CAMP MEETINGS. Spontaneous outdoor religious meetings figured importantly in evangelical revivals in both England and America in the eighteenth century. Most accounts trace the origins of the regular American camp meeting to Cane Ridge, on the banks of the Gasper River in Kentucky. There, during the summers of 1800 and 1801, Presbyterian and Methodist preachers together staged massive revivals. Contemporaries credited (or blamed) the Cane Ridge revival for the subsequent wave of weeklong meetings throughout the upper South, the Northeast, and the Chesapeake region. In the 1820s, hundreds of these camp meetings were held across the United States.
In the trans-Appalachian West, evangelical denominations, Methodists in particular, used camp meetings as way stations for roving circuit preachers and to attract new converts. They located the encampments away from town, usually in a wood near a water supply, to highlight God's immanence in nature and to encourage soulful reflection. There were several services each day, with up to four or five ministers speaking.
In the South services were sharply segregated by race. For white people, an egalitarian spirit pervaded guests who succumbed to the constant exhortation and fell into vigorous and physical bouts of religious ecstasy (such as leaping and swaying), all of which evoked fears of cult worship and unleashed sexuality. Some accused the camp meetings of promoting promiscuity.
By the mid-nineteenth century, camp meetings offered a desired religious alternative to the secular, middle-class vacation resort. By 1889 most of the approximately 140 remaining camp meetings were located on railroad lines. Victorian cottages replaced tents, and permanent auditoriums were established. In the 1870s the religious resort concept merged with new impulses for popular education. Methodist campgrounds served as the template for the education-oriented resort communities of Ocean Grove, N.J., and Chautauqua, N.Y. By the 1910s, most of the camp meetings had failed or had been absorbed into Chautauqua assemblies or residential suburbs.
Eslinger, Ellen. Citizens of Zion: The Social Origins of Camp Meeting Revivalism. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1999.
Johnson, Charles A. The Frontier Camp Meeting: Religion's Harvest Time. Dallas, Tex.: Southern Methodist University Press, 1955.
Camp meetings (also known as "assemblies") have occupied an important place in the advancement of Spiritualism since 1873, when the first camp meeting was initiated at Lake Pleasant, Massachusetts. These camp meetings were very like the revivalistic camp meetings of the early twentieth century and the successful summer chautauquas at Chautauqua Lake, New York. The meetings lasted throughout the summer season and many of the mediums took up residence on the grounds. Lily Dale in New York and Onset and Lake Pleasant in Massachusetts were the leading camps. Today, a small number of camps, such as Cassadaga (Florida), Chesterfield (Indiana), Silver Belle (Pennsylvania), and Lily Dale, still exist.
Karcher, Janet. The Way to Cassadaga: A Look at Spiritualism, Its Roots, and Beliefs, and Cassadaga, Florida. Daltona, Fla.: J. Hutchinson Productions, 1980.