Saturday, May 14, 2011

If You're Fond of Sand Dunes and Salty Air...

Cape Cod is a uniquely shaped peninsula jutting out into the Atlantic. Often compared to an arm, in Thoreau's Cape Cod nobody does it better:

"Cape Cod is the bared and bended arm of Massachusetts: the shoulder is at Buzzard's Bay; the elbow or crazy bone at Cape Mallebarre*; the wrist at Truro and the sandy fist at Provincetown- behind which the State stands on her guard with her back to the Green Mountains, and her feet planted on the floor of the ocean, like an athlete protecting her Bay,-boxing with northeast storms and ever and anon heaving up her Atlantic adversary from the lap of earth,-ready to thrust forward her other fist which keeps guard the while upon her breast at Cape Ann."

I spend my summers in South Yarmouth on the Cape, which is just about midway on the humerus, about the bicep area. As a child the first summer vacation I ever remember was in Yarmouth, off Lewis Street, turning at the big white Congregational Church off Rte. 28. We rented various cottages in the area until my parents bought our very own little cottage in the neighboring town of  Dennisport, on a perfectly straight, unpaved street, lined with cottages one right after the other. Leading directly down to the beach, it was just a short walk, taken hundreds maybe thousands of times over the years that we spent there. It was Uncle Rolf Road-number 13 and 1/2, the 1/2 having been added by the Triskaidekephobian former owners.

13 and 1/2 Uncle Rolf Road

This is our cottage on Uncle Rolf Rd., Now number 77. The white clapboards with light green trim
has been replaced by natural wood shakes. But, everything else looks pretty much the same.
The road is still unpaved.

I was never happier as a kid than when we were on the Cape. The beach, the sun, the sand, the salty air. We had a large group of friends, many of whom returned to their family's favorite rentals year after year on Uncle Rolf Road. We would forever identify certain weeks of the summer as belonging to this family or that family. As a young teen-aged girl I was  lucky to have a brother only a year older than me who introduced me to some cute boys during the summers as well as off-season. We became particularly close friends with some of the 'townies' during our off season weekends, in fact, some 40 years later I married one of them! But that's another story.

All day we'd spend at the beach, leaving only to walk to Caroline's store for a Coke or the latest issue of Mad Magazine or Teen Idol. We'd walk the beach, we'd walk to the store, we'd walk to our friends' cottages. We walked and walked and walked everywhere. At night, we'd walk to the Tastee Tower of Pizza in Shad Hole or hang out behind Bastian's 5 and 10 at the miniature golf place where they also sold ice cream. We would hang around until they chased us away and we'd just move the group to the next spot. The boys might give a little macho lip to the grownups who had told us to move along, but it was part of the routine and it became expected, something to laugh about, more fuel to the "them against us" generation gap mentality of the 60s. We'd walk back to Uncle Rolf Road and gather on our porch and listen to records or maybe walk  further down the street, toward the beach and all sit on the wooden fence under the streetlight, listening to the cicadas and the constant ocean, always there as the backdrop to whatever we did and wherever we walked.

My husband Ed and his family are Yarmouth natives, although he lived in Dennisport when I met him. But his mother's family, the Crowells, go back to the Mayflower and as far back as there are records for Yarmouth. Ed's sister still lives in Bass River, a part of Yarmouth, where I now spend my summers.

When I was looking through some of my family photos, I came across a photo from back in the 30s, or maybe even the late 20s.  Handwriting on the face of  this photo identify my great grandparents, May Budd and Leslie J. Hall, who lived in New York City at the time. Also in the picture is my great grand Aunt Lillian Goodnow. Lill was Leslie's sister who lived in Sudbury, MA with her husband Howard, who may have taken the picture. (For you regular readers, Leslie and Lillian were two of Henrietta's children.)

In addition to identifying the people in the photo, in the same person's hand are written the words "Yarmouth Mass". When I first saw this photo a few years ago, I was shocked because as far as I knew, we were the first in our immediate family to spend time on the Cape. My grandparents never spoke about going there and didn't seem very familiar with the Cape when we spoke about it, nor did any of my Aunts, Uncles or Cousins. But here I have proof that my great grandparents at least visited there at some point 80 or 90 years ago.

