Here’s a little-known fact: Ocean Grove has the largest collection of Victorian and early-20th century architecture in the United States. This captivating coastal town is listed on the National Register of Historic Places for their extensive collection of fancifully-designed homes. It was founded in 1869 when a group of Methodist clergymen formed the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association to develop a summer camp meeting site. The community’s land is still owned by the camp meeting association and leased to individual homeowners and businesses.
Until Ocean Grove’s municipal authority joined Neptune Township in 1981, its unique Camp Meeting laws included one that made it illegal to have cars on the streets on Sundays. That fact didn’t keep U. S. Presidents from visiting Ocean Grove including Ulysses S. Grant who made his last public appearance in town, as well as James Garfield, William McKinley, Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and Richard Nixon.
The half-mile long oceanfront Boardwalk is busy with walkers, bikers and runners passing by. A short walk north connects the Ocean Grove boardwalk to the Asbury Park boardwalk. Bordered by water on three sides, Ocean Grove adjoins Wesley Lake to the north and Fletcher Lake on the south end at Bradley Beach.
Walking through the streets of Ocean Grove is like stepping back in time. The Great Auditorium was described as “the state’s most wondrous wooden structure, soaring and sweeping, alive with the sound of music,” by newspaper reporter Peter Genovese in The Star-Ledger. Its superb acoustics, resulting from the barrel-vaulted wooden ceiling, have been widely acclaimed; famed conductor Leonard Bernstein even compared
it to Carnegie Hall. Built in 1894, the imposing structure has for the most part remained unchanged. It can seat over 6,000 people who attend church services and summertime concerts here.
The Great Auditorium is surrounded by 114 tents, which have been occupied for every summer since 1869. Each tent is connected to a shed containing a kitchen and bathroom. They are in such high demand that the waiting list is over ten years for rentals. Although tent inhabitants do not have to be Methodist, they do have to support the Camp Meeting Association’s spiritual missions.
Ocean Grove’s Main Avenue is the central business district in town and offers gift shops, boutiques and eateries. Strolling through this mile-square town showcases charming architecture detailed with fairy tale turrets, gingerbread trim, sleeping porches and whimsical paint colors.