The following historical content is by Christine Beard, whose contribution to the historical knowledge of Asbury Grove is unparalleled in our 21st Century archives.
The Asbury Grove Historic District in Hamilton is a cohesive collection of historic buildings that were built between 1870 and 1960 as part of a Methodist camp meeting ground. The district is situated just northwest of the town center, west of Asbury Street. All of Asbury Grove sits on a single parcel of land that includes 83 acres of heavily wooded, gently rolling terrain owned by the Methodist church and administered by the Asbury Camp Meeting Association. Although all of the land is owned by the Association, the houses themselves are owned individually by the residents. The central portion of the property is subdivided into roughly 180 small lots laid out along a series of two dozen narrow lanes and footpaths. The southern one-third of the property is undeveloped marshland, while the northern third was set aside for recreational use and holds modern amenities, including a baseball field (c. 1960), playground (c. 1980), swimming pool (2002), basketball court (c. 1965), and tennis court (c. 1965). There is little in the way of formal landscaping, either by individual cottage owners or the Camp Meeting Association, although there has been a recent drive to add plantings to the common grounds and individual lots. Neither is there a common parking lot; residents and visitors park their cars wherever they find available space along the roads or in vacant house lots. North, east and south of the Asbury Grove property are residential neighborhoods that were largely built in the second half of the twentieth century. To the west is a large stretch of marshland that eventually reaches the Ipswich River.
Asbury Grove includes a total of 153 modest cottages on small house lots averaging roughly 30 by 50 feet. At the center of the development are a number of common buildings, which line Lee Park (formerly a small park but now a street name). The common buildings include a dining hall, bakery, restroom, library, chapel, and tabernacle. The site also includes a modern garage and a late nineteenth century barn, both of which stand near the Highland Street entrance to the property. At the south end of Lee Park, in an area known as The Circle, is an outdoor pulpit (known as a “stand”) facing a series of wooden benches among a grove of pine trees. The Stand and its associated seating were formerly encircled by two-story wooden dormitory-type buildings, many of which were destroyed by fire in 1927. Five of the dormitory structures remain, although one is now a private dwelling. A sixth dormitory building remains on Skinner Avenue. Scattered throughout the property are a number of outbuildings, primarily small sheds built in the second half of the twentieth century.
Of the 153 cottages at Asbury Grove, 28 are considered noncontributing features due to alterations or a recent construction date. The remaining cottages were constructed between 1870 and 1960, with one exception. The house at 1 Pleasant Avenue (Photo 1) was built c. 1830 and was on the property when it was purchased for the camp meeting in 1859. This one and one-half story Greek Revival style Cape has been modified with the addition of dormers and a side ell but retains it major character defining features, particularly the main entry surrounds with partial sidelights and a prominent entablature. Most of the remaining cottages were built within a very short time frame. Roughly 90% were constructed between 1870 and 1899. More than half (67%) were built in the decade from 1870 to 1879. With few exceptions, the nineteenth century cottages follow the same basic design pattern. The houses are typically narrow one and one-half story structures with steep front gables, center entries, and a front or wrapping porch, some of which have been enclosed. There are a few variations, for example some have side hall entries or are lacking a porch, but the cottages generally follow the basic form. Most of the houses have small side or rear additions., Many of the cottages were highly ornamented when originally constructed and much of this decoration remains today. Roughly half the cottages were designed with elements of the Victorian Gothic style. Another two dozen have Italianate style detailing, while about 30 of the cottages are simple Vernacular structures with little in the way of architectural ornament. There are a few scattered examples of Second Empire style cottages as well. Among the cottages are a small number of twentieth century dwellings, many built for year-round use, that have no particular stylistic influences. All of the cottages are of wood frame construction and most have wood shingle or clapboard siding. About a dozen of the earlier cottages retain their original vertical board siding, including well-preserved examples at 12 Kingsley Avenue, 43 Central Avenue, and 28 Mudge Avenue. Roofs are typically covered with asphalt shingles. There has been a fair amount of alteration to the cottages. Typical changes include enclosing porches, small side or rear additions, removal or modification of porches, and siding replacement. Only a handful of houses have been altered to the extent that they no longer retain their architectural integrity (these have been designated as noncontributing resources).
