Guest Blog: The Montgomery County Emory Grove

By Morgan Miller-Scarborough, Independent Historian 

A photo of Emory Grove United Methodist Church taken in 1974 (courtesy of MHT)

A little over one year ago, the Maryland Historical Trust published a Facebook post about the Emory Grove Camp Meeting in Glyndon, Maryland. However, there was another Emory Grove Camp Meeting in Gaithersburg, Maryland. They were two completely different camp meetings that were not related to one another. Although much of Gaithersburg’s Emory Grove community has been lost, the site and its history still serve as an exceptional example of African American heritage in Montgomery County.

I came to know this difference in Emory Groves through my research on the town of Washington Grove; another Maryland Methodist camp meeting that ended up dissolving the Camp Meeting Association and becoming incorporated as a town in the 1930s. I learned that these two camp meetings were essentially next to each other. Today, you will see Washington Grove in a state of incredible preservation, but you will then not be able to really see where the Emory Grove camp was.

The Emory Grove United Methodist Church is the only building left standing from the Emory Grove Community and their camp meeting days. Despite being one of the oldest black communities in the county, the area has been largely replaced with apartment buildings and suburban development. The Emory Grove Camp Meeting and the Emory Grove Community were established between 1864 and 1870 when formerly enslaved people moved from Redland and Goshen and purchased land. The first church and school started in 1876 at the home of John Dorsey, a Civil War veteran who had begun working in the Lord’s service after he won his freedom. An African American public-school system was inaugurated in 1872 and the camp meetings were generally a place for people to gather for song and praise services.

Although it is cited as one of the more popular camp meetings in Maryland, in 1876 the people of Emory Grove had lost the right to use the campground that had been in use for two previous years. The newspapers of the time did not report why this happened, but the camp was able to resume in 1879. During the interim time the Christian Advocate, a popular Methodist newspaper, called on nearby Washington Grove to open their camp meeting to the people of Emory but not help them maintain their autonomy. This meant that the newspaper did not call for Emory Grove to have the management of the land returned. After this call to open their camp, Washington Grove then printed an invitation on July 25, 1877 in the Montgomery County Sentinel for the people from Emory Gove to worship there. Emory Grove and Washington Grove had more interactions over the years, but the relationship did not reach the same closeness as it did in 1877.

The camp meetings of Emory Grove ended in the 1960s and the land was largely rebuilt in the 1970s. The Emory Grove community is now spread out over the state but the congregation is still thriving to this day.

For more information on the Emory Grove United Methodist Church:

https://emorygrovechurch.org/

To see my walking tour of Washington Grove and Emory Grove:

https://www.theclio.com/tour/1169

Sources:

Martha M. Hamilton, “Emory Grove: ‘There weren’t a lot of people but they were close-knit,’” The Washington Post, May 26, 1977, accessed December 5, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/local/1977/05/26/emory-grove-there-werent-a-lot-of-people-but-they-were-close-knit/6e080ac7-fb3d-4eec-90f4-f6eb8da01783/.

“History of Emory Grove United Methodist Church,” Vision/History, Emory Grove United Methodist Church, accessed March 5, 2020, https://emorygrovechurch.org/mission/.

Maude Taylor, Dedication Notes for Emory Grove Park Fall 1974, found in the Emory Grove Camp Meeting Grounds Maryland Historical Trust Inventory Form for State Historic Sites Survey, August 28, 1974, https://mht.maryland.gov/secure/Medusa/PDF/Montgomery/M;%2020-8.pdf.

“Camp,” Montgomery County Sentinel, July 25, 1877. Found at the Maryland State Archives (MSA SC 2813).

Philip K. Edwards, Washington Grove 1873-1937: A History of the Washington Grove Camp Meeting Association (Washington Grove: Philip K. Edwards, 1988).



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