In the 1830s, as the northeastern corner of Illinois began to be settled and to develop, and the the city of Des Plaines emerged from the grasslands, religious activity was a part of this settlement. Before there were established congregations and churches to house them, circuit preachers roamed the countryside carrying the message. The circuit riders traveled from small settlement to settlement and hatched the idea of bringing larger numbers together in one location for extended services.
Thus the summer camp was born.
Although several Protestant denominations participated in the early meetings, it was the Methodists who continued the practice. With the mid-nineteenth century resurgence in religion, several Chicago ministers met to arrange for a camp meeting that would attract both city members and those from the country.
The Des Plaines Methodist CampGround was the outcome of their plans, with the first temporary site founded in 1860 and then the current site purchased in 1865. The Chicago District Camp Ground Association was chartered in 1867.
The early meetings were mostly tent cities or temporary arrangements that offered overnight accommodations for the week-long meeting. Gradually, permanent structures, such as tabernacles for the services and cottages for residences, were constructed. The camp meeting location became a village that offered the benefits of camping out in a shaded grove and the opportunity to revive one’s faith.
The Des Plaines site is significant as one of the oldest permanent sites in the United States; and it is one of the best-preserved examples of a radial plan of streets with concentric circles of cottages around the main tabernacle. The 1903 Waldorf Tabernacle is a significant structural achievement with its steel trusses arranged in a circle creating a clear span of 110 feet. Over one hundred cottages, dated from the late 19th to early 20th century, form a collection of residential wooden structures designed specifically for the rural camp meeting.
The Chicago District Camp Ground Association is the original owner of the land and maintains the site that has now functioned continuously as a religious location since the Civil War era.