The Sacred Circle
Planned out and constructed in 1874, this is Washington Grove’s Sacred Circle. Now it is a place of social gathering and recreation. It had previously been the first gathering place in the camp meetings to worship and listen to the biblical preaching. As you look at this site, walk around or explore on Google images and imagine the efforts that went into preserving a space like this.
Backstory and Context
This area of the town is still called the Sacred Circle even though the Tabernacle no longer exists. The Sacred Circle (otherwise called an irregular polygon) was established for the second ever camp meeting in 1874 with a platform in the center for speakers, tent sites around the perimeter, and six avenues branching out from it. The Tabernacle was built in the center of the circle for the 1877 camp. The change from the first camp meeting in 1873 to the camp meeting in 1874 was, in fact, the Circle. Most of the previous tent sites has been changed in order to create the Circle and the avenues had mostly been changed.
Standing here it could be difficult to imagine the summer of 1874; the camp had about 250 campers and around 10,000 visitors from around the area and out of Washington, D. C. that summer. The Washington Grove Camp Meeting Association (WGCMA) had been struggling with proper drainage of the camp area since the previous year and had fluctuating relations with the Metropolitan Branch of the B & O Railroad. Despite these issues, the WGCMA used the Sacred Circle throughout its time as a camp meeting. By 1881, attendance and visitation had grown so much that the WGCMA built the Albany Hotel where the Women’s Club now stands. Around this same time shareholders and attendees began building permanent cottages on their plots. By 1885, the WGCMA had contracted the civil engineer J. C. Lang to undertake a survey to subdivide the unused land of Washington Grove into more tent sites, cottage sites, and, for the first time, specified common areas for recreation.
The Circle is still in use by the town today for recreation and social gatherings. You can see the town’s Independence Day Parade making its way through the heart of the sacred circle in 2008. Notice how no cars drive through the circle but drive around the outer edge behind the houses. The trees here have long been protected through the WGCMA’s actions of nature conservation and similar actions by the town of Washington Grove. Images will be added after COVID-19 restrictions are lifted and I can resume research.
Philip K. Edwards, Washington Grove 1873-1937: A History of the Washington Grove Camp Meeting Association (Washington Grove: Philip K. Edwards, 1988).
“History of Washington Grove,” Our History, Town of Washington Grove,