A History of Methodist Camp Meeting Towns and Lessons for Sustaining Vibrant Communities Today


Over 150 years ago, Methodists undertook one of the greatest ventures in the history of town planning in America.

Between the 1860s and the 1890s, Methodists established over 150 new camp meeting communities. Part religious revival, part suburb, and part middle-class vacation resort, camp meeting communities were popular with religious vacationers and many soon transformed into thriving resort towns. Popularity drove town growth, but popularity also brought challenges. Decades before the professionalization of town planning in the United States, the boards of Methodist ministers and laity overseeing these communities had to cobble together strategies to address issues from managing lot sales to garbage collection, maintaining streets, policing, providing a water supply, and even dealing with sewage.

This presentation explores the ways such planning strategies shaped the landscape of camp meeting communities and how town planners today (including advocates of “new urbanism”) have turned to similar strategies to create more livable, sustainable, and walkable communities.

Dr. Samuel Avery-Quinn is a University College Senior Lecturer at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina where he studies landscape in American religious history. His recent book, Cities of Zion: The Holiness Movement and Camp Meeting Towns in America (Lexington Books, 2019) explores how late-19th-century Methodist efforts to create camp meeting resorts gave members of the Wesleyan Holiness movement spaces to develop and practice their theology in the decades before many holiness folks left the Methodist church for new holiness denominations. He is currently working on a book about the ”afterlife” of camp meeting communities, exploring what happened to camp meeting resorts in the Northeast in the 20th century.

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