SOUTH SEAVILLE —The South Seaville Camp Meeting celebrated its 150th anniversary on July 19 with an anniversary dinner held under an outdoor tent in the tradition of the original revival-era meetings. The meal was followed by an evening service which included the Middle Township Ministerium Choir. The anniversary culminates two weeks of activities at the camp on Dennisville Road between Gracetown and South Dennis-Ocean View roads.
Freeholder Kristen Gabor spoke briefly before dinner, and congratulated the organization on its landmark anniversary.
Also attending were state Sen. Jeff Van Drew (D-1st) and Dennis Township Committeeman Al DiCicco.
"It was like taking a step back in time," DiCicco said. "I really enjoyed (Rev.) Tony Compolo's program and hope to return for one or more of the other programs next week."
Compolo was the evening's featured speaker. A retired sociology professor at Eastern University, Compolo is the author of 40 books. His most recent is "Red Letter Revolution".
The first of its kind in New Jersey, the camp was created in 1863 as one of numerous Methodist meetings established nationwide during a time of great religious revival in the United States. The founding of the camp meeting changed South Seaville from a rural maritime community to a destination of religious pilgrimage.
In its first year, a three-day conference drew visitors from as far away as New England and over 10,000 - attended the Sunday camp services.
Attendance over the years fluctuated but the camp maintained such a sufficient interest that the railroad from Philadelphia scheduled a special stop to allow commuters to visit the camp.
The original camp was just that, a campground with visitors sleeping in tents, using pine knot torches for night time illumination. Cottages replaced the rough camping starting in 1875 when the facility was renamed South Jersey Camp Meeting Association. But the contemporary setting, amidst plenty of shade trees in rural South Seaville, still offers campers a rustic environment.
The first cottages, adorned with the ornate gingerbread woodwork that was a particular feature of Victorian era architecture, featured a sitting room, porch and a loft. Another common feature were the buckets of water found outside each cottage to be kept handy in the event of fire.
Accommodations were Spartan in comparison with the typical modern seashore condo. There were no electric lights, running water, or indoor toilet facilities. Cooking and washing was conducted at Grove House, the large centrally located building, that also served as a boarding house for non-cottagers staying at the camp.
In 1929, room and meals for one week cost less than $20.
While amenities were lacking, rules were plentiful. Keeping the religious aspect of the camp in mind, most of the rules were designed to maintain the decorum appropriate for worship.
Smoking was forbidden. So were bicycles and the game of croquet.
With the exception of adding some modern touches, like electricity and running water, the camp's look has changed little over the years, except for the environment in which it is set.
When the Association originally purchased the site, it was shaded by young white oak trees. The shady aspect of the camp was a feature used to promote attendance during the hot days of summer. Many of these trees are now in decline, due to age, disease, storm damage, and changes to the site made by man. Young trees have been planted, many of the white oak saplings having been donated.
Perhaps, they will be supplying the shade when the camp celebrates its 300th anniversary.