Characteristic elements of the Victorian Gothic cottages include highly ornamented verge boards, decorative window and door surrounds, and porches with turned post, decorative balustrades, and brackets. Some have additional ornamentation, such as lancet windows, oculi, paneled double doors, cross gables at side elevations, and dormers. Among the more intact of the Victorian Gothic cottages are those at 5 Central Avenue (1873 – Photo 8), 18 Wesley Avenue (1873), 3 Pleasant Avenue (1878 – Photo 1), and 43 Central Avenue (1883 – Photo 5). Other excellent examples remain at 19 Central Avenue (1873), 6 Mt. Zion Avenue (1872 – Photo 10), 23 Mt. Zion Avenue (1871 – Photo 6), 27 Mt. Zion Avenue (1871 – Photo 6), 29 Kingsley Avenue (c. 1873), and 4 Clark Avenue (c. 1872). The cottage at 12 Central Avenue (1871) is unusual among the Victorian Gothic houses for its hip roof.
The Italianate style houses follow the basic cottage form but are typically ornamented with bracketed door hoods, prominent window hoods, and cornice brackets. Other features commonly found on these cottages are bay windows, decorative verge boards, pedimented window hoods, and oculi or elliptical windows. Well-preserved examples of the Italianate cottages are those at 11 Mudge Avenue (1871), 39 Mudge Avenue (1893), 9 Central Avenue (1873 – Photo 8), and 12 Merrill Avenue (1872). Those at 7 Mount Zion Avenue (1873), 29 Central Avenue (1899), and 8 McClintock Avenue (1893) also retain major elements of their original design. Two notable examples of the Italianate cottage are 16 Clark Avenue (1872 – Photo 9) and 9 Thompson Avenue (1871 – Photo 11). The former features a two-story tower, while the latter has a prominent bay window at the second floor.
Less than a handful of cottages feature Second Empire style detailing. These include 22 Lee Park (c. 1871), 17 Thompson Avenue (1874 – Photo 11), and 3 Wesley Park (c. 1874 – Photo 12). Each has the characteristic mansard roof and they exhibit other features typical of the style, such as pedimented dormers, prominent window and door hoods, and bracketed porch posts.
The house at 57 Mudge Avenue (1882 – Photo 13) is an anomaly among the cottages, being the only one exhibiting Greek Revival detailing. The cornerboards, deep box cornice, and returns at the gable ends are characteristic of the style.
A significant number of cottages (roughly 30% of the contributing houses) follow the basic form but have very little ornament that can be attributed to any particular style. These Vernacular dwellings are best represented by 13 Mudge Avenue (1870 – Photo 14), 2 Merrill Avenue (c. 1872), 9 McClintock Avenue (1874), and 5 Kingsley Avenue (c. 1871). Most of these houses have wood shingle siding, deep eaves with no ornamentation, and simple flat window and door surrounds. A large number have single-story front porches.
There are a few houses near the east side of the district that are somewhat larger than the typical cottages, yet have little in the way of architectural detailing. These were constructed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and are similar in design, having a gabled main block and cross gables forming short side wings. Houses of this type include 7 Essex Avenue (1900), 9 Essex Avenue (1892 – Photo 15), 3 Haven Avenue (c. 1910), and 31 Asbury Avenue (c. 1915). Their slightly larger size may be due to the lots being somewhat larger than in other parts of the Grove.
The campground was originally laid out with roughly forty large tents encircling the pulpit and seating area. These large structures were occupied by the various church societies from the member towns and were used as dormitories and prayer spaces. Many of the tents were later replaced by more permanent wood structures, five of which remain today. These include the Wakefield House (c. 1875), Lynn Common House (a.k.a. Jesse Lee Hall – c. 1875 – Photo 4), Tapleyville (Danvers) House (a.k.a. Wesley House – 1904 – Photo 4), East Boston House (a.k.a. Johnson House – c. 1875), and the Swampscott House (now a private residence – c. 1875). A sixth society building, the former Swedish Tabernacle (a.k.a. Fletcher Hall – c. 1920), is located on Skinner Avenue. Although the buildings are not identical, they are similar in form, all being long narrow two story structures with front-facing gable roofs. The largest of these rectangular buildings is eight bays long, while the smallest are roughly half that length (all are three bays deep). A variety of exterior sheathings were used, including flush vertical boards, wood shingles, and horizontal V-joint shiplap siding. They are utilitarian in their design, with little in the way of architectural detailing, with the exception of Jesse Lee Hall and the Johnson House, which have Victorian porch details (the only two halls with substantial porches).
Two other buildings were originally associated with the member societies, the former Charlestown Cook House & Dormitory (26 Central Avenue - c. 1880) and the structure at 32 Central Avenue (c. 1880). The latter appears to have been an outbuilding for the Lynn Common House. Both of these two and one-half story structures are now private residences but they retain their original utilitarian character and historic fabric, including vertical board siding and simple flat window and door trim.
Common Buildings and Structures
The Stand – The Stand was erected around 1865 as the preaching pulpit for the camp meeting. The Stand is a wood-frame octagonal structure resting on a low concrete platform. Simple narrow chamfered posts are spanned by segmental arches, forming an arcade along the west wide of the structure. The pulpit is sheltered by a shallow pitched octagonal roof with deep overhanging eaves.
