PITTSBURGH -- The Methodists had the uncanny ability to pitch their summer revival camp tents on what would someday become prized real estate. Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts, Ocean City, N.J., and the Chautauqua Institution in western New York are just a few locations the Methodists chose.
The Martha's Vineyard Campmeeting Association, a National Historic Landmark, is considered the first. Before the Civil War, the camps were just tents surrounding a large open-air tabernacle used for services. After the war, small Victorian cottages sprang up in place of the tents, and the rest of the country discovered its beauty.
Another group of Methodists did the same thing in a wooded glen in Natrona Heights in 1849. Although this group didn't demonstrate the same real estate savvy as some of their brethren, they did have staying power. Now in its 168th year, the Pittsburgh Tarentum Campmeeting Association is a cottage community with a multidenominational Christian demographic.
"We have Catholics, Protestants and others," said Jack Richards, current president of the PTCA who has summered in the community since 2008.
A fire in the mid-1800s destroyed the original campsite on the other side of the gorge. This site is the camp's second coming. Today, 33 charming little summer cottages built circa 1870-1920s are nestled in a clearing in the woods surrounded by tall old oak trees.
They ring the Lindenmuth Tabernacle, an open-air structure, where services are held Wednesdays and Sundays at 7 p.m. in July and August and are open to the public. Occasional concerts are also free and open to anyone seeking a spiritual lift.
The PTCA is active from April 1 through Oct. 31 when it closes for the winter and residents head to warmer spots in Florida and Arizona or just down the Allegheny River to Oakmont.
"The cottages aren't winterized," said Cyndi Nace, chairman of the sales and lease committee.
"The outside wall is the inside wall. There is no insulation," added Debbie Caffacus, another resident.
Tom and Judy Doyle of Penn Hills bought and renovated their cottage nine years ago.