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Ocean Grove, New Jersey
The Ocean Grove Great Auditorium (2007)
The Ocean Grove Great Auditorium (2007)
Location of Ocean Grove in Monmouth County, New Jersey. Inset: Location of Monmouth County in New Jersey.
Location of Ocean Grove in Monmouth County, New Jersey. Inset: Location of Monmouth County in New Jersey.
Country  United States
State  New Jersey
County Monmouth
Township Neptune
 • Total 0.428 sq mi (1.109 km2)
 • Land 0.372 sq mi (0.964 km2)
 • Water 0.056 sq mi (0.145 km2)  13.05%
16 ft (5 m)
 • Total 3,342
 • Density 8,979.9/sq mi (3,467.2/km2)
Time zone UTC-5 (Eastern (EST))
 • Summer (DST) UTC-4 (Eastern (EDT))
ZIP code
Area code(s) 732
FIPS code 3454480
GNIS feature ID 02389609

Ocean Grove is a unincorporated community and census-designated place (CDP) located within Neptune Township, Monmouth County, New Jersey, United States. It had a population of 3,342 at the 2010 United States Census. It is located on the Atlantic Ocean's Jersey Shore, between Asbury Park to the north and Bradley Beach to the south. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Ocean Grove is noted for its abundant examples of Victorian architecture and the Great Auditorium, acclaimed as "the state’s most wondrous wooden structure, soaring and sweeping, alive with the sound of music".

Ocean Grove was founded in 1869 as an outgrowth of the camp meeting movement in the United States, when a group of Methodist clergymen, led by William B. Osborn and Ellwood H. Stokes, formed the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association to develop and operate a summer camp meeting site on the New Jersey seashore. By the early 20th century, the popular Christian meeting ground became known as the "Queen of Religious Resorts." The community's land is still owned by the camp meeting association and leased to individual homeowners and businesses. Ocean Grove remains the longest-active camp meeting site in the United States.


Glimpses of New Jersey coast resorts. A collection of choice photographic views of Asbury Park, Ocean Grove, Avon, Belmar, Spring Lake, Sea Girt, Allenhurst, Interlaken, Deal, Elberon, Hollywood, (14597175627)
Ross' Pavilion in Ocean Grove, 1902

On July 31, 1869, Reverend W. B. Osborn, Reverend Stokes, and other Methodist ministers camped at a shaded, well-drained spot on New Jersey's seashore and decided to establish a permanent Christian camp meeting community called "Ocean Grove." About twenty tents were pitched that summer. By the following year paths were being graded, lots were sold, and plans were set in motion for a new town. In the summer of 1870, near the site of the first tabernacle, a well was dug to provide fresh water. It was named the "Beersheba" well, for an ancient well in Palestine mentioned in the Bible, and is still in existence.

Drawing from the major population centers of New York City and Philadelphia, Ocean Grove soon became a popular destination during the growth of the camp meeting movement in post-Civil War America. Tents and an open-air wooden shelter, or tabernacle, were erected in the 1870s, for the trainloads of visitors arriving by the New York and Long Branch Railroad after 1875. In 1877 alone, 710,000 railroad tickets were sold for the Ocean Grove-Asbury Park train station.

The first tabernacle in 1876
Harper's Monthly
Postcard of Ocean Grove Railroad Station, dated 1908
The "North End Hotel" had 255 rooms and a saltwater pool

A second, larger tabernacle was built in the 1880s, and permanent structures began to be constructed. Streets were paved and some were given Biblical names, such as "Pilgrim Pathway" and "Mt. Tabor Way".