Pine Grove Seating Area – The Stand is located within a small pine grove, from which the campground gets its name. This grove has been the site of the principal camp meeting prayer services since the camp meeting was established in 1859. Tall mature pine trees dominate the area and form a shelter for worshipers.
Committee’s Building – Built around 1865, the Committee’s Building is a small one and one-half story structure, similar in scale and design to the nearby cottages. It is currently located on The Circle but formerly stood at the end of Pleasant Avenue facing Lee Park. Designed with Victorian Gothic detailing, the building has a front-facing gable decorated with ornate verge boards. A bay window at the façade is sheltered by a simple porch with square posts and a hip roof. Above the porch is a small semi-circular window.
Chapel – The chapel was constructed in 1884 at the north end of Lee Park. This Queen Anne style building is one and one-half stories with a steep front gable. It is clad with a combination of clapboards and decorative patterned wood shingles. The main entry is sheltered by a gabled porch supported on square posts with brackets. Window openings hold multi-pane double-hung sash with stained glass. A modest rose window is centered above the main entry. Typical of the common buildings, the interior of this small chapel is not winterized and has unpainted exposed wood framing. It is laid out with a central aisle flanked by modest wood pews, an altar at the east end, and a small balcony at the west end over the main entry. There is little in the way of architectural ornamentation.
Tabernacle – Built in 1894 at the north end of Lee Park, the Tabernacle is a large worship space with open sides and a broad shallow hip roof covered with asphalt shingles. Centered on the roof is a square monitor, which is also enclosed by a hip roof. A low wooden kneewall at the perimeter forms the southern half of the enclosure for the building (fill walls enclose the northern half). The heavy wood framing of the structure, including columns, beams, and bracing, is exposed on the interior, which has an asphalt floor. The structure encloses a single open space lit by the very large monitor.
Library – The library was constructed in 1910 at the north end of Lee Park. The building has a square floor plan and is enclosed by a hip roof with deep eaves lined by exposed roof rafters, consistent with its Craftsman style design. The exterior is clad with wide horizontal board siding and trimmed with simple flat wood stock. The façade is recessed beneath the overhanging front plane of the roof, which is supported by narrow posts with decorative brackets. Typical of the common buildings, the interior of this small library is not winterized and has unpainted exposed wood framing, including roof framing and tie beams. The interior is a single open room with low bookcases lining its walls. Windows are trimmed with unpainted flat stock (the only interior trim).
Dining Hall - Built in 1900, the Dining Hall is a large two and one-half story structure with a steep gabled roof. It is three bays wide and seven bays deep with clapboard siding and simple flat wood trim. The main entry is centered on the façade and sheltered by a simple porch with bracketed posts. This utilitarian building is divided into two floors on the interior. The lower level holds the main dining hall, while the upper level is used for a variety of functions. There is a small modern kitchen at the rear of the first floor. Like the other common buildings, the dining room and upper level are not winterized and feature unpainted exposed wood framing, including a central row of chamfered wood columns supporting an interim beam. Walls of the dining room are finished with unpainted vertical boarding. Windows and doors are trimmed with unpainted flat stock.
Bakery – The bakery (constructed in the early twentieth century) is a single-story brick structure on the east side of Lee Park. It is three bays deep, two bays wide, and enclosed by a very shallow gable roof. The building is utilitarian in its design, with architectural detailing being limited to a simple corbelled brick cornice. The interior of this utilitarian building holds a large dining room (used as a café) and has painted exposed brick walls and exposed wood roof framing. There are also a series of painted wood columns running down the center of the building perpendicular to the roof ridge. Doorways and windows are trimmed with painted flat stock.
Barn – The barn is located near the Highland Avenue entrance to the campground and was erected around 1885. Typical of late nineteenth century barns, it has a gabled roof, wood shingle siding, simple flat wood trim, and little fenestration. Large sliding wood doors are centered on its north elevation.
Restrooms – Standing at the rear of the bakery is a small concrete structure built around 1940 to house bathrooms. The low square structure has a flat roof and small paired windows. The exterior is finished with a rusticated concrete water table and quoins.
The Asbury Grove Historic District possesses integrity of design, location, setting, materials, and workmanship, and meets Criteria A & C at the statewide level. The district is significant as a Methodist camp meeting ground. It was established in 1859 and continues to function today. This collection of well-preserved cottages and common buildings defines the rich history of the site and documents 150 years of continuous annual camp meetings. Asbury Grove is one of several thousand camp meeting grounds established in America in the nineteenth century and is among only about one hundred that remain intact and continue to hold regular summer meetings.
