At Play in the Gate of Heaven: Methodist Material Discourses of Leisure and the Picturesque at Round Lake, New York

By Avery-Quinn, Samuel | Material Culture, Spring 2017 | Go to article overview

At Play in the Gate of Heaven: Methodist Material Discourses of Leisure and the Picturesque at Round Lake, New York


Avery-Quinn, Samuel, Material Culture


Introduction

"Every large summer resort now has its shadow in the shape of an encampment," wrote Shirley Dare, describing the luxuries of camp meeting life . "Long Branch has its Ocean Grove, Newport has the Vineyard, and Nahant has its neighbor on Salisbury Beach" (1871a) . Covering the June 1871 New York State Camp Meeting at Round Lake for the New York World, she extolled the virtues of Christian vacationing . Round Lake was a charming village on a ridge, west of a serene lake . The Saratoga County village's cottages were Methodist nests among the trees, their wide doors and French windows showcasing decorated parlors For Dare, who wrote with a travel writer's attention to landscape and an advice columnist's concern for fashion, camp meeting pivoted on sociability and a luxuriant array of objects . In the walnut trim of the Delaware and Hudson Railway's station, the Rural Gothic cottages, and the hand-painted chromographs decorating cottage parlors, Dare found the material trappings of mid-century Methodism's embrace of what Richard Bushman termed "vernacular gentility" in a landscape that was the moral mirror of the nearby secular resort of Saratoga Springs (1992) . In this article, I explore the creation of a Methodist leisure culture at Round Lake that, in part, was a response to the challenges of secular Victorian leisure - a response with implications for the study of respectable resorts across the United States (Aron 2001; Sterngass 2001; Tolles 2003, 2008; Uminowicz 1992) . While I share other scholars' concerns for camp meetings as significant sites for the articulation of religious experience, Methodistic governmentality, and ritual performance, here I stress the capacity of camp meeting as one vehicle for maintaining Methodist identity in the face of modernity by offering an alternative venue to secular vacationing (Cooley 1996; Messenger 1999; Schmelzkopf 2002) .

In this frame, I conceptualize the material landscape of camp meeting as an assemblage of objects strategically deployed and redeployed in the give-and-take between the planners and users of that landscape (Layton 1996) . Planners designed and maintained camp meeting as a reflection of a normative vision in an effort to create a controlled representation of their religious ideology (Mitchell 1996; Schmelzkopf 1992, 589-590) . Assemblages of objects in this material landscape bear a certain collective "secondary agency" mediating the shared beliefs and intentions, not of their creators per se, but more directly of their deployers, extending those acts of deployment outward in chains of causation affecting an ever-expanding circle of other objects and human actors who engage those assemblages (Bratman 1992, 1999; Chua and Elliott 2013; Gell 1998; List and Pettit 2011) . Yet, the space of planners is transformed in everyday experience. As users engage those assemblages of objects and the cultural codes the objects embody, users generate both explicit, formal knowledges shared with the planners, as well as less formal, sometimes implicit, local knowledges, or connaissances, structuring their spatial practices and sense of place (Lefebvre 1991) . In concert, these assemblages, local knowledges, and spatial practices, are expressed in landscape discourses by planners and users In camp meeting resorts, I argue these discourses offer a window into the spatial strategies by which Methodists sought to maintain Methodist identity and create a culture of Methodist leisure that transformed the traditional revivalist landscape of camp meeting

At Play in Camp Meeting

Camp meetings were a hallmark of the American Methodist summer (Brown 1992; Johnson 1954; Richey 2015) . With origins in the frontier revivals of the Second Great Awakening, camp meetings drew Methodists and curious observers into the American forests for a week to ten days of preaching, prayer, and ecstatic displays of religious conversion . Through the 1840s, camp meetings were significant social and ritual events driving Methodist denominational growth . …

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