As Ocean Grove drew more and more visitors, the second tabernacle was also outgrown, and construction of the present Great Auditorium was completed in 1894. Originally designed to accommodate crowds of as many as 10,000 people, the subsequent installation of theater-style cushioned seating in many sections reduced seating capacity to 6,250. It remains Ocean Grove's most prominent structure and the centerpiece of its summer programs (see more about the Auditorium further down the page). By the early 20th century, said The New York Times in 1986, it was called the "Queen of Religious Resorts ... Visitors would travel miles to bask in the Victorian seaside splendor and to attend engaging, extroverted religious ceremonies. Millions of people, tourists and pilgrims both, made the trip to Ocean Grove every summer." The social disillusionment around 1920 following World War I had a profound effect on Ocean Grove and church going in general. There was a decline in interest in camp meeting type activities and there was little in the way of new construction in the town after this time. One result was that Ocean Grove became a time capsule of late Victorian and early 20th century architecture.

Until Ocean Grove's municipal authority was folded into Neptune Township in 1981, it boasted a set of unique laws, including one that made it illegal on Sundays to have cars on the streets of Ocean Grove. This had a significant effect on the development of a close-knit community. People looking to get away for the weekend typically avoided the Grove (the beach was closed on Sunday, too). That meant the visitors were likely to be coming for a week-long visit or more. Most came to attend programs sponsored by the Camp Meeting.

President Ulysses S. Grant visited Ocean Grove during his time in office and made his last public appearance in this town. Other presidents to speak on the grounds included: James Garfield, William McKinley, Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and Richard Nixon. Heavyweight boxing champions James J. Corbett and Max Baer and department store magnate F.W. Woolworth were among the celebrities of the day who vacationed in Ocean Grove.

In 1975, Ocean Grove was designated a State and National Historic District as a 19th-century planned, urban, community. It has the most extensive collection of Victorian and early-20th century architecture in the United States.

During the 1960s–1980s, the town declined along with much of the New Jersey seashore, and was pejoratively called "Ocean Grave" due to the general air of decrepitude and the elderly population. But beginning in the 1990s, and through 2006, Ocean Grove experienced a dramatic increase in property values and a considerable revival in fortune, particularly with the restoration of older hotel structures, many of which had deteriorated into single room occupancy ("SRO") quarters. Also – as part of this resurgence – a number of sidewalk cafés and shops along Main Avenue (the main business thoroughfare) now cater to visitors and seasonal residents.

Plans were announced in 2006 for a major new hotel and condominium development on property which has been vacant since the 1970s, when the old North End Hotel – once Ocean Grove's largest – was damaged by fire and subsequently demolished in 1980. These plans have become controversial though, and in January 2008 the Planning Board of Neptune stated the North End Redevelopment Proposal was "inconsistent with the town's Master Plan".


According to the United States Census Bureau, Ocean Grove had a total area of 0.428 square miles (1.109 km2), including 0.372 square miles (0.964 km2) of it is land and 0.056 square miles (0.145 km2) of water (13.05%) is water.


Historical population
Census Pop.
1880 620
1890 2,754 344.2%
1990 4,818
2000 4,256 −11.7%
2010 3,342 −21.5%
Population sources: 1880-1890
1990–2010 2000 2010

Because Ocean Grove is a summer resort community and many residences are unoccupied during the winter months, these statistics may not be representative of the population at all times of the year.

Census 2010

As of the census of 2010, there were 3,342 people, 1,948 households, and 616 families residing in the CDP. The population density was 8,979.9 per square mile (3,467.2/km2). There were 3,132 housing units at an average density of 8,415.6 per square mile (3,249.3/km2)*. The racial makeup of the CDP was 91.41% (3,055) White, 5.48% (183) Black or African American, 0.03% (1) Native American, 0.87% (29) Asian, 0.03% (1) Pacific Islander, 0.81% (27) from other races, and 1.38% (46) from two or more races. [[Hispanic (U.S. Census)|Hispanic or Latino of any race were 4.34% (145) of the population.

There were 1,948 households out of which 7.9% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 23.0% were married couples living together, 6.3% had a female householder with no husband present, and 68.4% were non-families. 57.2% of all households were made up of individuals, and 17.4% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 1.64 and the average family size was 2.56.

