Exploring the Historic Charm of NJ’s Vintage Tent City

by Laura DeSiena
Tent City Ocean Grove

The charming shore town of Ocean Grove, NJ, is best known for its Victorian real estate, picturesque seascape, and historic roots in the Christian faith. Behind the quaint shops and rustic boardwalk lies a close-knit community of 114 vintage tent structures with a rich history dating back to the late 19th century. Nicknamed “God’s Square Mile,” this quaint family neighborhood promises visitors a summer escape from the daily pressures of life and into an oasis of restoration and renewal for the soul. Available only in the summertime, Tent City is a classic New Jersey landmark you won’t want to leave off your summer checklist. Learn more about what makes this tranquil town so unique, and why it means so much to those who reside there.          

Methodist Roots

Ocean Grove, New Jersey

The Tent City colony originated from the Methodist tradition of attending summertime spiritual retreats in 1869. The Second Great Awakening birthed the camp meeting movement, which involved forming campsites that gathered different Christian denominations from all over to pray, worship, and preach the Word. The town of Ocean Grove was intended to be a meeting place for believers where the Lord could be freely worshiped, combining spirituality with leisure activity. 

In 1870, Ocean Grove was officially recognized by the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association as a place of “perpetual worship to Jesus Christ.” This establishment pioneered a culture of faith, family, and tradition that lives on today through the residents of the integrated community. 

Today, the Camp Meeting Association continues to rent and own the property and dedicates to preserving the history of the Victorian landscape. At its start, there were over 200 tent properties, dwindling to 114 alongside 23 larger cottages. While tent renters are not required to be Methodist, there is a detailed paper application and in-person interview that assesses the commitment to faith and prayer before they are accepted. This ensures the preservation and respect of the traditional values and lifestyle of the community residents.  

Living the Tent Life

ocean grove tent city

When the beginning of May comes into view, the brightly colored striped awnings shade white canvas tents, preparing for the May to September occupancy season. Roughly a total of about 600 square feet, each tent on the campground is attached as a front living room to a small cabin that houses the bedrooms, bathrooms, and kitchen. The structure is enclosed by a canvas roof and supported by a wooden frame. With the option of limited space, renters have to get creative and find practical ways to optimize their living. For some, this means using furniture such as a futon that doubles as a bed, watching videos from interior designers on how to decorate tiny spaces, and installing a stackable washer and dryer unit. 

The life of a tenter is one of tranquility, restoration, and escapism from the hustle and bustle of the outside world. The simplicity of living in Tent City is the reason why so many return year after year. Long-time tent resident Anna Nichols recalls in an interview with United Methodist Videos how visiting Tent City each summer equips her to survive the long winter months. “It’s somewhat of an oasis,” She explains. “The world is out there, and I’m not too crazy about the world. But you can come to Ocean Grove and feel as though you’re home.” 

The proximity of the tents also presents residents with the opportunity to form a strong relationship with their neighbors. Many enjoy sitting out on their porches nightly at sunset and having a cup of joe while chatting with one another. This spirit is at the heart of everything Tent City stands for–serving others, and your community, and growing with one another in faith in Christ.

How to Join the Tenting Community

Ocean Grove Tent City 2278.jpg

The renting process for Tent City is unique and extensive as the properties are privately owned and typically only passed down to future family generations. However, interested prospects can put their name on a lengthy, several-year waitlist in hopes of selection. As stated on their official website, tent licenses are granted to applicants after a comprehensive interview based on the stewardship of their time, talents, gifts, and services to the town association. If you are lucky enough to be accepted, you must follow a list of rules and expectations to stay at this special sanctuary. These include the requirement to rent for the whole summer season, no pets, and a limit on alcoholic beverages.   

While it may be difficult to secure a spot as a renter, there are still opportunities to see these colorful homes in person. Since the tent colony is located on a public street, non-residents are welcome to drive by or walk past the area, taking in the beautiful scenery of this Ocean Grove landmark. Although the tents are not available for tours, the unique exterior can still be enjoyed for sightseeing and photo opportunities. Keep in mind, the canvas tents are only constructed from May to September, so be sure to visit before the summer comes to a close. Happy tenting!    

About the Author/s

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Laura DeSiena is a certified Jersey Girl with a passion for music, playing the guitar, and binge-watching 90’s sitcoms. As an aspiring writer and author, she hopes to publish a book someday. When she’s not writing, you can usually find her browsing the shelves of Barnes & Noble in search of her next read.

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