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Folks in Emory Grove take part in religious services in the Tabernacle in July of 1980.
Folks in Emory Grove take part in religious services in the Tabernacle in July of 1980. (Weyman Swagger / Baltimore Sun files / 1980)

For Ann Weller Dahl, memories of Emory Grove stretch way back like the sun dappled shadows on a summer's day that fall from ancient stands of maples, poplars, oaks and pines across 55 acres of what was originally established as a Methodist summer camp meeting in the 19th century.

"We would come and stay from Memorial Day through Labor Day," recalled Dahl, 79, a retired Calvert School educator and Roland Park resident, who grew up in the 2800 block of Guilford Ave., and whose family first started spending summers in Emory Grove in 1915.

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"I was almost born at Emory Grove," said Dahl with a laugh. "The family was there and mother went into labor six weeks early. They returned to the city and I was born at Union Memorial, but I don't know if they came back that summer or not."

But ever since 1939, Dahl and her family have been regulars at The Grove.

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"1945 was my first year here," said Pauline Sinclair, 72, of Finksburg. "Mother had the car packed the day school ended in Catonsville, and we didn't come back until it opened in September."

Both women recalled when they were children of spending their days happily exploring the woods and fields in a wholesome atmosphere.

Named for Methodist Bishop John Emory, Emory Grove traces its origins to services held on Aug. 15, 1868, but the establishment of Emory Grove did not take place until 1871 when the Baltimore Conference of the Methodist Church adopted the charter and by-laws of what became known as the Emory Grove Camp-Meeting Association of Baltimore City.

The Emory Grove train station.
The Emory Grove train station. (Brendan Cavanaugh / P3 Imaging Inc. / Patuxent Publishing)

In the beginning, guests, as they were called, arrived at Emory Grove by streetcar, carriage or by passenger trains that called at Glyndon and Emory Grove.

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"The streetcar came and looped by the hotel," Dahl pointed out to a visitor.

They stayed in 300 tents measuring 16-by-56-feet that sat atop wooden platforms. Water was hand-pumped from wells, illumination was by oil lamp, and outhouses served as bathrooms.

For those desiring a less spartan lifestyle than tents, they stayed in one of the three wooden hotels with sweeping porches that stood on the retreat's grounds.

Emory Grove guests were expected to follow explicit rules. The Grove started as a Methodist camp meeting ground.
Emory Grove guests were expected to follow explicit rules. The Grove started as a Methodist camp meeting ground. (Brendan Cavanaugh / P3 Imaging Inc. / Patuxent Publishing)

The Emory Grove Grand Hotel, which was built in 1887 and has not booked guests since the 1940s, is the lone survivor of the original trio of hotels. Today, it's used for Grove events and is also a rental venue.

In the early days, Methodists came not only for relief from the searing heat of Baltimore summers, but also for religious reasons, as prominent Methodist ministers from across the country preached at its famed wooden open-air "Tabernacle," where religious services are still held.

Perhaps one of the most famous evangelists to preach there was Billy Sunday, who arrived at Emory Grove on Aug. 6, 1932, and fired up his audience.

Sunday, who was known for various gyrations including stomping the floor and slapping his leg, was known for calling out, "Remember Babylon! Remember Nineveh! Remember Rome!" and traditionally concluded his revivals by advising converts to "hit the sawdust trail."

Wooden cottages began replacing the tent city between 1900 and 1925. Residents do not own the land their cottage stands on, which is owned and managed by the Emory Grove Association of Baltimore City Inc.

The 47 cottages, which sit alongside rambling lanes barely a car wide, are one story with five rooms. They also include such modern conveniences as electricity and indoor plumbing.

For years, guests stayed in tents in Emory Grove.
For years, guests stayed in tents in Emory Grove. (Brendan Cavanaugh / P3 Imaging Inc. / Patuxent Publishing)

A porch leads into a front room — a bedroom — which then leads to what is both a dining and living room, with a kitchen and bath, as well as another bedroom, completing the layout of a cozy cottage.

American flags from many of them give this place, which seems to be frozen in time, an aura as if it had been lifted from a Norman Rockwell painting.

Another cottage is the year-round residence of the caretaker who cares for the community; its season generally ends by late October or early November.

Sinclair now owns the cottage of her grandmother, who first came to the Grove in the early 1930s.

"I can sit on her porch and hear my grandmother's voice saying, 'Don't slam the screen door,'" she said with a laugh. "It's a way of life here that is committed to God and country."

Even though it began as a Methodist summer camping ground, since the 1950s the community has been interdenominational.

"We have a wide variety of people," Dahl said. "You don't have to be a Methodist to own property here. A lot of the Grovers are local people."

Today, religious services are confined to Sunday worship and Wednesday hymn sings, which are free and open to the public.

Other summer events include lawn fetes, bake sales, suppers, antique auto rallies and teas that are sponsored by the Ladies Auxiliary of Emory Grove.

Children hang out at The Temple, which was built in 1906 as a children's church, and is now a recreation area.

A 150th anniversary book on Emory Grove was published this year.

"Come ye apart from the madding crowd and may you hear a soft voice saying, 'Be still and know that I am God,'" has appeared in the Emory Grove bulletin for years, and sums up the tranquility that can be found there.

Further information on events at Emory Grove can be found at www.emorygrove.net.

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