History of Highland Park
The camp meeting is an American Phenomenon. The ideas and social experiments, construction know how and urban layouts have influenced the country for over two hundred years. This is why the National Government is recognizing such sites as worthy of being on the National Registry and why the West Rockhill Historical Society worked so hard to get Highland Park Camp Meeting on the National Registry.
At the same time ( 1798) that John Fries was leading his rebellion against taxes ( read more on John Fries under our Images of West Rockhill ) our west ministers were bringing the word of God to the settlers. In order to reach the largest number of people, the concept of camp meeting was developed. The places and times where communicated through word of mouth. The site was always in a grove of trees and there had to be a source of pure water. A raised platform for the ministers to preach from would be built. Trees were felled for benches. The participants would use tents for shelter and bring their own food. The event would last for several days. The days were spent in song, one of the best ways to teach illiterate folk, preaching and praying.
The pivotal meeting took place in Kentucky at Cane Ridge in 1801. Eighteen ministers, Presbyterian, Methodist and Baptists were there to preach. The meeting drew an astonishing 25,000 people. At that time the population of Lexington was 1,800. The enthusiasm and freedom of expression by the laity went on for six days and often into the night. Conversions were in the thousands. Cane ridge drew national attention and was the most reported religious event in American History. hoping to recreate the religious experience, there were soon thousands of camp meetings across the country.
In 1854 Rev. B.W. Gorham published the Camp Meeting manual. This addresses the religious and practical issues of holding a Camp Meeting and became the main guide book for Camp Meetings everywhere. Rather than scout for a new location every year, land was bought and incorporated. The land was owned by the corporation and the corporation set the rules. The tent or cottage was owned by the individuals who where in turn members of the corporation. If an individual refused to follow the rules, they could be ask to leave and they would pick up there cottage or tent and leave.
The ministers platforms became permanent structures. A roof and a new covered platform with seating, and was opened on three sides. These buildings were called tabernacles of Auditoriums, in the South they were called Arbors.
The tents were assigned in patterns around the tabernacle, either circular, horseshoe, fan or radial. Tents were always arranged so the front door with there little porches faced the street, promoting a sense of community. Over the years the tents became tiny houses sitting on the tent footprint. As camps grew in popularity and spread across the East and West coasts, the tiny houses developed into ornate cottages. By the end of the ninetieth century the cottages in many place evolved into large Victorian homes. The homes became permanent year round dwellings and communities. Two good examples are Cape May NJ and Pacific Grove in California.
By the late 1800's and early 1900's the ever popular Camp Meeting's focus was not on religious revival but living a Christian life and became a place for families to vacation. The camps were located near rail roads and trolley lines. This arraignment allowed the husband to take his family out of the city for a week or month and still catch the train to go back to work.
Highland Park Camp Meeting started in 1895. This unique little camp meeting still follows the Gorham's 1854 manual on how to organize and run a camp. It was built in a grove of trees with a pure water source. Incorporated, members were given stock dividends in the early years. The tabernacle is in the center of a radial plan. The original buildings are still standing. True to it's original charter this Camp Meeting still has a religious core and is noted in particular for it's musical programs and young people's summer camp. Currently, a number of cottage owners' forefathers were the original founders. Retirees use the camp as their summer homes and winter in Florida.
It should be noted that in 1898 and 1899 Highland Park located in West Rockhill Township was use for Chautauqua. Over 8000 people attended. At the time there were only 400 people living in Sellersville. Chautauqua started in 1875 at Lake Chautauqua New York Camp Meeting. John Vincent and Lewis Miller designed a program to train Sunday School teachers through a series of educational and cultural lectures. This was he beginning of the Chautauqua Movement. By the mid 1800's it had evolved into a course of personal improvement through guided reading, study and discussion. Higher education was the preserve of the wealthy. The Chautauqua offered a means by which the middle class could continue their education.
In order to reach more people, Circuit Chautauqua's began travelling around the county featuring lectures. music and theater. William Jennings Bryan and John Philip Sousa are examples of people involved in this circuit. Chautauqua's lost their momentum with the invention of the radio. movies and automobiles. Today you can still attend a Chautauqua at Lake Chautauqua, home of the American Opera company, or go to Mt. Greta.
So step back into the past and visit Highland Park Camp Meeting. A must see is their Museum, brain child of the late Merle Landes of one of the original founders of Highland Park.