On Martha’s Vineyard, a popular destination for day trippers and vacationing families is the town Oak Bluffs. The steamship ferry also stops at Oak Bluffs several times a day. The accommodation in Oak Bluffs is generally less expensive than other parts of the island. I found the main area too crowded and a little touristy (lots of t-shirts shops, etc.). There is, however, a historic carousel which is the oldest in the country (circa 1876). The horses are antiques.
I really wanted to visit Oak Bluffs because I had heard about the special gingerbread cottages. The Oak Bluffs cottage settlement began as a meeting place for Methodists in the 1830s. An iron tabernacle was built and families would come for days of worship. The families would live in tents circling the tabernacle. Beginning in the 1870s, the tents were framed and became wooden cottages. Below is a historical photograph - on the left is a canvas tent, on the right is a framed cottage. The framed cottages were modelled after the A-framed tents.
There were over 500 framed cottages by the beginning of the 20th century. By 1912, the cottages had indoor plumbing. Today, there are approximately 300 cottages remaining. Most are not winterized. At this time, there are about a dozen cottages for sale and they tend to sell for between $300,000 to 500,000. You would own the cottage, but not the land. Your purchase would also have to receive approval of the Martha’s Vineyard Camp Meeting Association.
Ulysses Grant was the first sitting president to visit Martha’s Vineyard and he attended church on the campground. He is very esteemed in Oak Bluffs and in the museum you can see the rocker that he sat on.
During President Grant’s visit to the island, the campground was kept aglow with Chinese lanterns. This is an antique lantern from the Campground museum.
To this day, the campground continues to hold an illumination festival every summer, in mid-August, where the whimsical cottages are decorated with lanterns. There are a number of lanterns for purchase in the museum shop.
The gingerbread cottages of Oak Bluffs are well preserved. The architectural style is sometimes referred to as “Carpenter Gothic”, presumably because of the scroll work on the porches and roofing.
Today, the cottages are colourfully painted.
As I said above, there are over 300 cottages and I have shared only a few examples. The campground is a series of walking paths (very little automobile access) so the settlement is quiet and with the tabernacle and its surrounding cottages, it had a magical feel. For me, the visit was a highlight of the trip.