1) The Towns Around Asbury
Come to here for a dose of vintage Americana.
Ocean Grove is right across Wesley Lake from Asbury Park. It is much smaller than Asbury - it doesn't go further west than Main Street. Like its neighbor, two lakes form its borders: On the north, of course, is Wesley Lake; on the south is Fletcher Lake, which is not very much wider than the other. There are four ways of entering Ocean Grove from Asbury: the boardwalk, the two little footbridges across Wesley lake, or Main Street (from which you can access Ocean Grove's Main Entrance).
1.1 A bird's-eye-view of Ocean Grove. The Great Auditorium of Ocean Grove is under the word "Grove." Main Avenue is at the lower left. Note Asbury Park's Mayfair Theater across Wesley Lake, upper right. The south side of town (Fletcher Lake) is two blocks outside the photo, at left. (American Postcard Co.)
Compared to Asbury Park, Ocean Grove has stayed in pretty good shape through the years (except for a small patch of blight on the Asbury border). Look around Ocean Grove today and you'll know you're in a special place: rows of lacy Victorians and narrow side streets; a "Main Street" (Main Avenue) that looks like a good old fashioned Main (because, quite simply, it really is); and several incredibly interesting structures, one of which is the Ocean Grove Auditorium (about which more anon).
1.2. Main Avenue, Ocean Grove
The Grove was founded in 1869 by Rev. William B. Osborne. He studied the entire Jersey Shore in an effort to find the perfect place for a community of religious fellowship. He found the right spot, with a fine grove of trees, high beach and mosquito-free air. That same year, an organization was formed under the name "The Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association." This organization still presides over the village today and is responsible for the array of camp-meeting festivities that enliven the summer and attract folks from all over the country.
Yes, the camp meetings still thrive, and just like at the first one in 1870, a bunch of people still pass their visits here in tents. Yes, tents! Some families have been doing this for several generations.
1.3. A few Ocean Grove tents.
Well, a couple of tents have TV sets, and many have rugs and pictures, but they are tents nevertheless - built on sturdy frames that stay in place all winter as they await their summer canvas. At one time there were over 600 tents laid out in semicircle around the auditorium. Today you can count nearly 115.
People used to call Ocean Grove Ocean Grave, because it was a lot more sedate than its northern neighbor, Asbury Park and its southern neighbor, Bradley Beach (across Fletcher Lake). This nickname hardly reflects reality. A lot - a whole lot - goes on in Ocean Grove, particularly in the summer. Lectures are given throughout the season by "eminent divines," as they used to call them; (Billy Sunday, Billy Graham and Norman Vincent Peale were among those evangelists who spoke there); and programs featuring a variety of music - classical, jazz, gospel, barbershop, ragtime and (of course) Sousa - are fairly regular. Singers along the lines of Pat Boone and Jerry Vale, Ray Charles, Judy Collins and Tony Bennett have recently appeared in the Great Auditorium. The place actually is a summer festival.
1.4. The top of the Auditorium.
Speaking of the Auditorium: It is probably the most remarkable feature of Ocean Grove. To me, it always looked like something built by giant Victorian bees. It has its origins in a "preacher's stand" (1870); and the existing structure dates from the 1894. Almost the size of a football field, it seats 7000 people. Numerous presidents have spoken from its stage - Grant, Garfield, Mc Kinley, Teddy Roosevelt, Taft, Wilson, Eisenhower and Nixon. Enrico Caruso once sang there. John Phillip Sousa - "Ol' Stars and Stripes" - conducted his band there. (Woody Allen used the Auditorium as a backdrop in Stardust Memories.) Among Ocean Grove's other famous visitors were Booker T. Washington and Will Rogers.
1.5. The marvelous interior of the Auditorium. The great Hope-Jones organ (completed in 1908) has 8000 pipes, some 32 feet high and weighing a ton, others smaller than a pencil.
1.6. Several views of Ocean Grove. Upper left: part of the beach, boardwalk and Ocean Avenue. Upper Right: My favorite spot again (the boardwalk- North End Hotel-entrance to O.G. from Asbury). Bottom: The Auditorium, on the Victorian-flanked Esplanade.
One of the things people recall fondly about Ocean Grove is the absence of moving automobiles on Sunday, the Day of Rest. (It was something Ulysses S. Grant appreciated, though he was taking more about horses and buggies.) I recall that on Saturday nights, every vehicular entrance to town would get chained off. If you lived in the Grove and owned a car, you better have parked it outside town before midnight or you'd get trapped! All day Sunday, people would stroll the streets, enjoying their Day's Ice Cream Parlor ice cream. It was what a mall ought to be. This tradition - actually a by-law - began years ago. In 1879, the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association of the Methodist Episcopal Church received its charter from the New Jersey Legislature, empowering it to adopt and enforce its own ordinances. This "Day-of-Rest" law was declared unconstitutional in the early 1980s. Well, it was fun while it lasted.
In 1976, Ocean Grove was entered in the National Register of Historic Places. In 1977 it made the New Jersey State Register of Historic Places. Many more sites of beauty and interest grace Ocean Grove: the Beersheba Well (the earliest source of water, dug in 1870); the Bishop James Memorial Chapel (1877, which is the oldest building of worship in Ocean Grove); the Thornley Chapel; and the Centennial Cottage (you can take a tour in this fine example of Carpenters Gothic).
1.7. A few Victorians on the Esplanade.
Click HERE to see a few more images of the Grove.
Oh, one more thing:
Here's a question for you: Did you know that there is an Ocean Grove, Australia, named after New Jersey's Ocean Grove? Over a hundred years ago (probably in the 1880s), the founder of Ocean Grove, N.J, Rev. William B. Osborne, visited Melbourne. In his meeting with Australian Methodists, his tales of his idyllic American town inspired his counterparts to establish a kindred community. If you're interested, you can investigate further at http://www.zades.com.au/bellhs/ogrove.html
Now let's jump north across Asbury Park to investigate the intimate, elegant towns that cling to magical Deal Lake.
Our first town will be Loch Arbour (population about 375).