In the CDP, the population was spread out with 8.1% under the age of 18, 4.8% from 18 to 24, 23.7% from 25 to 44, 38.9% from 45 to 64, and 24.5% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 52.7 years. For every 100 females there were 83.2 males. For every 100 females ages 18 and old there were 80.6 males.

Census 2000

As of the 2000 United States Census there were 4,256 people, 2,331 households, and 785 families residing in the CDP. The population density was 4,564.6/km2 (11,956.5/mi2). There were 3,156 housing units at an average density of 3,384.8/km2 (8,866.3/mi2). The racial makeup of the CDP was 93.1% White, 4.0% African American, 0.1% Native American, 1.0% Asian, <0.1% Pacific Islander, 0.9% from other races, and 0.9% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 3.6% of the population.

There were 2,331 households, out of which 10.0% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 23.6% were married couples living together, 7.7% had a female householder with no husband present, and 66.3% were non-families. 56.6% of all households were made up of individuals, and 14.5% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 1.67 and the average family size was 2.59.

In the CDP the population was spread out, with 9.9% under the age of 18, 5.8% from 18 to 24, 33.5% from 25 to 44, 26.4% from 45 to 64, and 24.4% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 45 years. For every 100 females, there were 82.4 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 81.1 males.

The median income for a household in the CDP was $31,935, and the median income for a family was $58,583. Males had a median income of $38,389 versus $31,886 for females. The per capita income for the CDP was $26,232. About 5.1% of families and 13.3% of the population were below the poverty line, including 12.0% of those under age 18 and 5.5% of those age 65 or over.

The Great Auditorium

Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association District
Ocean Grove Auditorium and Stokes Statue.jpg
A statue of Ellwood H. Stokes and the Great Auditorium facing Ocean Pathway – once named one of the ten most beautiful streets in America
Location Ocean Grove, New Jersey
Area Bounded by Fletcher Lake, NJ Route 71, Lake Wesley, and the Atlantic Ocean
NRHP reference No. 76001170
Added to NRHP April 12, 1976

The Great Auditorium was constructed in 1894 and is mostly unchanged. The wooden building rests on bridge-like iron trusses laid on stone foundations. Aside from the trusses. It features numerous "barn door" entrances with colored glass, dormers, and panels that open for ventilation. Originally the Auditorium could accommodate an audience of almost 10,000, before many sections of smaller, wooden seats were replaced in later years with cushioned, theater-style seating having armrests; at present it can seat 6,250 persons.

The Auditorium's acoustics, resulting from its barrel-vaulted wooden ceiling, have been widely acclaimed; famed conductor Leonard Bernstein once compared it to Carnegie Hall. In the days before electronic amplification, this allowed a preacher to be heard throughout the vast space. The building still features lighting systems quite advanced for their time, such as the parallel rows of incandescent bulbs that adorn the varnished wood ceiling paneling. Also novel is a large American flag (c. 1916) covered with light bulbs that flash in an undulating manner. Illuminated signs, possibly some of the oldest surviving of that type, flanking the organ's pipework, proclaim "Holiness to the Lord" and "So be ye holy," a reflection of the emphasis at camp meetings. along with the illuminated Memorial Cross, placed on the Auditorium's front facade at the end of World War II.

The hall is surrounded by 114 tents, which are occupied from May to September, as has been the case since 1869. Each tent is connected to a shed containing a kitchen and bathroom; the sheds are also used to store the tents during the winter. They are in such demand that there is a waiting list of some ten years for summer rentals.


Ocean Grove organ
The organ console in 2012

The Auditorium's pipe organ is one of the 20 largest in the world. Installed in 1908 by the organ builder Robert Hope-Jones, its components have been rebuilt and expanded several times, especially since resident organist Gordon Turk and curator John Shaw took their posts in 1974. Additions continue to be made, including a 14-rank echo division in 2008, in an effort to broaden the resources necessary to play repertoire of many styles and periods, and to restore those stops unique to the instrument as Hope-Jones conceived it. As of July, 2012, the organ has five manuals, 189 ranks, and 11,558 total pipes.

