August 05, 2008

"They live in tents?!"

Inevitably, that question is the one most people ask when they visit us for the first time. And in honor of Hooked on Houses’ Hooked on House Tours day, I’m taking you on a tour of the tents.

Ocean Grove was settled in the late 1800s by the Methodist Church as a “camp meeting ground”:

At a large camp meeting, many came from over a large area, some out of sincere religious devotion or interest, others out of curiosity and a desire for a break from the arduous frontier routine, although many in this latter group often became sincere converts as well. (Wikipedia entry.)

I don’t mean to be cynical, but the close proximity to the ocean and the lack of air conditioning at the time may have helped, too. :-)

The Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association was officially formed on March 3, 1870, and the first tents were erected. Today, 114 families are still braving the elements and spending their summers in tents. The Ocean Grove Historical Society offers this on the “tenters”:

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. 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.
Introduction to the History of Ocean Grove, New Jersey – Wayne "Ted" Bell)

OK, enough with the impromptu history lesson…on to the tents!

In the winter months, our neighborhood takes on a rather eerie, surreal feel with its landscape dotted with seemingly abandoned wooden frames:

But in the early spring, they slowly come to life, one by one rising up:

That “shed” you see in the back is the structure where the plumbing (praise be, indeed!) is housed, and is what the “tenters” use to store their furniture and knick-knacks in the off season:

The fully modernized tents today have a wooden back room, with modern facilities including bathrooms, kitchens and sleeping space. The structure provides a place to store the canvass tents in the winter as well as providing the tenters a place to store their personal belongings. Then in the spring the tents are taken out and placed over their wood frames on the front of the platform. When the summer residents return to their tents they bring out their rugs, furniture and personal items and begin the process of decorating their canvas parlors. Many of the tenters plant gardens and individualize and personalize their tents by painting the porch rails, adding furniture and also decorative elements. Although living in a canvas tent for three months of the year provides little privacy from their neighbors at times, the tenters relish their unique community and return year after year. (
Ocean Grove Historical Society)

You lease the tent from the Association, and while they take care of construction (and leaks, apparently!) the resident is responsible for purchasing front doors. The first person to get their doors in place is rewarded handsomely:

A couple of the tents were on the Ocean Grove House Tour this year, and I am thrilled to be able to give you a peek inside. ‘Cause this ain’t no standard issue pup tent, my friends. Take a look at what I found when I walked inside the first one:

Notice the wall behind the beds is the outside of the shed you see in the off season. Behind the beds is a room that is used for eating, watching TV, and typically another bed, usually in the form of a futon or something convertible:

The next tent I went in had a similar layout but the residents decided to upgrade their tent last year (since many folks return over generations’ worth of summers, it’s not unusual to see upgrades) and it was fun to see a brand new bathroom lurking behind the canvas walls:

And a kitchen that’s frankly bigger (and nicer) than most New York City ones!

I asked the amazingly friendly docents who were standing guard during the house tour about the sizes of the tents. I had noticed the sizes seemed quite different (I’ve seen one with a deluxe shed, which means deluxe plumbing. Sign me up for that size!), and was told they are different sizes –three basic sizes with some deviation in the floor plan -- and pricing is determined by the square foot. And cost is never discussed among neighbors, “because, you know,” offered one of my octogenarian hostesses. Which I interpreted as meaning that her years of tent squatting meant she lived in rent stabilized paradise. Good for her! (I loved her, and wanted to take her home with me.)

By this time of year, gardens have grown in and the community starts to look almost like any other. Neatly trimmed hedges and flowers line the tentscapes:

Here’s one of my favorites. It’s so tidy looking and I love the seashell path:

And here’s a nighttime view of the tent tops from our widow’s walk. That’s the Great Auditorium in the background, the original Camp Meeting church that nowadays can best be described as a “mixed use” facility. See the glow of pink lights inside? That’s Abba. For reals!

Even though the roots of Ocean Grove are obviously deeply steeped in the principals of the Methodist Church, the town has blossomed into a melting pot of ethnic, religious and cultural diversity. Think of it as a coastal Woodstock, or a P-Town South. That’s what attracted us.

