I don’t know much about Martha’s Vineyard. I went for the first time last year, to see a house for a Globe magazine piece. I had a few hours to walk around Edgartown (got a cute Michael Stars ombré dress), so it was fun. Not long after, I went back for story for Cape Cod & Islands Home. This time it was in and out – I think I was on the island all of two hours. I ferried over again yesterday, for another piece for them. Again, a quickie, but I had two hours to kill in Oak Bluffs before my return crossing. After grabbing a sandwich and assessing the shops as tourist trap junk, I decided to wander. I happened upon this sign: The Martha’s Vineyard Campmeeting Association. Hmm. Looked like a little village; the houses were charming, all gingerbread cottages painted pretty colors, huddled together like, well, camp cabins. I took a ton of pictures (unfortunately it wasn’t sunny, so the colors don’t shine), and when I got home did some brief research.
According to the Martha’s Vineyard Campmeeting Association website, the enclave contains “the most perfectly preserved collection of Carpenter Gothic style architecture in the world.” How they came about is really quite interesting. The association is a non-profit religious organization that was established in 1835.
According to the MMVCA, from the first campmeeting in 1835 until 1859, ministers preached from a makeshift stand. In 1869, a huge tent was raised over Wesleyan Grove (a common area) to protect the congregation from the heat and rain. In 1879, the iron Tabernacle was built in Wesleyan Grove, which was restored and upgraded in 1999 by the architecture firm Durkee Brown.
Thousands attended the services. They were housed in large tents knows as “society tents.” Conditions were cramped, with men and women sleeping dormitory-style on opposite sides of a central canvas divider. Over time, families began leasing small lots on which to pitch their own individual tents. In the 1860s and 1870s, the family tents were rapidly replaced with permanent wooden cottages. At one time there were about 500 cottages; today there are just over 300.
The cottages are privately owned; many have been passed down through generations. Some are pristine, others are a bit ramshackle, but all are adorable. There are usually some available for rent – see the current listings here. The Tabernacle hosts all sorts of events, and interdenominational worship services are held there on summer Sunday mornings.
Here are my photos of the cottages: