A second camp meeting was served by the B&O Railroad when it stopped at the Washington Grove station…
Did you know that Johnson’s Park at Emory Grove, alongside Washington Grove Lane, was the site of a camp meeting? The community of Emory Grove, unplatted and unplanned, was built by former African American slaves and their descendants, dating from the 1860s. During that same decade, a nearby grove of trees became the site of song and praise services. By 1880, that 1860s custom had evolved into an organized 10-day to two-week camp meeting. It was widely attended by crowds of up to 3,000 – 4,000 local community and Montgomery County residents as well as black Washingtonians and others who arrived by train and walked from the Washington Grove Station to the campgrounds. Until barred, part of their route from the station was through Washington Grove.
Reflecting limited means, this camp meeting had no permanent presence—no tabernacle, no cottages, no dining hall. It remained a tent meeting in a grove of trees.
The Emory Grove Camp Meeting was closed down by the Montgomery County health department in 1967 for not meeting food safety standards, primarily for outdoor cooking.
The Emory Grove community of modest two-story vernacular dwellings (approximately 150 arranged on informal lanes) and local businesses were largely demolished and residents dispersed by an unfortunate urban renewal project. Perhaps in an echo of the camp meeting days, many of the former residents made it a practice to return to the community on Sunday to attend the altered 1903 Emory Grove Methodist Episcopal Church (now Emory Grove United Methodist Church) at the intersection of Washington Grove Lane and Emory Grove Road.
By 2004, the only tangible sign of the camp meeting grounds was a small remnant grove of oak trees, located behind a baseball field in the County’s Johnson Park. The historic marker erected by the Montgomery County Parks Commission notes that the property had been purchased in 1947 by Edward Johnson, a prominent African American businessman, who added a baseball park for night games. It is claimed that this was the first illuminated baseball park in the county. In the days before African Americans were allowed to play in the major leagues, many of baseball’s best black teams played at Emory Grove. All this within walking distance of the Town!
If you would like to know more about the community of Emory Grove and its camp meeting, see A Harvest in the Open for Saving Souls. The Camp Meetings of Montgomery County, by Elizabeth Jo Lampl with Clare Lise Kelly, Montgomery County Planning Department, Historic Preservation Section (prepared by the Maryland Historic Trust, July 2004). It can be found online at https://montgomeryplanning.org/historic/resources/documents/CampMeetingReport.pdf. A hard copy is also available in the Town Archives.
Montgomery County’s “Paths to the Present” series includes a short about Johnson’s Park at Emory Grove which features the oral history recollection of an Emory Grove Camp Meeting participant.
The City of Gaithersburg’s brief overview of Johnson’s Park also includes additional information about Emory Grove’s place in baseball history.