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 rents the seasonal tents, owns much of the land in the town and works with the Neptune Township Historic Preservation Commission to preserve the Victorian design of residences and businesses. 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 also largely controls parking and beach access and welcomes all.
23 Cottages and 114 Tent Camps
For more than 100 years, cottages and tent camps have been rented each summer, mostly to individuals and families who have been coming to Ocean Grove for generations for a summer religious camp experience. The cottages are permanent buildings -- though lacking inb heat -- that are nestled among other homes and cottages in Ocean Grove and are occupied April 15 to October 15. 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 front room or canvas room is covered by a canvas roof framed by a wooden structure on three sides, with a front door individually purchased by tenters. Creating a seamless enclosed space, the canvas room is attached to the permanent “cabin” with a kitchen, toilet and shower. Roughly, the total enclosed space is 600 square feet. Many tenters have ingeniously carved out small spaces in the cabin for everything from tiny bedrooms with bunkbeds to space for most prized possession of all – a stacked washer and dryer.
As one "tenter" said, "They’re all the same, but they are all different." That's especially true of the inside. (See more photos of the tent camps and meet some of the owners in next month's issue of New Jersey Monthly magazine.)
Want to rent a cottage or tent? With a waiting list of more than 300 people, it requires patience and persistence and willingness. People wait years It's not necessary to be a Methodist but the
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Association expects members to pray and believe in God. A paper application is required along with an interview with the Camp Meeting Association. That's just to get on the list.
For a special experience, visit the tent camps on Friday, August 12 for Illumination Starting at 8 pm, colorful lanterns at the 114 tent camps, cottages and Auditorium Square Park will be lit. There will be music throughout and a very, very long line at Days Ice Cream. As traditions go in 150-year-old Ocean Grove, this is a newcomer, having started in 2014. The next day, Saturday, August 13, Ocean Grove celebrates its Victorian and Methodist heritage with live music, walking tours, horse-and-carriage rides, children’s games, poetry readings, historic reenactments, hymn sings and worship opportunities.
The Great Auditorium is great but no 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 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.
A longer pier is in the works
Due to the double whammy of Hurricanes Irene and Sandy, the Ocean Grove pier was partially demolished and no longer stretches out to the ocean as it did when it was constructed in 1889. The Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association has been raising funds to extend the pier and plans to start construction this year. The pier will be open to all with benches to sit and enjoy a view as the ocean waves break on the sand. You can contribute here to this effort and have your name or your family's name engraved on a board at the entrance to the pier.
Tips for Visiting Ocean Grove
What's New: The Great Auditorium features a full schedule of events and activities related to Camp Meeting Association. The Chamber of Commerce has a Vintage Car Show this week, flea markets, and other events this fall.
Road Access & Parking: The main entry to Ocean Grove is along Route 71/Main Street. Flanked by stone pillars, there's an official looking entrance at Main Street. Parking is free but is often taken by visitors heading over to Asbury Park where it costs to park. The streets are very narrow, so drive cautiously.
Amenities: There are restrooms at the southern end of the promenade.
Beaches: Beach badges are required weekends from May 29 through June 13 and then daily from June 19 to September 5. In words of the Association, the beach is only "open" on these days. Daily beach badges are $10 and can be purchased through the Viply app or at the beach. Seasonal beach badges are $95 for people 18 and older, $50 for people 12-17 and seniors 65 or older (a $30 increase over last year). Complimentary seasonal badges are available to clergy appointed to full-time pastoral service of a local church in New Jersey.
Starring Role: Ocean Grove has been featured in the movies -- Woody Allen's Stardust Memories and According to Greta with Hilary Duff.
Follow Jersey Shore author and expert R.C. Staab as he recounts his 2021 walk of every beach along the 139 miles of the Jersey Shore coastline from Sandy Hook to Cape May. Read all updated stories at www.JerseyShoreWalk.com.