I was so curious about this photo that I decided to send it to a friend of mine, John Sears. John is a good friend of Ed's sister and her husband and he and I have had many very interesting discussions about Yarmouth's history and the local genealogy. He knows everything about the area and I was pretty sure he'd have some idea about the buildings in the background. Sure enough, he did. He suggested that this was probably  the Methodist Camp-meeting Grounds. I hadn't ever heard of the place, nor had I any idea where it is located in Yarmouth. I set the photo aside and went on to other research and stories.

But, this photo kept coming up to the top of the pile and finally, I decided to spend a little time with it. On Ed's behalf, some time ago I joined a group on Facebook called "Descendants of the Settlers of Yarmouth, Massachusetts". I posted the photo there a few days ago and asked if anyone could confirm John's identification of the Camp-meeting grounds. Sure enough, four different members of the Facebook group all agreed with John. One even gave me directions so I will be able to go find the spot this summer. And, another person is going to identify the exact cottage in the photo for us.

Having answered the question about where the picture was taken, I wanted to know more about this place known as the Methodist Camp-Meeting Grounds and so I set out to see what I could find.

The "Methodist Camp-Meeting" was a "happening" that took place every year in grounds selected by the Camp-Meeting Association in the area. These meetings took place all over the country beginning in the early 19th century. It was a place where people thirsting for a "religious" experience that was out of the ordinary, something different and more intense than the weekly services in the white-steepled houses of worship to which these New Englanders of puritan heritage were accustomed.  Folks from miles away would gather for a week or ten days, listening to preachers, joining in hymn singing, praying, weeping converting while enjoying the experience of camping with their families and church associates. These Camp-meetings became wildly popular all over the country.

Prior to settling at the Yarmouth site, this particular Camp-meeting began in Welfleet in 1819, the first on Cape Cod. Then it moved to Provincetown and Eastham before finally moving to  Yarmouth in 1863, when the railroad line came to town. Also about the same time, another Camp-meeting was underway on Martha's Vineyard, an island off the Cape. This Camp-meeting was very successful and most people who visit the Vineyard today are familiar with the Oak Bluffs location.

Henry David Thoreau
However, when Thoreau was on the Cape he came across the Eastham Camp-meeting grounds, a couple of decades before the Camp-Meeting was moved to Yarmouth. Thoreau wrote the following about what he had seen:

"It is fenced and the frames of the tents are at all times to be seen interspersed among the oaks.  They have an oven and a pump and at all times keep all their kitchen utensils and tent coverings and furniture in a permanent building on the spot.They select a time for their meetings when the moon is full. A man is appointed to clear out the pump a week beforehand, while the ministers are clearing their throats; but probably the latter do not always deliver as pure a stream as the former. 
I saw the heaps of clam shells left under the tables, where they had in previous summers and, supposed of course, that that was the work of the unconverted or the backsliders and scoffers. It looked as if a camp meeting must be a singular combination of a prayer meeting and a picnic."

(Thoreau really did have a sense of humor.)

In the early years, the attendees would sleep in huge communal tents, with the men on one side and the women on the other, separated by a curtain drawn between them. As the years went on, these large communal tents fell out of favor and were replaced with smaller individual tents. By the time they moved to Yarmouth, there were about 175 family tents and 40 "society" tents that would accommodate church groups from visiting churches.

They'd bring their whole families, from little babies to the elderly, or come in groups from churches, bringing food and provisions for ten days for everyone in their party. Trunks and baggage filled with all of their needs must have been heavy and difficult to carry. The railroad allowed people from off Cape to attend more easily attracting crowds of thousands where before the railroad it was just the locals who would attend.  The railroad opened the Cape up to everyone.

"Getting to the old Eastham camp ground on Cape Cod, for example, required an effort of biblical proportions. Parishioners took a carriage to the Old Colony road to Barnstable, transferred to the ferry to Eastham,. Rowed ashore until the boat ran aground in the tidal flats, hoisted their clothes, books , cooking gear, and elderly relatives onto an amphibious wagon, and splashed to shore through three feet of water until they reached solid ground, at which point they unloaded their baggage and walked a mile to the grove. When the steel rail came to Cape Cod…They needed only to unload their bags at the railroad station, where guests enjoyed the services of a stationmaster, a ticket window, a waiting room, a telegraph operator a baggage master, and a large baggage room. From the station, visitors walked only a few hundred yards to their tents or cottages.”

