BLOGFINGER RE-RUN FROM 2010. It’s important that more people other than tourists learn OG history. This timeline gives some perspective for new Grovers and others who ought to educate themselves to this sequence of events.
By Paul Goldfinger, Editor @Blogfinger
Ocean Grove’s history is a fascinating saga about how a Methodist summer community founded in 1869 eventually evolved into a historic and diverse year-round tourist town, while preserving its religious and architectural characteristics. Sure it’s about the Camp Meeting Association (CMA), the Great Auditorium, the tents, and the famous religious figures who took center stage since the founding.
But there is so much more to tell, particularly about the town’s secular history including: its governance; the multiple attempts to secede from Neptune; the successful but temporary creation of an independent secular Borough of Ocean Grove in 1920; opening of the gates in 1979; loss of governance by the CMA in 1980; the decline of the “blue laws”; the extraordinary successes of the Ocean Grove Homeowner’s Association as they transform OG from shabbiness to renaissance by the 1990’s; the remarkable demographic changes of the 1990’s including the growth of the gay community; the amazing musical heritage, the fights over taxes; and there is so much more.
The Ocean Grove Historical Society has offered wonderful exhibits about such topics as the women’s suffrage movement and the African American “history trail” here, and we at Blogfinger have run two pieces about John Phillip Sousa in Ocean Grove as well as the account of Paul Robeson’s 1925 concert in the Great Auditorium. We plan to continue our series of articles on some of the less well known accounts in Ocean Grove’s history, especially focusing on secular events. We will begin the process of digging into Ocean Grove’s fascinating past with a time-line. It’s important for Grovers to know this history. You may be surprised by some of the items below:
1869: Ocean Grove is founded by the Rev. William Osborne and his colleagues. They form the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association of the Methodist Episcopal Church (CMA) and begin purchasing land. The town is part of Ocean Township. The CMA’s goal is to provide and maintain a Christian seaside resort.
1870: The New Jersey Legislature grants a charter to CMA which allows them to govern in Ocean Grove. They can make ordinances, establish a police department and a court of law, and administer all infrastructure and services including schools, sanitation and library. The town is designed “from scratch,” becoming one of the first planned communities in the US. The first lots are “sold” (i.e. leased) from the CMA which retains ownership of all the land. The first cottage is built in 1870.
1872: Over 300 cottages have been built.
1875: Rev Adam Wallace founds the Ocean Grove Record, the town’s first newspaper. Rev. E. H. Stokes, the first CMA President says, regarding the gate closure on Sunday, that “there is no human probability that these rules will ever be revoked.” The first train from New York arrives in OG. People begin to stay year round.
1879: The NJ Legislature creates Neptune Township by carving it out of Ocean Township and incorporates Ocean Grove’s boundaries as part of Neptune. Ocean Grove CMA and lot/home owners pay taxes to Neptune. Leaseholders (“lessees”) must continue to pay “ground rent” to the CMA. The CMA refuses all services from Neptune and continues to function as the “governing authority,” maintaining rigid control in OG. Physical isolation within its boundaries, “blue laws,” land ownership and a homogeneous population of Methodists contribute to the sustained CMA rule.
1897: The first mention of tax discontentment appears as CMA President Bishop Fitzgerald speaks publicly about Neptune’s tax bill and says, “Of the discrimination against us in the matter of taxation does not as yet seem to admit of remedy.”
1898: Ocean Grove’s “lessees,” who pay property taxes to Neptune Township, want the CMA to pay the taxes to Neptune. A suit is brought by the homeowners, but in 1900 the NJ Supreme Court sides with the CMA.
1912: Ocean Grove’s citizens want to participate in the town’s governance, so they elect a Board of Representative Lessees to join with the CMA in managing the town’s affairs. There was unrest, with many citizens disliking this peculiar arrangement and wanting Ocean Grove to be a regular town with an elected secular government
1915: the Ocean Grove Taxpayers and Protective League is formed.
1918: CMA has financial problems and asks Neptune to take over police, garbage and sanitation functions. Neptune refuses.
1920. The Lessee Board is dissolved, and the Civic Betterment League is formed. Its goal is the creation of an independent Ocean Grove Borough. The CMA supports the idea, and the NJ Legislature passes an Ocean Grove Borough bill which creates an incorporated borough, apart from Neptune. Governor Edwards signs it into law, a referendum in town receives wide support, and local elections are held.
The new Borough of Ocean Grove operates for one year, but they retain the CMA “blue laws”. Opponents in town want things the old way and they form the “Lessees Association” They sue in State Supreme Court.
1921: The NJ Court of Errors and Appeals finds the Borough bill to be unconstitutional, because the Borough has allowed religious ordinances to stand. The Borough bill might have been upheld if the “blue laws” were discarded, but the CMA and its supporters refuse. The Borough is dissolved, and governance goes back to Neptune and the CMA. This was not the first attempt to gain secular control of OG, but this one came the closest.
