Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Gingerbread Cottages of Oak Bluffs, MA

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).IMG_0201IMG_0218  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.


  1. beautiful homes!! loved everyone. I would love to go there someday. and those chinese lanterns... were you just thinking of Kim the whole time you were looking at them? soo pretty!
    happy day!

  2. Those cottages are just magical. And to think there is a lantern festival makes them even more special. Your pictures were just beautiful. What a special trip for you and your husband.

  3. What a nice settlement of cottages! I would have spent hours just looking at them {and peek inside - where allowed of course!}

  4. what a feast for the eyes !
    you always find (& share) such unique things & I appreciate the tidbits you add.
    I wanted to thank you for sharing a while back the bento boxes you bought at a Daiso store... through a friend I was able to get a few (along with a matching fork & fabric lunch bag) for my daughter who starts full day Kindergarten in the fall, so now she has lunch boxes for school :)
    Hope you have a great day !

  5. Wow....those are almost unreal...and the lanterns are gorgeous...what a beautiful place to visit.

  6. It's like walking inside an old story book! I'd love to see these cottages one day. Thanks for this information and for the lovely pictures KJ.

  7. How lovely those cottages are - it looks like an incredibly magical place to visit. I am sure I wouldn't have been able to resist buying a paper lantern (can't quite run to a cottage!).

  8. Wow, those cottages are amazing. They add a lot of character to the neighbourhood. You don't such designs where we live.

  9. Wow, those cottages are amazing. They add a lot of character to the neighbourhood. You don't such designs where we live.

  10. Hi KJ,
    I so enjoyed catching up with you and your lovely girls. Wow! What a summer you all have had. I thought about you when I was watching the Diamond Jubilee events. The toadstool craft is awesome! If the heat and rain that has become a part of our summer days let up this weekend, I hope to pursue that one with Tori.

    I am so glad that you and your husband had such a pleasant weekend full of such beautiful places and sights.

    I hope that there will not be such a long time between my visits with you ever again!!!

    Many hugs,
    P.S A Happy belated 40th birthday (Welcome to the club!) and Canada Day!

  11. Hi there!
    My name is Jane and I'm with Dwellable.
    I was looking for blogs about Oak Bluffs to share on our site and I came across your post...If you're open to it, shoot me an email at jane(at)dwellable(dot)com.
    Hope to hear from you soon!


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