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LSS240: 2017 Student Guide: Historic Spatial Layout

Spring 2017 - S. Moga

Laurel Park

Laurel Park Postcard circa 1930-40

Laurel Park postcard, est. date 1930-40

Outdoor gathering spaces and buildings constructed for communal purposes constitute defining characteristics of the site plan of camp meeting spots.
2017 Updated Image Courtesy of Library of Congress, circa 1930-40


What is Chautauqua?

"“Chautauqua” was a cultural and social movement that started in upstate New York in the 1870s and flourished until the mid 1920s. During this time, hundreds of touring chautauquas presented lectures, dance, music, drama, and other forms of “cultural enrichment”. In rural America, big tents served as temporary theaters for these productions."

​-- New Old Time Chautauqua,, 2017

Chapel interior at Laurel Park, undated
Image courtesy of Laurel Park Arts​

"Developed as the nation was becoming, however, its educational system and entertainment outlets had not kept pace." (Marchant, 2016)

​Described by President Theodore Roosevelt as being “typical of America at its best." (Marhcant, 2016)

Laurel Park adopted a Chautauqua assembly in 1887.

In the 1930's, popularity for Chautauqua's fell.

Although Laurel Park continues their Chautauqua today after a brief hiatus mid-century, the gathering is mostly music and food, and does not consist of lecturers (e.g. philosophy, religion) in the same format once enjoyed in the late 19th century. The access to culture, society, and ideas has been increased due to many factors which make a Chautauqua more of a community gathering/festival as opposed to a phenomenon of the summer.

Laurel Park is one of hundreds of former camp meeting sites around the U.S. Scholars of American studies, religion, and vernacular architecture have researched these communities. This scholarly literature provides historic context for the interpretation of the Laurel Park site and its historic development.

Ocean Grove is a Methodist summer camp found in Ocean Grove, New Jersey.

Looking at the rich resources offered by 19th century Methodist summer retreat camp in Ocean Grove, NJ, it evident where Laurel Parks site plans and landscape formation takes on the ideologies of the times.

As a point of reference for Laurel Park's own uniqueness, Ocean Grove serves as an example of the different interpretations of Methodist summer retreat camps that these two places ascribed to in their infancy, the different ideologies fueling the creation of these retreat spaces, and the differences through time.


Ocean Grove was chosen due to the easily isolating landscaping that surrounds the site, two rivers on each side and an ocean front on the third. The fourth side was historically the main entrance, which was heavily gated, especially on the Sabbath. The meeting hall, at Ocean Grove's infancy sat in the center of the campground. From the map show below, it is evidenced that Ocean Grove has developed out of the centralized framework of a tabernacle sitting that the center, but Ocean Grove's humble beginnings are evidence of a greater focus on the center. The Great Auditorium at Ocean Grove, the renovated meeting space found Northeast of Central Avenue now seats 7,000 people.

Ocean Grove differs from Laurel Park in that many of the seasonal residents of Ocean Grove would live in (at peak, 660 were found) tents during their stay. Laurel Park never boasted semi-permanent tent sites for visitors.

Site plan of Ocean Grove by the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association, date unknown
Courtesy of Historical Society of Ocean Grove, NJ

Ocean Grove Original Site Plan, date unknown
​Courtesy of Ocean Grove Historical Society, NJ

Laurel Park's secluded location is not unlike Ocean Grove. There is only one exit from Laurel Park, as forests cover the Northampton, MA site from three other sides.  As well, Laurel Park's placement along the Boston and Maine Railroad was strategic.

"Most camp meetings founded after mid-century benefited from nearby passenger rail service. ...Out of necessity, the Methodists formed a partnership with railroad executives and invited railroads into the religious landscape. In so doing, they helped shape the aesthetics and economy of a modernizing countryside....Camp meetings after mid-century (1800's) rarely strayed more than ten miles from the railway grid. A pretty spot, preferably on a lake, was also an important consideration." (Chamberlin, 11)

"In a scene repeated scores of times in the 1870s and 1880s, the Connecticut River Railroad (later the Boston & Maine) selflessly offered $1,000 cash and a percentage of all excursion tickets sold to the Springfield District Camp MeetingAssociation—if it would agree to relocate to Hatfield, along its main line." (Chamberlin, 12)

​Detail, 1948 Easthampton map, showing Boston & Maine Railroad, Connecticut River, and Laurel Park Tabernacle
Courtesy of USGS Historical File Topographic Division

1997 site plan from a 2011 calendar created from historic images by the Laurel Park Association.
Courtesy of Laurel Parks Arts, 2017 

1968 Laurel Park Site Plan
Courtesy of Laurel Park Arts, 2017



​Cabin Architecture Comparison

Laurel Park and Ocean Grove

Laurel Park Cabins opposite Tabernacle
​ Courtesy of Laurel Park Arts

Ocean Grove Cabins, date unknown
​ Courtesy of The Story of Ocean Grove

"Two decades earlier, B. W. Gorham’s Camp Meeting Manual had advised rigid zoning standards for religious camp grounds. Log cabins, in particular, would give the wrong impression to potential visitors, as they were calculated to “excite a class of low and ludicrous ideas, since they give the spectator rather the idea of a huddle of Irish rail-road shanties than of a worshipping people ‘dwelling in the goodly tents of Jacob." (Chamberlin, 21)

"Furthermore, whereas the antebellum revivals meant to tame the rowdy frontier, convert the unsaved, and thereby create new church members, the Victorian camp meeting focused on those already churched and called them to a life of holiness. Even the timing of camp meetings reflected sociological changes. changes. The season for frontier revivals extended from July to October, but they [Ocean Grove] occurred most often late in September in order to accommodate the demands of the harvest." (Randall, 200)

Spatial Layout at Laurel Park: Image Research

View of Laurel Park Cabins, Sarina Vega, 2017

Cottages arranged in a semi-circular main religious congregation frame at Laurel Park.

