Founded in 1876 as a Methodist camp meeting and resort, Bay View is a religiously oriented summer community of 437 privately owned cottages, 2 hotels, and 29 additional buildings, all belonging to the Bay View Association, which also owns the land and governs life in the enclave. Sinuous curving streets line natural terraces on the northern half of its 338-acre tract, terraces that cascade from a 200-foot elevation down to Little Traverse Bay. Cottages are mostly Victorian—420 were in place by 1900—and are beautifully maintained, with much historic fabric intact. They sit with uniform setbacks on narrow lots, without fencing and immersed in greenery, a clear evocation of the enterprise's communal purpose.
Camp meetings, including this one, were founded in wilderness areas remote from civilization and its cares in order to benefit both religious and physical health. The first seekers slept in tents edging the preaching space. Like the Kentucky frontier revivals of the early nineteenth century, Bay View's first meeting was a charged, emotional affair in which participants bathed in nature and powerful religious feelings, interlocking body and spirit in an ambience of refreshing nature. The original preaching space, a bookstore, the speakers' stand, many cottages, and, most important, the remarkable romantic community plan remain intact.
Bay View is the only camp meeting in the nation with a picturesque plan. Most revivals were laid out with a simple geometric enclosure about the preaching space, in a grid, or, in a few ambitious examples, in a radial concentric scheme, with lanes as spokes in the wheel. Bay View's design exaggerates the site's rugged topography to get a sense of otherworldliness—all to aid relaxation and religious feeling. The community's founders were familiar with and set out to imitate such landscaping from the new Jackson cemetery and from the “mazy” camp meeting at Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, and its professionally planned neighbor, Oak Bluffs. The Bay View exercise in sinuously curved streets to intensify nature may have been important for subdivision planning in the twentieth century, when Bay View became famous and much visited.
Unlike most camp meetings, Bay View's goals from the start included intellectual and scientific development, along with religious work and healthful rest. In 1885, inspired by the programs at Chautauqua (Fair Point Camp Meeting), New York, Bay View hired John M. Hall to build a summer assembly, or “Chautauqua,” around the revival. Hall initiated a Michigan department for the 2,000 state members of the New York Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle, a four-year home study program for adults who lacked a college education. The Bay View summer assemblies eventually included a variety of programs: specialized Bible and music studies (the latter still operating); summer homes for the Epworth League of young Methodists; the Woman's Christian Temperance Union; and after 1893, John Hall's own Bay View Reading Circles, in direct competition with the mother Chautauqua in New York. Summer residents were now coming from a wide geographic range—including the upper Midwest, New York, Alabama, and California. As an independent Chautauqua, Bay View hosted national platform stars: William Jennings Bryan, Frances Willard, Booker T. Washington, Jane Addams, Carl Sandburg, Bruce Catton, Lillian Hellman, and many others. All of these activities took place at The Campus ( EM4), the Tabernacle Park of the camp meeting era renamed and improved by a series of grand Queen Anne buildings overlooking the preaching space with its two ancillary structures. The Chautauqua functions embraced and preserved those of the camp meeting, just as continuing governance by the Bay View Association, with its institutional memory and supportive residents, has preserved it all.
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