Ocean Grove: Pier Extension Planned. #1 Victorian town. God's Square Mile.

Updated: Aug 10, 2021

The Grand Auditorium from the beach.. All photos by R.C. Staab

As beach towns go, Ocean Grove wins the prize for the most unusual. And that's now just because of the shocking contrast of the town to its boisterous neighbor Asbury Park. Founded in 1869 as a seaside retreat for Methodists, the town became known as “God’s Square Mile.” The founding

entity—Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association—still owns most of the land and has sought to preserve rather than tear down and modernize. Walk through town to see the largest assemblage of authentic Victorian architecture in the nation, resulting in its placement on the National Register of Historic Places.

Interestingly, Ocean Grove isn't a town, village or municipality, but part of Neptune Township. The Association largely controls parking and beach access and welcomes all.

The Great Auditorium is great except for the air-conditioning

Few American concert halls have featured concerts by John Philip Sousa, Enrico Caruso, Kenny Rogers, and the Beach Boys. Even fewer have natural acoustics that conductor Leonard Bernstein once compared to Carnegie Hall. More than 120 years ago, Ocean Grove’s founders built this amazing, mostly wooden building, which today seats more than 6,000 people. Among its features are one of the world’s largest pipe organs and a huge painted American flag at the back of the stage with lights bulbs that flash in an undulating manner. Visitors are invited, free of charge, to tour

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the Auditorium. Tours are offered on an ad hoc basis weekday afternoons during the summer. Show up on the south side of the Auditorium and ask if a volunteer is giving tours that day.

Most events are religious oriented, but check for symphonic concerts and secular band performances scattered throughout the summer. The calendar is online here. It's well worth the time to hear any concert in the space. Unfortunately there is no air conditioning, but the barn-like doors on the ground floor open in the summer. Most days, this creates a decent airflow, but dress for sweat.

Tent camps

Cottages and tent camps

There are 23 cottages and 114 tent camps that are owned by the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association and are rented out each year, mostly to repeat visitors who families have often been coming to Ocean Grove for generations for a summer religious camp experience. Many of the homes date back more than a 100 years.

The cottages are permanent buildings that are nestled among other homes and cottages in Ocean Grove. They blend in with the homes next door that are privately owned.

The 114 tent camps, on the other hand, are obvious and create a colorful and unusual vista along sidewalks and streets. Each tent has a bright awning over an outdoor porch. The living space is a combination of a front room or "canvas room" that is covered by a canvas tent attached to large wooden outdoor structure and is closed to the elements by a door provided by each tenter (aka renter). The back part of the tent or "cabin" is a permanent structure that minimally includes a kitchen, toilet and shower. Because the tenters typically return year after year, they buy their own furniture and invest in upgrades to their cabins.

The cottages and tent camps are not winterized. Cottage renters return April 15 and the tenters return May 15 for the season. Everyone stays through September 15 so make sure to come in late spring and summer to see the colorful awnings and flags.

Want to rent a cottage or tent? With a waiting list of more than 300 people, it requires patience and persistence and willingness to have a chance to be part of a faith-based community. There is a "paper application" and an interview that takes places by the staff of Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association to be considered for the list.