Camp meetings are open-air religious revivals that began in the late eighteenth century in the backwoods of Georgia and the Carolinas, lasting several days (often one week). Camp meetings were initially held by Presbyterians, Baptist and Methodists, but are most closely associated with the latter, who perpetuated and expanded the tradition after the others abandoned the practice early on. It is generally agreed that the first “Great Revival” meeting of 1800 in Kentucky was the model for future Methodist camp meetings throughout the country. Worshipers flocked to these campgrounds each summer for a week of intensive religious contemplation that included fervent prayer meetings, lectures by evangelists, singing, and Bible studies. The camp meetings were never officially sanctioned by the Methodist church government, but were a tool used by the itinerant preachers who saw them as an effective technique for gaining converts to Methodism and for reviving religious enthusiasm in existing church members. Prominent Methodist preachers and circuit riders, most notably Bishop Francis Asbury and Jesse Lee, promoted the development and spread of camp meetings on a large scale with great success. It is estimated that roughly 600 camp meetings were held in 1810 and as many as 1,000 in 1820. In 1811 approximately 1.2 million people attended camp meetings across the country. That number represents roughly one-tenth of the American population that year. Membership of the Methodist church continued to expand rapidly in the nineteenth century until it became the largest single Protestant denomination in the country.
As in other parts of the country, Methodism achieved a strong footing in New England in the nineteenth century, with the earliest camp meeting being held at Haddam, Connecticut in 1802. The earliest camp meetings in Massachusetts were held on Cape Cod, beginning in 1819 in Wellfleet, then in Truro, Eastham, and Yarmouth after 1854. One of the most well-known and most successful camp meeting grounds, Wesleyan Grove, was established on Martha’s Vineyard in 1835. In 1852 a camp meeting was established in Central Massachusetts in Sterling. Residents in the Boston area (Boston District) and North Shore (Lynn District) had to travel to Cape Cod to attend camp meetings until 1859 when Asbury Grove was established in Hamilton, located about 20 miles north of Boston in the northeast corner of the state. Subsequent encampments were established throughout the state, so that by the early twentieth century there were roughly two dozen camp meetings scattered throughout Massachusetts.
The expense and inconvenience of traveling to Cape Cod for camp meetings proved to be a hardship for members of the Boston area and North Shore churches. As a result, Asbury Grove (named for circuit rider Francis Asbury) was established to accommodate the two dozen churches of the Boston and Lynn districts. A ten-acre parcel of land in the town of Hamilton was purchased for the new camp meeting, from farmer Joseph Dodge. The property included a farmhouse, which later became the Superintendent’s Cottage (1 Pleasant Avenue – c. 1830 – Photo 1) for the camp meeting. The Dodge property was about one mile from the center of town and included a large pine grove where the preaching stand was to be erected. Subsequent land acquisitions in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries brought the total property at Asbury Grove up to 83 acres.
The first camp meeting at Asbury Grove was held the third week in August of 1859. Approximately 2,000 people attended the first public service. According to some reports the number of attendees had grown to roughly 12,000 by the end of the week. This was a major event for the local community, a town with fewer than 1,000 inhabitants at the time. Camp meeting participants, typically entire families, arrived in their own wagons or they hired local carts to transport them from the railroad depot at the center of town. As was typical at the camp meetings, life at Asbury Grove was strongly regulated. The Asbury Camp Meeting Association, the governing body for the campground, established rules and regulations that were strictly enforced. Participants at Asbury Grove were to rise at half past five in the morning and were to adhere to a ten o’clock evening curfew. Meals were served at set times (6:30 am, noon, and 5 pm) and public preaching services were to be held at ten o’clock in the morning, three o’clock in the afternoon, and seven o’clock in the evening. Smaller prayer meetings were to be held by the individual societies one-half hour after each meal. Vehicles were prohibited from entering the grove during preaching services and there was no smoking permitted in the prayer circle at any time. The Methodist philosophy has always encouraged temperance and so alcohol was not permitted in any of the public areas or buildings and was strongly discouraged in the private homes. Camp meeting attendees were not compelled to work at chores but were encouraged to help out when assistance was needed. Life at Asbury Grove has always been governed by the Asbury Camp Meeting Association, who hold title to the property and establish rules and regulations for cottage owners and operations of the programs. In the late nineteenth century, when there were much larger numbers of visitors each summer, a small two-story wood police station was erected opposite the dining hall. The structure also housed crude fire fighting apparatus. A bell atop the building was used to call visitors to church services and meals. The bell was also rung at ten each night to signal curfew, at which time a policeman would make the rounds to ensure that no one was in the streets and all lights were out. As the number of visitors decreased in the twentieth century, there was no longer a need for police supervision. By the 1940s the Asbury Grove Superintendent and other trustworthy residents were granted the status of “special police” by the Hamilton Police Department so that they had legal control over any wrong doing.
