Empire Campground History
The Methodists have been conducting summer camp meetings in Poland for more than one hundred years at the present location of Empire Grove Campgrounds.
The early history of the Empire Grove Campmeeting association as nearly as can be learned, indicated that Maine was separated from Mass in (1820) a group of Methodists conducted a type of camp meetings during the warmer weeks of the summer season on the Samuel Cushman farm located approximately one mile from the present campground at East Poland.
At a later date the area now known as Empire Grove with its tall trees and summer shade was chosen as a meeting place for these outdoor gatherings. A document was signed in 1857 leasing this property from Nehemiah Strout for a term of ninety-nine years. This property lease was in effect nearly its full tern, as the association was able to purchase the property out seven years before the expiration date. In 1869 Empire Grove campmeeting Association became incorporated under the private and special laws of the State of Maine.
Tents were the only means of shelter in those early days. M any times a group form the same church would put up a large tent with a central curtain to drop at night to separate the men's side from the women's.
Gradually, cottages were built to better withstand the elements. As time went on, a circle of some forty or more attractive cottages stood on "Broadway" and down the other avenues. Many of these cottages were bought and sold at unbelievably low prices. Good substantial buildings sometimes furnished changed hand for $350 and sometimes for less. Rent was corresponding low; a family could hire a five-room cottage with screened porch and running water for one dollar a week.
A high standard was maintained by having specific regulations concerning the buying and selling of the cottages. Cottage owners had to pay ground rent to the Association. The water supply came from a nearby spring, and was piped throught out the area.
A boating house was soon constructed where meals were served for 25 cents and a lodging house accommodating about thirty people. This lodging house its is said was financed by a group of individuals who owned shares in it, and received a part of the earnings. By 1918 the Lodging house Association that was then retired had paid off all of these shareholders.
Construction began on a chapel but finances allowed only a frame a roof and a floor. Later members of the Lewiston Park Street Church and some from Norway finished rooms on the second floor, that they could use during campmeeting. It was several years before the chapel was completely boarded in.
(To be continued)