There are 129 buildings/structures on the grounds, 116 of which are contributing and 13 noncontributing buildings/structures. There are 103 cottages and 14 public buildings. All of the contributing buildings are wood frame structures that were built between 1865 and the 1920s with two exceptions; both Wesley and Waldorf Tabernacles have wood frame exteriors with steel truss systems.
The cottages were built to house families or church groups during the summer camp meetings. They were inexpensive and quickly built. The meeting generally lasted about one week, particularly in the early decades. The remainder of the year they were boarded up until the following summer. Gradually the cottages were used the entire summer, and currently, some owners use them from May through October. Nonetheless, the original conception of the cottage was one of the informal, rural, modest dwellings, that provided a place to house the family or church group. They were used as places to visit with other campers and to sleep. Meals were prepared outdoors, to the rear of the cottage, or taken in a communal tent. The cottages evoke a domestic imagery not miniature in scale but suited to the wooded edge midway between the growing city to the east and farmlands to the west. They are building entities unto themselves in that they perform the specific function of a temporary summer retreat. Very few of the cottages have been winterized. They are building entities unto themselves in that they perform the specific function of a temporary summer retreat.
Many of the cottages are close to one another, giving the appearance of almost huddling. Around the Circle, some of the cottage corners are very close barely allowing someone to pass. Others allow a sidewalk width between them, such as the cottages on Asbury Avenue. Away from The Circle, the spacing is more generous, such as along Wesley Square.
Within this village of cottages, there is a uniformity in conception and materials along with a limited variety in scale and wooden detailing. Many of the cottages are similar to what has been called the “camp meeting” style. All cottages are raised off the ground. In most instances, this is about one foot with the structures resting on either stacked bricks or concrete blocks. There are no below-ground foundations. All are painted white with a dark green window frame and vergeboard trim. The majority of cottages are 1-1/2 stories high. Their overall height at the gable peak varies; however, the cottages are grouped by height, such as along Chicago Avenue or around The Circle, creating a uniformity along the sidewalks.
Cottages are rectangular in plan, the widths ranging from 11-16’. Typical family cottage measurements are 12 x 18’ and 16 x 26’. The church or society cottages are wider. The majority orient the end gable towards the sidewalk. Most cottages have a front porch and many have a rear one. They add an intermediate space between the enclosure of the cottage and the sidewalks. Original porches were simple wooden platforms extending from the front door. The next stage of enclosure was a platform with floor to ceiling screens. Some porches have remained at this stage. Other porches have been enclosed further usually with wooden planks on the lower half and screens above. The porch is a welcomed addition in the summer. Additionally, it provides some privacy by adding another room in front of the entrance. Without it, there would be an unobstructed view into the cottage and a loss of intimacy similar to views into tents in contemporary park campsites.
The cottages were inexpensive and quick to build. They use the balloon frame construction. The first-floor platform has boards 3-4 inches wide running the length.
The wooden platform supports corner posts and vertical 2 x 4s. Second-floor joists are notched and rest on a 2x4 that connects the corners. Some are nailed in place and, in a cottage on Asbury that is undergoing repairs, square nails were used. Roofs are 2x4 rafters, without purlins or ridgepoles, covered with horizontally laid boards and then wood shingles. The skin itself, a single layer of wooden planks, provides horizontal support or stiffening for this lightweight and inexpensive structure. Three types are seen on the grounds including board and batten, simple drop boards and flush joints. Door and window openings are simply framed. There is no diagonal bracing. In addition to the openings on the principal façade, the long sides also have windows. In some cottages, the exterior planks and vertical studs are visible on the interior. In other cottages, owners have added interior wall finishing, such as paneling, plywood or plaster.
The floor plan of the single-family cottages has two rooms of roughly equal size separated by a simple, square opening that is wider than the front entrance. The first-floor ceiling height is eight feet. A narrow staircase, about 3’ wide, is attached to the sidewall in the rear room. They are quarter turn staircases sometimes with a landing other times with winders. More of a rarity are staircases that rise from the center of the cottage, the staircase dividing the space in half. These staircases are straight runs. There is no second-floor ceiling; however, some cottages have partition walls to create rooms, such as two bedrooms. Kitchens and bathrooms are later additions, usually on the rear of the cottage or the side if space allows.