Image courtesy of page author, 2017

Laurel Park Spatial Layout, 1895

Image Courtesy of Historic Northampton, 2017

1939 topographical map of Laurel Park.


Image courtesy of USGS, 2017

1948 rendering of 1960's Easthampton, MA topographical map. Main tabernacle is pictured here.

Image Courtesy of USGS, 2017

2017 Google Maps rendering of Laurel Park
Map courtesy of Google Maps, 2017

Author Profile

Sarina Vega, 2017

Sarina Vega

Class of 2019


Messenger, Troy. Holy Leisure, edited by Troy Messenger, University of Minnesota Press, 1999. ProQuest Ebook Central,


2. Setting the Stage - Exploring the second-wave of Methodist summer retreat sites, differing ideologies on how these camps should be run, and the exclusivity, deterioration and cyclical changes in Christian ideals and ideas of leisure. 

"“The origins of the camp meeting, which seemed to have appeared on the American frontier full blown in 1800 as the most striking manifestation of the Great Revival, have long been hid in obscurity. . . . One
day the frontier was a godless place . . . and the next it was all aflame with religious zeal.” (5, Messenger)

3. Holy Space - "But however much the reformers whitewashed sacred space and dislocated worship through circuit riders, river baptisms, and camp meetings, they never entirely banished the sacred from American evangelical architecture.
Even in the woods, the sacred was visibly represented through the creative shaping of environment—a circle of canvas tents, an elevated wooden preacher’s stand, the jumble of produce and whiskey sellers just outside the
perimeter, the plank seating that separated males and females, blacks and whites, and the brush arbor “cathedral in the wilderness.” (51, Messenger)


Rieser, Andrew Chamberlin. The Chautauqua Moment, edited by Andrew Chamberlin Rieser, Columbia University Press, 2012. ProQuest Ebook Central,

*Great explicit references to Laurel Park, MA

Focus on the geographic locations of camp meeting sites, the capitalist development that arose next to some sites (shops, railroads, ports), and the differing ideologies that sprung up from these opportunities for greater community development at the expense of intrusion upon holy leisure, sacred natural space, and purity (especially on the Sabbath).

"Landscape historian J. B. Jackson found
camp meeting sites remarkable only for their dullness. Flat and austere, they lacked
the grand tableaux of majestic mountain landscapes favored by fashionable hotels
and romantic artists.9 Instead, camp meetings stressed the spirituality of their private
spaces. The camp meeting, with its typical leafy enclosure, formed an interior space
where guests could reflect on the divine presence in Nature, apprehend God’s immanence, monitor their internal states of grace, and focus without distraction on the journey to salvation." (6 , Rieser)

Landscape, Ideology and Religion:
A Geography of Ocean Grove, New Jersey
Journal of Historical Geography, 2002

Schmelzkopf. "Landscape, ideology, and religion: a geography of Ocean Grove, New Jersey." Journal of historical geography 28.4 (2002):589. Web.
Link to resource

Steeped in perfectionism, autonomy, exclusion, homogeneity, this reading was helpful in constructing a thought process when thinking about how religious actors can have an influence on a geographic location and space. Draws points on the past and present state of Ocean Grove, HOA, renters v. buyers, the revitalization of Ocean Grove, and the overall stronghold that Methodist communities instilled on the site.

"Religious ideology was at the forefront of the CMA's (Camp Meeting Association) vision for Ocean Grove, while
the need for economic development and accumulation of capital was secondary. Some
125 years later, the order is reversed for the HOA, which has prioritized the need for
redevelopment and increased property values. And yet the normative vision of the HOA
is not all that different than that of the Methodist founders. With its agenda of a
homogeneous, middle-class, family oriented community that is physically and socially separate from the adjacent community of Asbury Park, the HOA continues to shape the
landscape of Ocean Grove based on ideologies of perfection, homogeneity, exclusion,
and autonomy. They have accomplished this through the creation of architectural
boards, zoning plans, locked gates, and performing arts centers, through the obstruction
of community mental health services, and through the destruction of boarding and
rooming houses." (603 , Schmelzkopf)

"``What would remain of religious ideology if it were not based on
places . . . ? What would remain of the Church if there were no churches?''[11] Another
reason is that sacred spaces not only reproduce religious ideology, they re¯ect prevailing economic and political ideologies of the time period. Harvey makes the point that being a religious haven does not exempt a place from having to make accommodations to capital accumulation similar to that of secular communities." (590, Schmelzkopf)



Balmer, Randall H. "From Frontier Phenomenon to Victorian Institution: The Methodist Camp Meeting in Ocean Grove, New Jersey." Methodist History 25.3 (April 1987): n. pag. Web. 20 Apr. 2017 "Both the ante- and the postbellum camp meetings sought locations near water, but with one important difference: The earlier revivals took place near freshwater for sustenance, while the founders of Ocean Grove gravitated toward the sea for recreation and relaxation. Furthermore, whereas the antebellum revivals meant to tame the rowdy frontier, convert the unsaved, and thereby create new church members, the Victorian camp meeting focused on those already churched and called them to a life of holiness." (200, Balmer)