By Patricia Patula, Town Archivist
“Washington Grove, Montgomery County, Md. August 11  –To-day the ninth annual camp of the Washington Grove Camp Meeting Association of the District of Columbia and the State of Maryland, began.” The Washington Post correspondent reports on the opening of the camp meeting by the presiding elder at “half-past 7 o’clock” and proceeds to comment in such detail that his lengthy article measures 22 by 2 inches of newsprint.
He writes: “The grove is situated about twenty miles from Washington, immediately on the north side of the Metropolitan branch of the Baltimore and Ohio railroad, high and well drained, with plenty of pure air. As you enter the grounds you pass through Grove avenue. Here are situated the four handsomest cottages on the grounds . . . From this you enter Broadway which leads to the circle where the tabernacle is, and from which branches out six smaller avenues.”
He continues true to form (as have other reporters in earlier articles of this series) providing the names of each resident on each avenue! Because this is over one hundred people, it cannot be reproduced here. Informative tidbits appear after some of the names. For example: “. . . John S. Paxton, who keeps a boarding tent . . . Miss Lizzie Magruder, boarding tent . . .” or especially “. . . Mrs. Kilgore and daughter, of Montgomery County, who keeps a very popular boarding tent, which last year was overrun with boarders; . . .” The word bachelor appears after several male names – Remus Dorsey on the Circle, Messrs. Ratcliffe and Clark on Third Avenue, and T. W. Fowler on First Avenue. Reference to any “available” ladies is more subtle, seen in the use of the title Miss, as in “Miss Jane Clark on Third Avenue,” or as daughter of a married woman, as in “Mrs. H. A. Wise and daughter ” on First Avenue.
A confirmation of the presence of these people is found in the Town’s Archives in the minutes of the Washington Grove Camp Meeting Association for that year, i.e., 1881. The records list Miss Magruder as paying $75 for the boarding fee and Mrs. Kilgore as paying $33.34 for stock shares. J. Clark, Dorsey, Fowler, and Raddcliff (Ratcliff) are also referenced, as well as others.
A portion of the Post article is devoted to the camp ground itself, and it becomes clear that the writer was present at a Grove camp meeting before. “The grounds are in better order now than they have ever been, and the drainage, which is naturally superior, has been made as near perfect as possible by those in charge. . . It is patent that a greater pride is being taken here each year in the abodes themselves, the tents and cottages, as well as in the furniture and household adornments. Pretty carpets are seen in nearly every domicile, if tents can be called such. New furniture of light colored wood has taken the place of former old, discarded and broken sets. Cheerful, and in some cases handsome, pictures from home parlors adorn the walls. Rockeries covered with ferns and with beautiful bright, variegated flowers growing in the centres, line many of the better avenues.”
After another paragraph describing the “truly grand specimens” of trees in the forested camp ground, the correspondent ends with “The shade is so heavy and the foliage so dense that . . . it is at times almost suffocatingly hot in the camp grove.” [Looking at the dress of the times in the Town Archives photos and knowing this was August, one wonders how these tenters survived the heat, the humidity and the bugs.]
At this point in his article, the writer-cum-historian launches into a classic Victorian-style of prose moving from the camp ground itself to a mini-history of camp meetings in general. [Reader, take your time to enjoy the sheer delight of this high-brow writing.]
“Time was, thirty years ago, when the sparse settlement of the country and incommodious and scarce transportation facilities and the paucity of churches, demanded a grand encampment of the faithful each year, that they might hear the gospel and worship in assembly. Necessity, which is the reputed mother of invention, is none the less, therefore, barren of other good offspring, and though now the camp meeting has ceased to be a necessity, it has by no means grown effete nor inefficient. Rather, however, than a religious necessity, camp meeting has become a religious luxury . . .”