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A 150-year-old camp-meeting site provides a summertime sanctuary

The air really seems cooler under the big oak trees off Butler Road at the end of Waugh Avenue in Glyndon. A pair of rough stone pillars mark the entrance to Emory Grove, a summertime sanctuary celebrating its 150th year.

A former Methodist Church camp meeting ground, this now-private, park-like oasis is hosting a tour Saturday of the rustic cottages that replaced the tents where families once gathered to sing Christian hymns, listen to a preacher and leave their sins somewhere else. Today's events marking the site's 150th anniversary include a blueberry bake sale and antique car rally.

The grove consists of a former summer hotel now rented out for special events, 47 cottages now usually used as weekend getaways, an open-air tabernacle and a series of paths. Minimal outside lighting shines down from electric bulbs and green enamel reflectors suspended from wires. The moon and the stars do the rest.

The Emory Grove owners association states as its purpose: "To promote Christianity through summer religious services and seasonal activities, to preserve and maintain the natural and historic environment through the active and progressive community spirit of participation, and to provide a calm and lovely refuge for the soul."

Emory Grove is all about a day in July or August when the hydrangeas are at their peak and hummingbirds dart around four-o'clocks. Forget the gin and tonics; Emory Grove is lemonade land.

Emory Grove was named for Methodist bishop, lawyer and publisher John Emory, who was born in Anne Arundel County. He lived nearby and was killed when the brakes failed on his carriage on Reisterstown Road in 1835. Emory University in Atlanta was also named for him.

"Camp meetings really weren't begun by Methodists, but they were perfected by Methodists and they persisted through the Methodists," said the Rev. Emora Brannon, a historian who is the former pastor of Lovely Lane and Grace Methodist churches in Baltimore.

He said camp meetings were established in the warm-weather months before the Civil War, and they began again after the end of hostilities. Not all survived in as pristine condition as Emory Grove. Descendants of the original Methodist families and other like-minded summer settlers have maintained or bought spaces here over the years to embrace an unadorned version of summer.

"People came to these large meeting grounds with the intention of staying," Brannon said. "They traveled distances and couldn't go home at night, so they erected large tents, long and straight. The dimensions of those tents became the size of the lots when people built more permanent homes."

There were other 19th-century camp meeting sites, including Mountain Lake Park in Garrett County, Washington Grove outside the District of Columbia and Summit Grove at Blue Ridge Summit, Pa., but they have changed considerably from their original religious origins. Emory Grove remains true to its founding ideas, with Wednesday night hymn sings and 7 p.m. Sunday services through August.

Emory Grove was not a such a sleepy place in 1917, when a gospel music sensation, Homer Rodeheaver, helped attract one Sunday in August. The Baltimore Sun reported that "Rody," as the trombone-playing evangelizer was known, was the big draw. "Fully 15,000 persons were on the grounds during the day. ... The woods in the rear of the long rows of one-story cottages occupied by the camp colony was crowded by automobiles and carriages."

Rodeheaver, who composed popular hymns, normally worked alongside powerhouse evangelist Billy Sunday, who had led a gospel crusade in Baltimore the year before.

"We come as close as we can in 2017 to the old days," said Linda Zarych, an Emory Grove summer resident, as she unloaded boxes of blueberries on the porch of the old hotel prior to their transformation into pies, other dishes and sauce for ice cream.

The tour ($10) of the Emory Grove cottages runs from noon to 3 p.m. today. The bake sale is 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. at the old hotel.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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