Manmade structures were limited at the earliest camp meeting grounds so participants relied on natural features to protect them from the elements. A preaching pulpit was often erected beneath a grove of trees, which served as shelter. Worshipers camped on-site in rough tents or in the open air. Typically, they paid a small fee to rent their tent sites. The camp meeting grounds were typically laid out following three basic designs that were either circular, rectangular, or an open horseshoe, with the circular plan being the most popular. By the 1830s a greater number of structures had been introduced at the campgrounds, primarily cloth tents and tabernacles (open sided structures to shelter worshipers from bad weather). As the nineteenth century progressed, the number of buildings increased and it was not uncommon to find wood cabins, dining halls, bakeries, small general stores, and chapels at the campgrounds. The camp meeting grounds varied in size, with some having only a few simple structures and others growing to the size of a small town with a variety of building types, as was the case at Wesleyan Grove on Martha’s Vineyard, where 700 structures stood at one time. In the Northeast, where campgrounds were established somewhat later than in the South, the design and layout were strongly influenced by Rev. B.W. Gorham’s Camp Meeting Manual of 1854. Gorham, a Methodist minister, felt the camp meeting grounds should be kept as simple as possible, with modest cloth tents and simple preachers’ stands, rather than the cottages and tabernacles that had sprung up in the South and the Ohio River Valley. He felt it was important to have society tents so that member churches could hold more private prayer meetings. Gorham also recommended a circular layout for the worship area, with the preaching stand at the north end so the audience would not face the sun. Buildings were generally unheated, as they were intended for summer use.
Community Buildings and Structures
The design of Asbury Grove was clearly influenced by Gorham’s model. The preaching stand was encircled by approximately 36 large tents that were erected for each of the member churches. These tents provided accommodations for the various society members and also a place to hold small prayer services. The existing preaching pulpit (or “Stand” as it is known – Photo 3) dates to about 1865 and is in the same location as the original, in the area known as The Circle. The society tents originally had six foot tall wood sides, canvas roofs, and straw scattered on the floors. Smaller family tents were set up outside The Circle on small lots laid out along a series of irregular paths. Annual rent for a family tent lot was $1 in 1860. Beginning about 1875, the society tents were gradually replaced by two-story wood structures, five of which remain in The Circle today. They include the Lynn Common House (c. 1875 – Photo 4), Tapleyville (Danvers) House (1904 – Photo 4), East Boston House (c. 1875), Wakefield House (c. 1875), and the Swampscott House (c. 1875). The latter is currently a private residence, while the others remain in use by larger groups. Another society building, the Swedish Tabernacle (c. 1920), was constructed on Skinner Avenue. Several of the societies also built their own outbuildings or additions for use as cook houses. One of the few that remains is located at 26 Central Avenue (c. 1880). This free-standing structure was formerly associated with the Charlestown House and later became a private residence.
The Asbury Camp Meeting Association gradually added structures to the site in order to accommodate the increasing number of visitors. As early as 1866 the campgrounds included a boarding house, a bake house, and two outhouses. By 1870 the campground had become something of a self-contained village, with the addition of a large dining hall, store, police station, barber shop, railroad ticket office, and a restaurant. Although these structures no longer remain, others were constructed in their place. A small building erected around 1865 served as the Committee’s Office (now located on The Circle) to provide a meeting space for the various boards that oversaw operations of the camp meeting. Today the structure functions as the arts and crafts building. The original dining hall was formerly a Civil War barracks that was moved to Asbury Grove in 1866 from another part of Hamilton. When the barracks were later razed, a small hotel was built in the same location. The hotel burned in 1899 and the current Dining Hall (35 Pleasant Avenue – Photo 2) was erected the following year. Crowds at the annual camp meeting became heavy enough to warrant construction of a spur track from the main railroad line at the center of town out to Asbury Grove in 1870. A small rail station (no longer extant) was constructed at the intersection of Highland Avenue and Asbury Street, opposite Asbury Grove. In 1878 a post office building was constructed which today is the cottage at 3 Pleasant Avenue (Photo 1). A small Chapel (Lee Park – Photo 7) was constructed in 1884 in order to accommodate smaller religious services when the camp meeting was not in session. In 1884 a large shelter, the Tabernacle (Lee Park – Photo 7) was built to provide for the camp meeting crowds. For many years the Asbury Camp Meeting Association stabled horses in an old barn that had been inherited with the initial land purchase. After the old barn burned in 1884 the current Barn (Asbury Avenue) was built. The building was used as a thrift shop for a time and is now used for storage. The brick Bakery (Lee Park – Photo 2) appears to have been built around 1900 and replaced an earlier cook house. In 1910 a small building was erected at the north end of Lee Park to house the L.B. Bates Memorial Library (Photo 7). Bates was the first chaplain for Asbury Grove and contributed a large number of books to start a library.