1923: A bill to make Ocean Grove a separate tax district with its own tax rates gets “lost in the legislature.”
1924: A big battle ensues as Neptune tries to substantially increase the CMA’s taxes, including high taxes on the beach, Auditorium, streets, sewers, etc. CMA wins in 1925 at the NJ Tax Board, and most of their holdings are not taxed.
1925-1960: The town is a popular summer resort and is known internationally. Huge crowds visit along with US Presidents and many celebrities. As for the ongoing arguments in Ocean Grove, the historian Gibbon says, in1939, “Many times residents and land lessees of the town have voiced their objection to the local rules, to the tax situation or to the form of government, especially from 1900-1925, and there have been many court fights.” For the most part, things stay the same.
1960-1980: Ocean Grove declines, along with much of the Jersey shore. (See below)
1975: A group of dedicated citizens led by Mr. Ted Bell and his colleagues obtain approval for OG’s designation as a State and National historic district. It is a complicated process. Formation of Board of Architectural Review (BAR) happens in 1984. (Later re-named the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC.)
1975: A newspaper service sues over Sunday’s gate closures, which had been permitted by town ordinance. The NJ Supreme Court strikes down the ordinance on grounds that it violates the first amendment to the Constitution (freedom of the press). The gates are opened for the news service only, but the CMA is allowed to continue its governance of Ocean Grove and the enforcement of other “blue laws”. Many people in Ocean Grove view the gates’ opening as an unhappy event.
1977: A lawsuit stemming from a drunk-driving conviction challenges the authority of Ocean Grove’s municipal court. The NJ Supreme Court widens the scope of the case and decides in June, 1979 that CMA governance in Ocean Grove is in violation of the Constitutional separation of church and state. Appeals are filed. This marks the beginning of the end for CMA governance in OG.
1980: The US Supreme Court would not hear the appeal, so governance of OG is transferred from the CMA to Neptune Township. Neptune eventually eliminates most of the blue laws. Only the Sunday morning beach closure and the ban on alcohol sales remain.
1980’s: By the 1980’s, the town is characterized by an overall “decrepitude,” including deterioration of buildings, declining tourism, crime, and a growing poor elderly population. (2) Deinstitutionalized mental patients are housed in empty old hotels and rooming houses in Ocean Grove. The town becomes a “psychiatric ghetto” (NY Times, October 1988), and, by the 1980’s, 10% of the town’s population are mental cases who are not receiving appropriate services and are sometimes abused by landlords. The prognosis for Ocean Grove is dire.
During this period, the Ocean Grove Homeowner’s Association (OGHOA) develops as a political and activist force that successfully begins the process of converting the town from decay to renaissance. (2f)
1990’s: OGHOA, led by Mr. Herb Herbst, Fran Paladino and others, fight for fair treatment in the allotment of the mentally ill around the state. The group’s political contacts and influence are considerable. The process is complex and difficult, but the numbers of “deinstitutionalized” in OG drops considerably. The group also saw to the closing of many substandard boarding and rooming houses. The HOA presents Neptune with a “master plan” to protect the historic nature of OG and to rezone for the promotion of single family houses. OGHOA promotes secular tourism while working with CMA to increase religious tourism. New people come into town to buy homes and invest in businesses.
The historic Neptune High School is saved from becoming low income housing by a group of Ocean Grove homeowners led by Mr. Herb Herbst and with the assistance of State Senator Joseph Palaia and others. (3, 4) The Jersey Shore Arts Center is owned and run today by a nonprofit tax exempt organization: The Ocean Grove Historic Preservation Society.
2000: Secular goals achieved as of 2000: increased property values, increased upgrading of houses, improved relations with Neptune, improved downtown with quaint shops, art galleries, cafes, etc., reduced crime, increased tourism, reduced deinstitutionalized patients, demographic changes (increased gays, empty nesters, retirees, professionals, academics, young artists, and middle class families).
2005: House prices peak.
2007: New topics emerge: North end development, ocean pavilion dispute (gays vs. CMA), evolving demographics including more second home purchases, significant increases in property taxes, parking problems, Asbury Park development stalls, and home prices decline.
October 29, 2012. super-storm Sandy hits the Jersey Shore and destroys the Ocean Grove beachfront, part of the Great Auditorium roof, and floods the south side of town.
SAM AND DAVE:
1. R. Gibbons, History of Ocean Grove: 1869-1939 (Ocean Grove Times, 1939)
2. K. Schmelzkopf, Landscape, ideology, and religion: a geography of Ocean Grove, New Jersey, Journal of Historical Geography, 28, 4 (2002) 589-608
3. Kevin Chambers, Herb Herbst, and Wayne T. Bell, personal communication,( 2008)
4. Archives, Asbury Park Press, (Feb 19, 1997.)