Forty-two years ago local Pennington and Skillman residents, Mae True, Howard and Sallie Hoagland, Earl Hubbard, Leona Hubbard Stewart and Sarah Blackwell Harris met with a writer from the Princeton Recollector to talk about an event that people would start talking about the "first peep of spring", the annual Camp Meeting.
This group of faithful stewards was responsible for bringing the Skillman Camp Meeting to life once again. The Camp Meeting was originally a Methodist meeting revival but everybody was welcome. A local farmer Tom Brophy donated land near the brook that ran alongside the meeting grounds on what is now named Camp Meeting Avenue.
Camp Meeting, Harper's Weekly, August, 1872, NYPL
An old slave, John Robinson was the boss of the Camp Meeting. Ben Grover and some of the men shoveled the cow manure before each service, they made seats out of planks of wood and tomato crates donated by the local farmers where they all worked. They made a pulpit for the preacher out of a wooden box, and a stage for the choir from the sister church Bethel AME from Pennington and other well known local singers.
They came from all over, from Princeton, Rocky Hill, Kingston, Pennington, Hopewell, Neshanic, Somerville, Belle Mead and Trenton. Toward the end of the last century two small African American churches from Pennington and Skillman organized the Camp Meetings which were held the last two Sundays in July and the first two Sundays of August. The services would begin about 3:30 and would last until about 5:30 pm. These revivals grew in popularity, blacks and whites came from as far as Yardley, Pennsylvania. They came by train, horse and buggy and some came on foot, dressed in the best Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes.
These were happy occasions held annually to raise funds for the Mt. Zion AME Church on Hollow Road in Skillman (future home of the Stoutsburg Sourland African American Museum (SSAAM) until the 1930’s. This was the most exciting event for the community, bringing together distant friends and family to worship, sing, and share a meal together. Mrs. Ben Grover, Aunt Crindy (Corinda True, wife of Spencer True), and Mrs. Hannah Robinson were in charge of the “regular old farmer’s meal”—they didn’t charge anymore than a dollar—50 cents for children and a dollar for grown- ups. These mouth watering goodies were prepared with lots of hard labor and love. Mrs. Hannah Robinson made luscious pies and they served homemade ice cream made by a man in Hopewell named Whitehead.
Farmers and Sourland Mountain folks who didn’t usually go to church would come to the camp meeting - it was a very happy time for all. Everybody was just like one big family. For more exciting and heart wrenching stories about the Camp Meeting and the people who ran it, keep an eye out for our upcoming book “If These Stone’s Could Talk.” We're still fundraising for the publication of the book which we target to be available by Spring 2018.