Although camp meetings remained religious in nature, they became more social and programmatically diversified toward the end of the nineteenth century, with the introduction of recreational activities, programs for children and youths, bible conferences, and patriotic rallies. In the late nineteenth century the first recreational activities were formally introduced at Asbury Grove with the establishment of a croquet field alongside Morris Avenue. Tennis courts took the place of the croquet wickets in 1900. Later, Asbury Grove established a baseball team and a field was set up near the Asbury Street entrance. In more recent years recreational activities were consolidated in the area north of the cottages where there is a baseball field, playground, swimming pool, and tennis court.
While each of the churches had their own society buildings, it appears that most of the camp meeting participants preferred their own private accommodations. Canvas tents remained the principal shelters for camp meeting participants at Asbury Grove through the 1860s. Beginning about 1870, the tents were gradually replaced by small wooden cottages, following the example set at the Wesleyan Grove camp meeting on Martha’s Vineyard a decade before. Historian Ellen Weiss claims that between “1859 and 1864 a new American building type, the campground cottage, was developed at Wesleyan Grove.” While it is generally agreed that the camp meeting cottages were a vernacular building type, largely invented by local carpenters, it is believed to have grown out of the first cottage built at Wesleyan Grove by Providence architect Perez Mason in 1859. The typical Wesleyan Grove cottage is a one and one-half story rectangular structure with a front gable. The main entry is centered on the façade and flanked by two narrow windows (usually pointed or round arches). Above the entry is a second doorway leading to a small balcony. The numerous local carpenters who built the houses added their own details and made modifications to the basic form, the result being a collection of similar but not identical structures with distinct architectural detailing. Stylistically the cottages reflected the popular styles of the era, most notably the Victorian Gothic. The designs were clearly influenced by the picturesque cottages published by A.J. Downing in the mid-nineteenth century, having ornate Carpenter Gothic wood trim in the form of ornate vergeboards, prominent hood molds, decorative balustrades, and the like. The cottages were intended for use in the warmer summer months so they were typically unheated.
It is certain that the design of structures at Asbury Grove was strongly influenced by Wesleyan Grove, although documentation is scarce and little is known about the designers. For instance, the preaching stand at Asbury Grove is identical to one designed for Wesleyan Grove in 1859 by Perez Mason. The cottages at Asbury Grove include numerous variations of the basic Wesleyan Grove cottage type, although with somewhat less ornamentation. Those that most closely follow the original pattern include 5 Central Avenue (1873 – Photo 8), 15 Central Avenue (1873), and 46 Mudge Avenue (1873). The remaining cottages exhibit wide ranging stylistic variations of the basic form, reflecting the tastes of individual owners and creativity of the carpenters.
Construction of the cottages at Asbury Grove progressed very rapidly after the first was built. Roughly 70 percent of the cottages that were ultimately built at Asbury Grove were erected in the decade from 1870 to 1879. The earliest cottages were generally built on those streets closest to the prayer circle (Mudge, Merrill, Sunnyside, Fisk, Kingsley, Central, and Simpson Avenues). Development then spread eastward to Fletcher Avenue and northward along the series of streets bound by Mudge and Morris Avenues (Mt. Zion, Clark, Thompson, McClintock, Baker Avenues, and along Lee Park). A plan of the camp meeting grounds from 1870 shows that house lots had not yet been laid out in the area between Pleasant and Skinner Avenues. By 1873 there was sufficient demand for additional cottages that new streets had been run between Pleasant, Hedding, and Skinner Avenues (see attached map of 1898), and cottages were being constructed in the area (along Hedding, Highland, Oak, and Prospect Avenues). Lots were also being developed along Asbury Avenue by 1873. The following year the first cottage was built on Hamilton Park. By 1876 construction had begun on Hamlin, (originally Hamline), Morris, and Pleasant Avenues, and Wesley Park. Development along Haven, Maple and Essex Avenues came a bit later. By 1876 there were roughly 220 cottages at Asbury Grove. Although the rate of construction tapered off in the 1880s, cottages continued to be built into the early twentieth century. The later cottages were generally less heavily ornamented than their Victorian predecessors. The number of cottages reached nearly 300 at the peak in about 1905.
