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Ocean Grove Tent City

Seeking divinity through seclusion, 19th century church-goers encamped to coastal New Jersey to establish a utopian summer community. With rudimentary canvas lodging, Tent City thrives on proselytizing a quieter pace of life.

Series of Ocean Grove Tents and pathway with a lawn and white picket fence.
A group Methodists established a summer camp that would become Ocean Grove in the summer of 1869. Photo courtesy of Jazz Guy via Flickr

New Jersey’s Atlantic coast—with long flat sandy beaches—has been a sought after summer resort destination dating back to the 19th century. Attracted to the cooling ocean breeze, convenient access to water, and undeveloped land, a group Methodists led by William B. Osborn and Ellwood H. Stokes established a summer camp that would become Ocean Grove. In the first summer of 1869, only ten tents were pitched but with it the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association was established. In subsequent years, paths were carved out of the thickets and sandy knolls as the community swelled with the popularity of the Camp Meeting Movement. True to its roots, a “Preacher’s Stand,” was erected at the center of the community, which was later replaced, twice, before becoming the Great Auditorium in 1894. Sustained town infrastructure later prompted many landowners to pack up their tents in favor of a more permanent cottage in the fashionable styles of the day—Queen Anne Style and Victorian. At the community’s peak there were 600 tents.

Ocean Grove Tent City Distribution Map
Ocean Grove Tent City Map

Along the northern quarter of the Jersey Shore is a series of freshwater lakes that stretch inland to divide one town from the next. Just south of Wesley Lake, Ocean Grove is laid out in a grid with the Great Auditorium at its core. The Great Auditorium defines the neighborhood as its height is accentuated by Ocean Pathway, a landscape boulevard that flairs as it reaches the ocean. Currently, 114 tents huddle around the Great Auditorium, with a series of pathways and greenways offering a contemplative setting.

Series of Ocean Grove Tents and sidewalk.
A series of pathways and greenways connect 114 tents and the Great Auditorium in a contemplative setting. Photo courtesy of Jazz Guy via Flickr

Tents tend to be 14-by-21 feet and erected on 30x60 foot lots. Tent City is a misnomer, as each canvas tent is attached to wooden shed and adjourning front porch. While the canvas tent is used for entertaining, the rear shed is used as the bedroom. Modern conveniences have been added over the years, with the tents acquiring flooring and wooden frames and later kitchens and bathrooms being installed into the attach shed. The tents continue to be rented during the summer months of May to September, many by the same families who founded the community years ago.

Ocean Grove Tent frame in winter.
A canvas tent is stretched over a wooden frame to connect the front porch with a rear bedroom and dining shed.. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Ocean Grove Tent City building facts.


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