A History Of Ocean Grove
In 1867, Reverend William B. Osborn, a Methodist preacher, attended a week long outdoor holiness camp meeting at Vineland, NJ. Osborn's enthusiasm knew no bounds and, eventually, he found an ideal camp meeting site, a secluded community on the North Jersey Coast, where spiritual and physical health could be renewed. Thus, on July 31, 1869, a group of ministers and friends camped at what is now called Founders Park and, after a candlelight prayer service, dedicated themselves to establish a permanent Christian camp meeting community called "Ocean Grove." From this simple beginning there would emerge a permanent town.
A petition was presented to the New Jersey Legislature for incorporation of the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association. On March 3, 1870, a state charter was issued to the newly formed Association granting the 26 Trustees (13 ministers and 13 lay persons) the authority to purchase and hold real and personal estate, to construct and provide all necessary works to supply said premises with water and artificial light and other improvements deemed necessary or desirable. The charter also gave the Trustees the power to appoint peace officers as deemed necessary for the purpose of keeping order on the camp-grounds and premises of the corporation.
Streets, and eventually 1,971 lots, were laid out, with the first lot being purchased by James A. Bradley for $86. Another 372 lots, 30' by 60' in size, were quickly sold by the end of 1870. Bradley, a New York businessman, would later purchase and develop the land to the north as the city of Asbury Park. A new planning design was the "set-back" concept. Beginning two blocks from the ocean, each structure approaching the beach was successively set back from its adjoining neighbor, thus assuring a view of the ocean from each home.
Ocean Grove established various rules and regulations, including perhaps the most famous: the banning of all carriages and automobiles on the streets on Sunday, as well as the banning of Sunday beach bathing, and the prohibition of the sale of liquors within a circle of a mile of Ocean Grove. President of the United States, Ulysses S. Grant, in 1875, arriving by carriage on Sunday at the chained gates of Ocean Grove, simply tethered his horses and carriage at the gate and walked the half mile on sand streets to his sister's house on Wesley Lake, then to the open air auditorium where 5,000 children, adults and Civil War veterans welcomed him in voices of praise.
In 1975, Ocean Grove received the designation as a State and National Historic District as an example of a 19th century planned urban community. The district contains the largest aggregate of Victorian and early 20th century structures in America. A Board of Architectural Review was established to create exterior design standards ensuring that the District would maintain its existing architectural heritage of Victorian seaside cottages.
At one time, 660 tents were leased or owned on individual lots throughout Ocean Grove. Now only 114 tents remain, in a semi circle around the Great Auditorium. Each spring, by May 15th, the canvas tents are brought from their back room shed to be erected over the front wooden platform transforming it into a living room, to be furnished with couches, chairs, rugs, lamps and pictures. Meanwhile, outside along the walks, flowers are planted by the tenters, many of whom are proud to be fourth and fifth generation summer Ocean Grovers. Similarly, throughout the Historic District, pre-season events begin in the Victorian seaside cottages as hotel owners rush to complete that last minute paint touch up on porches, rockers, etc., in preparation for the onslaught of visitors, friends and grandchildren. The summer camp meeting then continues as it has over 130 years until the fall, when the tent canvases are taken down and stored until the next season.