Camp Meetings

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Camp Meetings

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Early gatherings of Spiritualists were often called camp meetings, taking place on the shores of a lake or some other rural place. They later came to be called assemblies. The first camp meetings took place at Lake Pleasant, Massachusetts. Originally a gathering of tents, these meetings later grew to include 500 cottages, a grocery store, hotel, and refreshment stands. Such gatherings would often last throughout the summer with mediums and lecturers—many of them prominent—becoming temporary residents on the site. Onset, Massachusetts, was another early camp meeting place as was Lily Dale, New York, on the shores of Lake Cassadaga.

Small camp meetings first appeared in the 1850s, with low attendance and lasting only a few days. These gradually grew into the larger gatherings that lasted all summer long and attracted thousands. As they grew and became regular events, cottages were built to replace tents, and other amenities were added. There was generally a festive attitude though great attention was paid to the speakers and mediums.

Although Lake Pleasant was the largest of the early gatherings, the Cassadaga Lake Free Assembly—later renamed Lily Dale—became the most popular. It was established in 1879, in Chautauqua County, New York. By 1893, it had 215 cottages with approximately forty families living there year round. In 1888, the United States Postal Service installed a post office there. It currently covers 160 acres and is the largest and most active of such communities. In 1894, the Southern Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp Meeting Association was established in Florida, as a counterpart to the New York assembly. On the west coast, the Harmony Grove Spiritualist Camp Meeting Association was formed and incorporated in San Diego in 1896. It still operates today.


Buckland, Raymond: Buckland’s Book of Spirit Communications. St. Paul: Llewellyn, 2004
Guthrie, John J. Jr.; Phillip Charles Lucas; and Gary Monroe (eds): Cassadaga: the South’s Oldest Spiritualist Community. University Press of Florida, 2000
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