By LISA CAPOBIANCO
What began 150 years ago as a place for religious revival has transformed into a vital seasonal residential community here in Plainville.
This Saturday, the Plainville Campgrounds will celebrate its 150th anniversary to honor the past while moving forward to the future. The event will begin with cottage tours from 2 to 5 p.m., and a food stand will be open from 5 to 7 p.m. At dusk, the campground will be illuminated with lanterns and lights.
“It’s all very interesting how it has lasted so long,” said Dee Tousey, chairperson of the 150th anniversary committee, who lives on the campgrounds during the summer.
The Plainville Campgrounds were founded in 1865 by the New Haven District of the Methodist Church. At that time, a spirit of religious revivalism emerged in the nation in the aftermath of the Civil War, and the Methodist Church bought farm land in Plainville to hold revival meetings, which brought over 3,000 people at times. These meetings were initially held in an open field in the center of the campgrounds, with people living in tents surrounding the area. A train station was built on Camp Street and local farmers offered rides to the area with horses and wagons.
During the early 1900s, a covered auditorium was built as well as an administration building. At that time, the member churches also started to erect buildings around the tabernacle. Individuals started to build cottages in a spoke-type pattern radiating out from this central core and they spent longer periods of time in the Campgrounds, even when a revival meeting was not occurring.
As the years passed, the Campgrounds hosted larger gatherings, sparked by the participation of several other local and national organizations, including the American Temperance movement, the Grand Army of the Republic (forerunner of today’s veterans movement), Seventh Day Adventists, Forestville Camp and Bible Conference, and the Connecticut Chautauqua. Founded in New York, Chautauqua became a summer “Lyceum,” holding lectures, concerts, entertainment and a summer school for Sunday school teachers.
After the revival movement began to fade in the mid-20th Century, the Methodist Church sold the land to a group of cottage owners in the late 1950s. These owners formed the Plainville Camp Grounds Association, which petitioned for the site to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Over the years, due to some neglect during the 1940s and 1950s, some cottages were torn down, but the ones that exist have been maintained and improved by their owners. Located at 320 Camp St., the 17-acre Campgrounds consist of 87 cottages, which are privately held on land with running water and sewers and owned by the Association. The cottages can only be occupied from May 1 through Oct. 31. Many residents of the campgrounds live in other states during the winter, such as Texas and Florida.
For Esther Pope, the campgrounds bring back memories from her childhood. Growing up in New Haven, Pope and her family began coming to the Campgrounds during the 1950s. Pope said the site gave her a place to have fun while making a lot of frienships.
“It gave us a place to run and ride our bikes,” said Pope. “There were a lot of things for kids to do.”
Today, Pope comes to the campgrounds with her husband Arthur, who is the author of “The Heart Strangely Warmed,” a book highlighting the campgrounds’ history. Both Esther and Arthur created an exhibit on the history of the Campgrounds, which is on display at the Plainville Historical Society.
“We have enjoyed getting to know people here,” said Pope,
This summer marks the second one in which Tousey and her husband has lived in a cottage on the Campgrounds. For Tousey, the location has brought her closer to her grandchildren, who live in surrounding and towns, as well as a sense of community. When not living at the campgrounds, Tousey and her husband spend about seven months in Florida.
“We’re a hidden gem in Connecticut,” said Tousey, adding how people living in the Campgrounds support local businesses in Plainville. “It’s a beautiful place.”
Governed by a Board of Directors elected by the owners, the campgrounds hold interdenominational services conducted by local clergy in the Parker Memorial Chapel every Sunday at 3 p.m. during the months of July and August.
In addition to holding chapel services, the Campgrounds bring its residents together with a variety of entertainment and activities. From Friday night pizza to Wii bowling and yoga to golf outings and pot luck dinners, the campgrounds offer more than just a place to reside during the summer. People also come together on bus trips to the casinos as well as community celebrations on Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day. Recently, the campgrounds hosted a car show with over 30 vehicles.
“It creates a community. It creates friendships,” said Pope, adding how she hopes the campgrounds will appeal to younger folks
“It’s like an old-fashioned community,” said Tousey, adding how some people have continued coming to the campgrounds for more than 30 years.
In addition, the site has an active Ladies Guild, where Dee currently serves as president.
On Saturday, Aug. 1, the annual tag sale will take place, which serves as the biggest fundraiser for the Ladies Guild. Dating back to at least the 1930s, the guild initially began as a quilting group, and hosted events to raise money.
Today, the Ladies Guild donates money to a local group or organization each year. To date, the guild has donated to the Plainville Police Department as well as the Fire Department, and a food pantry.
“The Ladies Guild was always interested in keeping the buildings up, and the beautification of the Campgrounds,” said Tousey.
The 150th anniversary of the Plainville Campgrounds will take place this Saturday at 320 Camp St.. Tickets for the cottage tours cost $10 and are available at the Dining Hall the day of the event. Anyone interested in attending the tours also can contact Sandra Utterback at (860) 584-1146 for purchase locations before the event. The rain date is July 18.
For more information about the Plainville Campgrounds, visit plainvillecampgrounds.org/.
By LISA CAPOBIANCO