back to their permanent homes around the country.
Rustic Ridge is in the town of Northfield, MA,
the only town that abuts both Vermont and New Hampshire as it straddles the Connecticut River. Northfield is the birthplace of Dwight L. Moody, the evangelist and publisher who drew hundreds to his lectures in the late 19th century. He considered education an important part of his work, and he founded schools for both boys and girls in his home town. He also invited ministers to attend a summer gathering where they could learn from one another, starting in 1880. The small town and the schools couldn’t provide all the housing necessary, so families camped on the steep sides of the hill overlooking the girls’ school. By 1901, the first house was built on what became known as Rustic Ridge.
Others quickly followed, all of them purchased by visiting ministers and business people looking for a quiet place for the summer for recreation and reflection. The descendants of some of those original purchasers still live on the Ridge (as it’s affectionately known).

In the future, I hope to be able to visit Rehoboth Beach in Delaware where there was also a camp meeting association as well as Ocean Grove, NJ. I’m sure there are plenty of others I’ve never heard of, so if you know of one, share please! Each place has its own unique history and wonderful architecture. In the northeast, some are near the beach, others in the mountains, but all are testaments to families who came together to worship and enjoy the summer together...along with all those pesky mosquitos!

5 comments:

  1. So interesting, Jo Ann! Reminds me a lot of Chautauqua in New York State. Not surprising, though, that in the days of no air conditioning these camps tended to be located in milder climates. Having a hard time imagining one where the afternoons get up to 100+ degrees and the nights stay in the high 70s to low 80s!

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  2. So nice to learn about these church camps. None in my neck of the woods. But, as Myra mentioned, they probably didn't appear in hot areas of the country, such as GA where I live.

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  3. This is so fascinating, Jo Ann. My family has a summer house in Hyannis and we've had it since I was born. As kids and teens we spent summers in Cape Cod. Craigville Beach was and is a favorite of ours with all the waves and the choppy water. So fun. I've heard of that writing conference and have been meaning to check it out. Sounds wonderful. The Cape is heavenly. Glad you were able to enjoy it.

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  4. Interesting history Your photos brought back such memories. My mother-in-law lived in Osterville on the Cape and some of those photos look just like the view from her back yard!

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  5. Super interesting. I've stayed a few community camps with women's retreats and of course sent me kids to summer camps. I really want to visit Cape Cod someday. Beautiful.

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