Prominent organists to have played the Ocean Grove Auditorium organ include Edwin H. Lemare, Pietro Yon, and Frederick Swann. Celebrated organist Virgil Fox gave his last solo concert in the building in 1980. Turk and guest concert organists play free recitals on most Wednesday evenings and Saturday afternoons in July and August.

A popular organ piece, often played in the early years of the organ, was "The Storm", which featured the stops of the organ for thunder, lightning, rain, and birds singing. An article in the New York Times from 1909 reports on the annoyance of some at the frequent repetition of the performances of the piece.

Performances and other events

The Great Auditorium has over the years featured famed hymn writer Fanny Crosby, band leader John Philip Sousa, and tenor Enrico Caruso. More recently, singers Tony Bennett, Mel Tormé, Kenny Rogers, and Ray Charles have performed.

The Auditorium continues to be the focus of cultural life in Ocean Grove. Among the concerts filling the summer schedule are the acclaimed Summer Stars chamber music programs, which bring some of the finest classical musicians from Philadelphia and New York each Thursday night in July and early August. Saturday nights feature popular entertainment, including appearances by Johnny Mathis, Ronan Tynan, Linda Eder, the Beach Boys, comedian Bill Cosby, and Christian rock stars such as Michael W. Smith, Steven Curtis Chapman, Nichole Nordeman, Hillsong United and Sonic Flood.

Ocean Grove tents
Tents around the Great Auditorium

Since 1980, the Auditorium has hosted an annual memorial service for New Jersey law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty. The service includes a full Honor Guard, bagpipe procession, and singing by state high school choirs (Princeton High School and the West Windsor-Plainsboro High School South choirs have performed in the past). Police, soldiers, National Guardsmen, executive-level officials, and the governor typically attend.

The Auditorium is also used during the month of June for high school graduation ceremonies.

Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association

The OGCMA was founded in 1869. Its mission is to "provide opportunities for spiritual birth, growth, and renewal in a Christian seaside setting."

The OGCMA's president is Dr. Dale C. Whilden. He succeeded political analyst Scott Rasmussen, who was president from 2006–2011. The OGCMA's slogan is "God's Square Mile at the Jersey Shore."

Tent City

From May to September of each year, 114 tents are erected around the Great Auditorium. These tents form "Tent City," a tradition of the Camp Meeting Association that dates back to 1869. Each tent is connected to a shed containing a kitchen and bathroom; the sheds are also used to store the tents during the winter. Tents are in such demand that there is a waiting list of over ten years for summer rentals. Rent runs from $4,000 to $5,000 per summer. All prospective tent inhabitants are interviewed. Subletting of tents is not allowed; dogs, cats, and barbecuing are also prohibited. Tent inhabitants do not have to be Methodist, but they do have to support the association's spiritual missions.


Ocean Grove 1903 ticket
Ticket to 's Stabat Mater, performed in 1903

The Camp Meeting offers traditional and contemporary worship programs throughout the summer. Sunday worship services are held in the Great Auditorium. These services have featured preachers such as Billy Graham, Norman Vincent Peale, Robert H. Schuller, Billy Sunday, Ralph W. Sockman, David H. C. Read, Tony Campolo, James A. Forbes, D. James Kennedy, Charles Stanley, William Jennings Bryan, Booker T. Washington, and Rodney "Gipsy" Smith.

The music is led by a volunteer choir, along with professional soloists Monica Ziglar, Martha Bartz, Jeremy Galyon, and Ronald Naldi. Gordon Turk accompanies at the Hope-Jones organ. Jason C. Tramm is the musical director. Lewis A. Daniels Sr. (1927–2012), was director of music from 1966 to 2004. Since 1955, the annual Choir Festival held in July has gathered thousands of church choir singers, predominantly from the northeastern U.S., to sing "to the glory of God". In 1986, New York television station WNET featured the Choir Festival on its Summerfare program. The Choir Festival is also a regular feature on the Sacred Classics radio broadcast.