But before you get any ideas about spending next summer in a tent, get this: There’s a 10 year waiting list, “at least.”

I hope you enjoyed the tour, and thanks for bearing with the history lesson (I can’t help myself!). Hop back over to
Hooked on Houses for more house tour fabulousness.

47 comments: said...

Awesome! Awesome! Awesome!

One of my coworkers used to talk about this but I'd never seen pictures before. Thanks so much for this post.

Now, may I go whine about how badly I want one!?!?

Laura @ the shorehouse. said...

J...if you put your name on a list now, you're in by 2018. And...the fiance can groove to Abba from your tent, LOL. ;-)

desiree said...

This is amazing! I need a vacation and those tents seem perfect. Ten year....Hmmm I think i might need to escape before that. Love your post... definitely will check out the rest of your blog. I can't get enough of the ocean or it's style. Thanks for sharing.

Bella said...

I'm still trying to understand how it all gets set up. I would love to see a show about this place on HGTV or the Travel Channel...that would be so cool to see how it actually all starts to blossom each summer.

Thanks for the tour and the history, this is fascinating! Will have to show it to hubby later!

THANKS for the tour!!!


Hooked on Houses said...

Laura, you win the award for having the most unique house tour in the blog party today! I loved this. I've never heard of anything like it before, so I found it really fascinating.

And this--

"I don’t mean to be cynical, but the close proximity to the ocean and the lack of air conditioning at the time may have helped, too."

--cracked me up. Ha. I think you're onto something there!

I can't believe you even got a picture of Abba. (sorta)

Thanks for joining the blog party and giving us something so interesting to see and learn about! -Julia :-)

j.cro said...

Spectacular job on the tour and the photos look great!

Pat@Back Porch Musings said...

This is an amazing post! Loved the tour!

When I first started reading, I had in mind it might be like Chautaqua (not sure of the spelling). This is a summer settlement begun by the Methodist Church, near Elsah Illinois, on the Mississippi River. Those structures are not tents, though.

I am so happy you included this in Julia's tour. Very interesting!

Debbie said...

Oh my word! I've never heard tell of such a thing! But I will say this, that's livin'! Man I gotta rate this my absolute favorite! And I'll be bringing hubby by this evening for a look see!

please sir said...

WOW - I am blown away! This is such a clever idea, and a 10 year waiting list - wow! Great post!

Maureen said...

Wow! So cool... thanks for the history lesson too. I love your blog.

Rhoda @ Southern Hospitality said...

Laura, that was absolutely amazing! We have camp meeting down South too, but I've never seen a tent city. That is SO cool & how cute they all are!


Stephanie said...

WOW!!! Thank you so much for this facsinating tour! I LOVE this and have never heard of it....

How I would love to be on that waiting list.

Melissa said...


You have a truly beautiful blog site.

I must be back to visit again soon.

Thank you for visiting Sunbonnet Cottage.


The Berry's Patch said...


Wow, if I had to live in a tent, I could do it after seeing these.

What a fun and interesting house tour!


Fifi Flowers said...

They used to have those on Coronado Island in San Diego... I saw some old photos my grandparents had.
WOW... those are tents I wouldn't mind staying in!
GREAT post! They would actually be FUN to paint!
Thanks for the tour!

London Calling said...

So wonderful. I loved this post. 10 years sounds worth it.

Abbreviated said...

Thanks for the tour !

Anonymous said...

that was the greatest! i LOVE this concept, but the reality is even better to see! great post! jkj

crystalreflections said...

I love these!
Who would think those are tents?

Great pictures!

Gray Matters said...

Amazing - those are the coolest things, ever!

Bonnie said...

Wow! Thanks for showing us something so unique. Sure gives a whole new meaning to the concept of "tent city!" And a big clue to the flavor of your locale.

Amy said...

This is so very cool! I second Julia on the most unique thing we've seen today- and I've looked at a lot of houses.

Marie Louise said...

