Gingerbread Cottages of Oak Bluffs, Ma
From tents to wooden cottages
The gingerbread cottages of Oak Bluffs started off as society or church tents. Jeremiah Pease and six men from the Edgartown Methodist Church took over part of William Butler’s sheep pasture to hold a religious camp meeting. The purpose of these meetings was the salvation of human souls. They prayed and preached morning, noon and nights. They grew from 9 society tents to 500 tents within 25 years. They met for one week to ten days for religious purposes only.
The beautiful land located in Wesleyan Grove was the start of CottageCity. The earlier tents and then the gingerbread cottages were arranged in circles around the preachers' stand. Soon the sides of the tents were changed to wooden side boards, but remained with a canvas top.
Prices Have Increased
The benefits of the sea air and the social interactions brought more people to the area. Soon wooden buildings replaced the tents. The “Martha’s Vineyard” cottage was an architectural design of a local carpenter. The cottages were small, costing from $150.00 to $600.00 each. Today you can’t even rent one for $600.00 per week.
By 1859, the original circle of Wesleyan Grove had increased to include a road called Trinity Circle. Paths lead from the circle to larger groups of tents. The tents did not meet all the needs of the community. The new and improved "Martha's Vineyard" cottages blossomed. Around 1860 porches were added and the scrollwork and brightly painted cottages erupted.
Around 1841 tents began to appear in areas outside the circle. They increased in size, adding kitchen and side additions. People started staying longer than the original week to ten days. Wells were dug to bring water to homes, community buildings were built and the group began to organize a city within itself.
Welcome the Band Saw
The decorative trim that is unique to each cottage is called filigree. Originally filigree was a delicate kind of jewelry. It was made with beads and metals twisted together and then soldered. The trim you see on the gingerbread cottages is the carpenter’s gothic style. Much of this creative work was do to the invention of the band saw.
The Cottage Museum
The Cottage Museum is the only gingerbread house that is open to the public. The front room or the parlor was the area to receive guests. A wide double centered door was typical in original cottages. This symbolized the opening flaps of earlier tents and the welcoming of church doors. Small narrow windows allowed sunlight to enter. The back room was called the commodity. It usually had a large table for sitting and meeting. The kitchen was located outside. A stairway leading to the second floor was off to the right side of the parlor. Two narrows steps, then a very sharp right turn and a steep incline takes you to the second level. All bedrooms are located on the second floor. The room at the top of the stairs was for the children. The front room was for a married daughter and back room was for parents. Bathrooms, of course, were outside. These cottages could house 10 to 12 people. Children would sleep 4 to 6 in one bed.
Each Unique and Individualized
The cottages shine on a Wednesday night in mid August when they decorate for Grand Illumination Night. Each owner tries to outdo other homes by hanging Oriental lanterns and various lights. Festivities at the Tabernacle signal the neighborhoods, parks and homes to turn on lights in grand fashion.
From the ½ acre of land selected by Jeremiah Pease in 1835, the cottage city has grown to 34 areas with over 300 cottages, the Tabernacle, Churches, Chapel and several commercial buildings. Only about 52 cottages are year round residents. Many of the homes are not winterized. Each cottage is unique and individualized, some small, some large, but all part of the history of CottageCity.
More by this Author
Look for something different and exciting about small towns in Massachusetts. Onset has several sights you can visit on your next trip.
Interesting facts about the island of Martha's Vineyard. Presidents and other famous people vacation there, and you can also.
The seven major islands that make up the Elizabeth Islands have some unique facts. Most islands are private, but vistors can use the beaches.