The Camp Meeting also offers a contemporary worship service, "Pavilion Praise," in the beach's Boardwalk Pavilion each Sunday morning. A Bible Hour is held each weekday morning in the Bishop-Janes Tabernacle adjacent to the Great Auditorium.

"Bridgefest," an annual two-day event, brings contemporary Christian music to young people and their families. The event is promoted by New York–area radio station "Bridge FM" (WRDR-FM).

Hurricane Sandy

In 2012, Hurricane Sandy caused extensive damage in Ocean Grove. Over half of the town's boardwalk was destroyed, and the town's fishing pier was significantly damaged. Ocean Grove was denied Federal Emergency Management Agency funding because the Camp Meeting Association is a nonprofit organization. While nonprofit organizations are eligible to receive FEMA funding, Ocean Grove was denied funding because the boardwalk was classified as being used solely for recreational purposes. The town formed a group called "Together" to address storm recovery. The group includes the Camp Meeting Association, the chamber of commerce, the homeowners association, the beautification committee, the historic society, the fishing club, and Ocean Grove United, a gay and lesbian group.

Hurricane repairs are estimated to cost $3.5 million. The "Together" campaign raised $1.5 million, including $750,000 for the boardwalk, $100,000 for the roof of the Great Auditorium, and $500,000 for architectural and structural repairs to Thornley Chapel. The Camp Meeting Association has appealed FEMA's funding rejection three times. Federal officials also denied the Camp Meeting Association's request for funding in the wake of Hurricane Irene.

In 2013, members of the gay-rights group Ocean Grove United and the OGCMA joined up to co-sponsor an event aimed at raising funds to rebuild Ocean Grove's hurricane-damaged boardwalk.


Roads and highways

Interstate 195 provides highway access to Ocean Grove from the New Jersey Turnpike, Philadelphia, and points west. The nearby Garden State Parkway connects Ocean Grove with points north and south, such as New York City and Atlantic City.

Public transportation

Frequent rail passenger service to New York City is provided by NJ Transit on the North Jersey Coast Line from the nearby Asbury Park station. New Jersey Transit offers service between Ocean Grove and Philadelphia on the 317 route and local bus service on the 830 route. Additionally, Academy Bus has regular service to area shore towns and the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Midtown Manhattan.

The nearest airport having scheduled commercial airline service is Newark Liberty International Airport, 45 miles (72 km) north, while Monmouth Executive Airport for general aviation airplanes is just 6 miles (10 km) away.

Notable people

See also (related category): People from Neptune Township, New Jersey

People who were born in, residents of, or otherwise closely associated with Ocean Grove include:

  • Mary Porter Beegle (c. 1881–1966), dancer, theater professional and college administrator.
  • Perdita Buchan (born 1940), author
  • Thomas Chisholm (1866–1960), Christian songwriter who wrote Great Is Thy Faithfulness.
  • Michelle Davidson (born 1970), English Channel swimmer and U.S. Master Swimmer All-American.
  • Southside Johnny (born 1948 as John Lyon), singer songwriter.
  • Tali Esen Morgan (1858-1941), longtime music director at Ocean Grove
  • Shep Pettibone (born 1959), record producer, remixer, songwriter and club DJ, who was most prolific in the 1980s.
  • Haydn Proctor (1903–1996), member of the New Jersey Senate.
  • Scott Rasmussen (born 1956), co-founder of ESPN and political analyst.
  • George A. Sheehan (1918–1993), cardiologist and running advocate.
  • David Spelman (born 1966), curator and music producer.
  • Richard R. Stout (1912–1986), politician who served in the New Jersey Senate from 1952 to 1974.
  • Ronald R. Thomas (born 1949), writer, educator, and 13th president of the University of Puget Sound.

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