The popularity of the camp meeting had begun to wane by the end of the nineteenth century, as society became less focused on religious pursuits and vacationing habits changed as accessibility improved. Train service and later automobiles, gave summer travelers more options. By 1905 only thirteen of the large society houses remained. The number of cottages decreased to about 280 by 1923; some were removed, while others were destroyed by fire and never rebuilt. Asbury Grove suffered several serious blows in the early twentieth century. In 1927 a stove fire started on Asbury Avenue and rapidly spread to the adjacent streets. By the time the blaze was under control, nearly half the cottages in the Grove and many of the old pine trees had been destroyed. In 1929 three of the large society houses were lost to fire. Other smaller fires in the Mudge, McClintock, and Clark Avenue area resulted in the loss of additional cottages. Still other cottages and trees were lost during the hurricanes of 1938 and 1954 and a tornado in 1952. A few cottages were rebuilt but generally the lots remained empty. A number of the remaining cottages have fallen into disrepair in recent years, a few having been abandoned by their owners. By 1960 about a dozen of the cottages had been winterized for year-round use. That number has gradually increased so that today 63 of the 153 remaining cottages are occupied year round.
Asbury Grove was established to serve the Methodist congregations in the Lynn and Boston districts. This included roughly forty towns stretching from Boston northward to Newburyport and from the eastern coastal communities westward to the towns of Groveland, North Andover, Reading and Woburn. There were a particularly large number of camp meeting participants from the town of Lynn, one of the earliest communities in New England to embrace the Methodist theology, with many converts from the Congregational church. Members of the various Methodist societies represent a cross section of society, from successful industrialists to immigrant mill workers. Research has uncovered the names of many of the original cottage owners. The following list (gathered from Asbury Grove resident directories, town valuations, and city directories) represents the typical cottage owners at Asbury Grove in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Name, Cottage Address in Asbury Grove, Home Town [in MA] and Occupation
Thomas P. Richardson, 5 Central Ave., Lynn, shoe manufacturer
Fred Wilcomb, 15 & 19 Central Ave., Ipswich, auctioneer & real estate
George H. Barker, 8 Clark Ave., Malden, carpenter
Charles R. Tuck, 9 Clark Ave., Hamilton, store clerk
Columbus Moulton, 16 Clark Ave., S. Boston, teamster
Francis Flagg, 8 Hedding Ave., Lynn, shoe factory employee
Horace Brown, 18 Lee Park, Saugus, tin manufacturer
Ezra D. Winslow, 5 Merrill Ave., Newton, clergyman
Henry H. Chandler, 1 Mt. Zion Ave., Charlestown, dry goods dealer
John D. Kidder, 2 Mt. Zion Ave., Chelsea, teamster
William N. Learned, 7 Mt. Zion Ave., Lynn, shoe factory employee
James Blaisdell, 11 Mt. Zion Ave., Chelsea, oil dealer
Joseph E. Hodgkins, 14 Mt. Zion Ave., Lynn, shoe dealer
Sherman Stone, 28 Mt. Zion Ave., Charlestown, house carpenter
Benjamin T. Norris, 29 Mt. Zion Ave., Lynn, house carpenter
George Babb, 16 Mudge Ave., Lynn, expressman
Abram D. Wait, 28 Mudge Ave., Ipswich, life insurance agent
Lemuel L. Katon, 46 Mudge Ave., Chelsea, tin ware dealer
Rev. S. Jackson, 50 Mudge Ave., E. Saugus, minister
Rev. John Chapin, 3 Thompson Ave., Wenham, minister
Wakeman Davis, 5 Thompson Ave., Rockport, furniture dealer
Rev. Edward A. Manning, 12 Thompson Ave., E. Boston, Methodist minister
William Burrows, 16 Thompson Ave., Ipswich, net manufacturer
Rev. J.F. Mears, 17 Thompson Ave., Unknown, minister
Joseph H. Bowen, 18 Thompson Ave., Lynn, private watchman
The population of the community remained relatively stable into the mid-twentieth century. Many of the cottages had been passed from one generation to the next or have been sold to other church members. The Asbury Grove General Directory of 1951 lists 125 residents, most of whom were from towns north of Boston (primarily from Chelsea north to Newburyport and east of Lowell). Over time, camp meetings at Asbury Grove became less rigidly structured although the religious emphasis remained. In the mid-twentieth century members of several other Protestant denominations purchased cottages, marking a shift toward a more diversified community.
