Camp Meetings on Cape Cod, MA
Image from Eastham Historical Society, Local History Collection
Welcome to my Friday blog on Saturday! I was in transit on Saturday (returned home to NJ), so although the blog went up early on Friday, I wasn't able to promote it until today.
On to our topic!
Camp meetings - religious revivals that were held anywhere from 1 to 3 weeks - seemed to pop up everywhere in the United States during the 1800s. Since I was up on Cape Cod and visiting my sister, I thought I'd give you a little information about some of the Cape's camp meetings.
My sister lives at the very tip of Cape Cod in Provincetown. Methodists - who were one of the primary movers in the camp meeting movement - had trouble getting established there. Pam Tice, who has a blog site about the history of South Wellfleet, wrote a well-researched piece on Methodists and camp meetings, She notes that Methodists applied to build a church in Provincetown, but the Town Meeting rejected their proposal. Apparently, this group of Methodists were a wee bit - shall we say - persistent? According to Tice, "When the Methodists tried to build anyway, a mob burned the structure. Several families left for Maine to gain their religious freedom. Eventually the Provincetown church was built, kept under close guard, and, over time, the Methodists were accepted." To this day, there is a Methodist presence in the town in the form of Provincetown United Methodist Church, located on Shank Painter Road.
The history of camp meetings on the Cape is a bit confusing, especially since some of the locations are hard to determine. Local histories indicate that the first camp meeting on Camp Cod occurred in 1819 in South Wellfleet. Just where in South Wellfleet is the question. One source claims it was near the house of a man called J.K. Lewis. Other sources say it was held in Paine Hollow on Isaac Rich's property during 1819-1821. Tice notes even though the name of the homeowner and the property owner might be different, the location actually might be the same place. (Tice)
At the same time, other Wellfleet histories indicated that there were camp meetings on Bound Brook Island during 1823-1825, which was then moved to Truro. (Tice)
The map below gives you an idea of the location of the towns I am mentioning. Bound Brook Island, by the way, is not actually an island but a mountain in the Wellfleet area. The beach located near it is supposed to be beautiful. Not that I'm a travel guide or anything, but it might be worth checking out.
Other Methodist camp meetings were held in 1828 or 1829 up Cape in Eastham at a place called "Millenium Grove." Tice says that these "became fairly large multi-day events."
The reading about the camp in Eastham brought back memories of reading about this camp meeting in the diaries of Rev. Benjamin Adams. His journals had come into the United Methodist Archives Center at Drew University in the mid-1990s, when I was a graduate student there. Sadly, since I'm on vacation and my research is lodged somewhere in a box at my house, I can't get too specific about Adams. I hope I can clear this up when I get home.
Let me tell you what I remember, though, Adams was a clergyman who served in the New York City area in the mid-nineteenth century. His journals indicated that he traveled up to Eastham, MA to a camp meeting held in or near the town. As I read through his writings, I realized that the man was a camp meeting fan who also was minor player in the Holiness Movement. The Holiness Movement is a mid-late nineteenth century movement with roots in the theology of John Wesley. Wesley, as all Methodists in the know will tell you, identified several kinds of grace (unmerited love of God).
age from Library of Congress: Religious revival meeting at Eastham, Mass., 1852: Prayer meeting in a tent
Benjamin Adams was so moved by his camp meeting experiences that he was supportive of the 1869 creation of a camp meeting by the ocean in New Jersey. This site was called Ocean Grove. The quaint camp meeting "tent city" is still there (and used today) and religious revivals and services are still held in the Great Auditorium during the summer.
Adams' journals indicated that he "took the cars" (the train) to get to the Eastham Camp Meeting. Tice notes in her blog post that "The Grove was located near the Bay so that participants could arrive by boat, since the roads on the Cape were difficult to travel on." At this point, I suspect that Adams took the train closest to Eastham and then traveled by boat to the camp site.
Image from the Library of Congress: Religious revival meeting at Eastham, Mass., 1852: Landing at Eastham...
Tice says that another campground was established in Yarmouth in 1862. Once the train line reached Yarmouth, it most likely led to the demise of the Eastham camp meeting. Obviously, if it was more convenient to take a train directly to camp meeting in Yarmouth, then why go through all the trouble to reach Eastham? I do not recall whether or not Adams attended the Yarmouth camp - and this is another thing I hope I can uncover.
Although originally designed to be a campground, people with means would go on to build little cottages on established sites so they could return year after year without having to be bothered with setting up a tent. This, according to Tice, happened in Yarmouth.
Now... here is a really interesting sidebar. Tice writes: "Captain Lorenzo Dow Baker purchased and moved six of the distinctively shaped Yarmouth structures to Wellfleet, locating them on the hill near the Town Pier where they became known as 'the Lemon Pie cottages.'" You can see the original buildings in the images below. Sad to say, the Lemon Pie Cottages are no longer there. They were torn down and replaced by individual condos in the twentieth century.
Wellfleet Historical Society & Museum, Left: Milton Hill and Boat Yard Wellfleet, Massachusetts, Cape Cod; Right: Lemon Pie Cottages on Milton Hill
Hope you enjoyed this little journey into part of Cape Cod's camp meeting history. We didn't even cover the development of the camp meeting in Oak Bluffs, on Martha's Vineyard, which is another story unto itself.
Have a happy weekend!
South Wellfleet Methodists and Camp Meetings, Pam Tice, pamticeblog, August 27 2012. Downloaded 11/15/2018
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