With the informality of the cottage construction and their close proximity to each other, it is significant to note that this cottage collection did not become a railroad shanty town. Instead, the simplicity of its rectangular form and the endless possibilities for wooden detailing encouraged variation that is more akin to charm than to the arcane. The variations between the cottages are seen in verge board details and in the rooms added to the original structure. Nonetheless, the common seed lurks under all.
The cottages at the Des Plaines site can be classed into three types based on the design of the principal elevation and the overall dimensions of the cottage.
This is most common cottage type on the grounds. The principal distinguishing feature is the façade’s design or short side that faces the sidewalk. There is a wide double door opening which is centered below the gable peak. The double doors are usually French doors with multi-paned glass panels that open towards the interior, although other doors with a combination of solid panels on the lower half and glazing above do exist. The wide double door opening recalls a tent opening or a church door opening. Identical windows usually flank these doors. The size and shape of these vary. On some of the smaller cottages, this may be a blank wall. The second floor has an opening under the gable, which may be either a door or a window. Oftentimes the width of the first and second-floor opening is the same. Door and window surrounds are simple, flat frames; but there are variations with its pedimented top. All door and window openings are rectangular.
There are windows along the long sides and here there seems to be little consistency. However, long narrow windows about five feet above floor level were noted in several cottages. They were generally in the front half of the cottage near the porch entrance.
The majority of the roof pitches are steep with slope angles ranging from 45 to 60 degrees. In rarer instances, the roof slope is an obtuse angle. When the angle is steepest, or 60 degrees, the gable triangle occupies roughly half the cottage height and the tips of the gable end reach the porch roof. A 45-degree slope creates a gable triangle that occupies one-third of the building height. This creates a space between the porch roof and the gable ends. The steeper the gable slope the smaller the amount of second-floor wall surface; therefore, large openings here appear over-scaled and this creates the feeling of a miniature scale even though the ceiling heights are the normal height.
Many of the gable eaves have verge boards that serve two functions. On the practical side, they protect roof rafters from the weather. On the appearance side, they are the perfect location for an owner’s pretension or competition between builders. Jigsaw patterns vary but the most common is an inverted flame shape. This is probably based on fringes seen on canvas tent flaps. At the Des Plaines Camp Ground, verge board patterns are usually painted green.
The Type One cottage specimens have various heights which may be due to the builder’s rule-of-thumb for dimensioning. Although they are consistently 1-1/2 stories, the height can vary from about 16 feet to 20’. The taller profiles have a gable vent, such as a semi-circular shape, just below the peak. The varying cottage heights are not randomly dispersed across the grounds. They are grouped. For instance, the cottages around The Circle are the taller version and this probably reflects their exalted location around the tabernacle, the most sacred portion of the campground. Cottages along Asbury Road and other outlying sidewalks are shorter. However, cottage height cannot be explained as a simple hierarchal relationship; that is, as one moves away from the tabernacle the cottages become smaller. Taller cottages are located on Kinsley and on Wesley Square, two of the most outlying streets. However, cottages of similar or identical heights are grouped so that there is consistency to a given stretch of sidewalk.
This cottage type was also built for the single family. It bears all of the same characteristics as the Type One cottage. It is a 1-1/2 story structure with the same variety in wood planking. Roof slopes show the same range of angles and verge board treatments. The distinguishing characteristic is the location of the front door. It is to one side with a window balancing it on the other side. The door is usually paneled on the lower half and glazed on the upper half. Some doors are solid. The side window varies in size but it is always a sash window with differing numbers of window panes. The side door placements do not affect the floor plan which remains two rooms deep.
The second floor of the facade is arranged as is Type One with a centered window or door. The Type Two cottage is a rarer type.
Type Three is the church or society cottage. Whereas the other two types were built for a single family and are therefore smaller, the church cottage was built for the members of a congregation or organization. It was their gathering place and sleeping quarters during the camp meeting. Various churches from Chicago, its suburbs, and communities to the west of Des Plaines built them, such as Bethany Cottage at 16 Wesley Square.
Church cottages are either 1-1/2 or 2-1/2 stories. They functioned as dormitories on the upper floors with spaces for prayer meetings on the first floor. As with the family cottages, kitchen and bath additions were later added to the sides and/or rear.
They are rectangular structures with the gable end facing the sidewalk. The gable angles are gentler, allowing for more headroom on the second floor, with the 45-degree angle being the steepest. The principal façade usually has a porch and most often it is two-stories tall. The lower half of each level is usually enclosed with horizontal planks and screens above. Some of the two-story porches are completely enclosed increasing the visual bulk of the structure.