While Asbury Grove is no longer strictly a Methodist community, the emphasis on religion remains and any new resident must be an active member of a Christian church. Each summer the cottage owners return to the Grove, although in dwindling numbers (only about 150 regular attendees), for a short retreat from their everyday lives. The Camp Meeting Association website provides the following description: “The purpose of Asbury Grove is to be a community in which men, women, and young people come into a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. This is to be accomplished through worship services, Bible Study, youth programs, recreational programs and community life.” The camp meetings are still held for one week each summer and include daily worship services, communal dinners, and guest speakers. Weekly public worship services are held during the summer months at the outdoor Stand. Throughout the summer the Grove sponsors a variety of social events in addition to their religious activities. This summer Asbury Grove celebrates its 150th anniversary with a series of worship services, social gatherings, cottage tours, theater productions, and sporting events.
Over the last 30 years, the historic character of Asbury Grove has been challenged by physical changes made to accommodate a modern lifestyle. Paved streets, winterization of and additions to the cottages, and modern plumbing are among the most noticeable. In addition, a number of modern homes have been built on lots left empty by the 1927 fire. Despite all this, the core of the historic community remains intact and the character-defining architectural features remain predominant. Today, five dormitories and more than 100 historic cottages still stand, as do all of the principal common buildings. Together, they represent a unique architectural and historical resource.
The Grove continues to be governed by the Asbury Grove Camp Meeting Association. The population, which had been declining, is now stabilizing, the septic issues have been addressed, and a $220,000 restoration project on the Tabernacle is nearing completion (using volunteer labor, grants, and private donations). The Swedish Tabernacle is being refurbished in a similar manner. Other public buildings have all been rehabilitated in the last 10 years, including the Superintendent’s Cottage, Post Office, 5 Mudge Avenue (ministers cottage), 4 Central Avenue (youth directors cottage), and three dormitories. The dormitories are awaiting fire-suppression systems before than can be reoccupied. The kitchen of the dining hall also underwent a major overhaul this past year. The land and common buildings are still owned by the Methodist church (overseen by the Camp Meeting Association) but most cottages are privately held. A few of the cottages are rented but typically they are owner-occupied, primarily in summers as only 63 of the houses are winterized. When the cottages are sold, there are no covenants that go along with them but the new owners must renew a one-year lease of the land with the Camp Meeting Association, which stipulates that they will abide by the rules of the Association. The privately owned cottages are generally well maintained and are governed by the Ground Committee, who encourage owners to adhere to the Victorian cottage theme when undertaking any work, although there are no specific preservation incentives or regulations in place.
BIBLIOGRAPHY and/or REFERENCES
Asbury Grove Directory (Salem, MA: Newcomb & Gauss, Printers, 1905)
Beard, Christine. The Boston Globe Meeting Ground at Asbury Grove (March 1, 1998)
Brown, Kenneth O. Holy Ground: A Study of the American Camp Meeting (New York & London: Garland Publishing, Inc.)
Carr, J. Lewis. Plan of the Grounds of the Asbury Grove Camp Meeting Association – Hamilton, Mass. (revised surveyor’s plan – revisions to 1870 survey of J.Q. Hammond)
Constitution and By-Laws of the Asbury Camp-meeting Association, Hamilton (Boston: George C. Rand & Avery, 1860)
Hamilton Directories (various years)
Hammond, J.Q. Plan of the Grounds of the Asbury Camp Meeting Association, Hamilton, Mass. (surveyor’s plan)
Richardson, Faith. History of the New England Conference of the United Methodist Church, 1796-1995 (http://neumcsite.brickriver.com/page_print.asp?PKValue=74 - 1992, updated
Sanborn Insurance Atlases (1907, 1916, 1940, 1953)
The Beverly Citizen (June 25, 1859)
Thurston, Grace A. Asbury Grove Centennial 1859-1959 (unpublished history)
Thurston, Rev. William Albert. Souvenir History of the East District New England Conference (Boston: Press of Lounsbery, Nichols & Worth, 1896)
Thurston, Grace A. History of Asbury Grove (unpublished history)
Town of Hamilton – Assessor’s Valuations (various years)
Wallick, George (Asbury Grove resident and local historian)
Weiss, Ellen. City in the Woods (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1998)
UTM References (cont.)
E. 19 345014 4720555
F. 19 345111 4720738
G. 19 344967 4720866
H. 19 344904 4721193
Verbal Boundary Description
The boundaries of the Asbury Grove Historic District are delineated with a bold line on the attached map (copies from Hamtilon Town maps 37 and 46).
The boundaries have been drawn to include all land that has historically been associated with the Asbury Grove Camp Meeting from the time of its establishment in 1859 to the present. This represents all land currently owned by the Asbury Camp Meeting Association. Some adjacent land was sold off from the Grove, but there are no structures relating to the camp meeting ground remaining on the land (new single homes were constructed). This land was therefore excluded from the district.
PHOTOGRAPHS [Photographs were included in the original document. We're sorry that we are not able to furnish the photos referenced in this document].