From The Chautauqua moment: Protestants, progressives, and the culture of modern liberalism By Andrew Chamberlin Rieser

A family tent at Martha's Vineyard Camp-meeting Grounds
(from A City in the Woods by Ellen Weiss)
 In the mid 1870s, replacing the tents, little permanent cottages were built to house the participants. These permanent little buildings, with gingerbread trim and arched windows may have been the beginning of the custom of renting cottages for a vacation on the Cape because the grounds no longer closed before or after the Camp-Meeting each year. Instead, they'd rent out the cottages to individuals and groups, some associated with churches, some not at all. 
Yarmouth Camp-meeting cottage.

Cottages at Camp-meeting Grounds Oak Bluffs, Martha's Vineyard 1859
(City in the Woods by Ellen Weiss)

Oak Bluffs Martha's Vineyard Camp-meeting Cottages Today
There was also a  huge wooden tabernacle constructed at the Yarmouth Camp-Meeting Grounds that held 1,500 people. The large services were held here.

Becoming Cape Cod by James O'Connell

Interior of Yarmouth Tabernacle
Becoming Cape Cod by James O'Connell

The prayer meetings at the beginning of the day were followed by services in the tabernacle. Hymn Sings were a staple and Camp-meetings inspired hymnals made up of hymns written for these Camp-meetings.

Then, during the day I imagine it was a little like the fairs and festivals that they have all over the Cape these days. The crowds would move along, stopping to listen to various preachers in tents pitched in a circle among the trees, similar to the booths today's crafters set up at today's fairs. The families might stop and learn some new hymns in one tent, then stroll on to the next where they might sample some oyster soup or clam chowder or a piece of saltwater taffy for the children.
 In an August 1864 article in the New York Times, the writer tells us that there was a tent with a barber and another with a dentist at the Yarmouth Camp-meeting. And on Thursdays, the "outsiders" and "roughs" from Boston and other cities would arrive for the weekend. I wonder Lady May and Great Grandfather Leslie were considered "roughs". Probably not.

When the bell would ring at various times during the day everyone would go to the Tabernacle and seated on the wooden chairs and benches they'd listen for hours to the preachers who had become well-known to them. Like the keynote speakers at a convention today, attendees would look forward to these special guest speakers. Moans and cries of Amen and Glory to God would ring out from the crowd of people, some so  filled with the 'spirit' they couldn't contain themselves. Although difficult for me to imagine, these otherwise straitlaced, reserved New Englanders would be so fired up they'd actually engage in public displays of faith and emotion. Who knew?

At night, after supper, they'd all gather at the tabernacle for evening services; and when the benediction had been said and the last hymn had been sung, they'd head in small groups to their society tents for prayer meetings to close the day. The families would then walk back to their own cottages and tents, fireflies punctuating the salty August air, fathers carrying the littlest sleeping children in their arms past dying campfires; the older ones skipping on ahead with a final burst of energy for the day, their faces pink from the sun and full of the 'spirit' and ready to climb into their beds. Can someone give me an Amen?

Though some Camp-Meetings still survive today, including the one on the Vineyard, the Methodist Camp-Meeting in Yarmouth lasted from 1863 until 1939.                  


Lady May,
My great Grandmother

Leslie J.
My great Grandfather

My great grandparents may have just been there for a vacation from the hustle and bustle of Manhattan. Although they were members of the Park Avenue Methodist Episcopal Church in New York City. So they were religious folk and active in their congregations.

So I can't know for sure if they were Pilgrims who had traveled many miles to attend the Camp-Meeting, but if they were, well then, I guess Ed isn't the only one in the family with ancestors who were Pilgrims on Cape Cod!

*Today Cape Mallebarre is known as Chatham

1 comment:

Heather Rojo said...

I loved the photos of the houses and tabernacle at Vineyard Haven. We have friends who live year round in one of those teeny, doll sized homes. My sister lives on the island, and we've attended many school functions and the high school graduation in the tabernacle. My mom grew up in one of those Methodist campgrounds in Hamilton, Massachusetts. Her grandparents lived in the same cottages. Although these places started out as vacation camps, they have evolved into interesting permanent neighborhoods.