Absolutely incredible - I've never seen anything like it. That's what I love about these blogs - you do in fact learn something new every day. I love it - these tents scream "SUMMERTIME!!!!"

Pat said...

Laura, I absolutely LOVED this tour and history lesson about Ocean Grove, NJ! Who knew? It was fascinating!

I know there is an old camp meeting grounds area in Martha's Vineyard in Oak Bluffs, but the people there live in permanent gingerbread type houses that circle the meeting house.

Thanks so much frio such an interrestiung post!

Pat said...

OH, and yes Laura -- you are so right about the kitchen! LOL!!!

sandra/tx said...

That was a VERY fun tour, indeed. I can't wait to come back and linger a little longer.

restyled home said...

These are tents?? This is amazing to me...I have never seen anything quite like it. I so appreciate this tour!


Jan and Tom's Place said...

What a CUTE tour!!

Loved it...

sarah @ a beach cottage said...

Laura this is the best tour I've seen and how on earth does it all get set up each summer, love the history...

angela said...

i've never heard of this before - thanks so much for the history and the photos! i love that it keeps being put up every year!

Ms. Tee said...

Such a unique tour! I love this - it's my favorite tour yet. :)
Thanks so much for sharing. I love to learn the history behind things, too!

Susan said...

Hi Laura, Thank you for your sweet and kind words on my blog about my dog Jake. Wonderful of you to adopt a senior girl and I know exactly what you mean by feeling panicked.

I remember one time when I still had all three of my pack. and you know how it gets hard to keep track of their ages, especially when you adopt. I came across a vet record for Jake while cleaning out a drawer. At that time I had convinced myself that he was only 8, the vet record I found proved that no, he was actually 9. I was depressed for weeks worrying about him getting older. Golden's are very lucky to make it past 12 he lived to be 13 and 2 months and very happy & healthy until the very end. And for that I do feel truly blessed.

Thank you again for all your support and love - it helps tremendously to know that others understand totally. cheers & hugs from Nova Scotia, xo S, Winn & Les Darn Chats

Laurie said...

We love Ocean Grove! My in-laws don't live far from there and often go to church during the summer at Ocean Grove. The tent awnings, little gardens, the whole "camp" atmosphere seems so relaxing there. I can't imagine anything better than camping for the whole summer at the beach! :) It's so much fun just to stroll the area there. Thanks for the memories.

Sew Pink said...

I wish those tents were for rent! They are amazing. I liked the history lesson too! Thank you for stopping by my tour. I will be certain to visit again.

At Home Redesigns said...

Oh my gosh...that is so much fun. And so much fun to look at!

Courtney said...

these are so unique...great idea for the house tour, Laura! thank you :-)

Diane@A Picture is Worth.... said...

Hi Laura,
I really enjoyed your unique comments and tour of the tent homes! We have something similiar in the Neoshb County fair...people have these cabins that they live in for a week. It's called "Mississippi's Giant House Party."

We don't have is too hot to go there without air conditioning! I like your much better!

Diane said...

Your blog is a feast for the eyes.

Ramona said...

This is very interesting and charming. I love those tents. Thank you for sharing...your blog is delightful.

Smiles ~ Ramona

Anonymous said...

I never knew a place like this existed--a magical village, medieval and modern, the best of all worlds.
Thank you!
Christep (the first four letters of my last and first name!)

black eyed susans kitchen said...

How very serendipitous to come across your blog. I live in Monmouth County, right near the shore, and this post just made me grin from ear to ear. I will come back and read your other posts. Susan

Cathy said...

That is really very cool. Thank you for the tour!

Rue said...

That has got to be THE best tour! I've never seen anything like that. How cool!!

Oh and I am sooo jealous of your boat!


Thrifty Miss Priss said...

I have NEVER seen anything so beautiful! I HAD no idea such a thing existed! Thank you so much for opening my world!

Joy said...

Very unique! Love the idea.

Bella Casa said...

Hi Laura,

This is still one of my all-time favorite blog posts. I need to visit this town one summer, I'd love to see it in person :)

I hope you have a nice Memorial Weekend :)

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