Summer is here and I am missing my favorite place to explore, Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard. The town is sleepy most of the year, but in the Summer, the place explodes with summer residents and tourists, providing such a lively and diverse atmosphere. One of the most beautiful of the cottages in the Wesleyan Grove campground is the Kickemuit Cottage, built in 1869 for a family from Rhode Island. They so-named the cottage after the Kickemuit River which runs from Massachusetts through Warren, RI and spills out into the Mt. Hope Bay. The story goes that this double cottage was actually just a single peaked home until it was combined with another giving it the double-peaked appearance we see today. The cottage retains the turned posts, delicate gingerbread detailing, and the lancet windows and doors. Swoon!
Side note: If anyone has a cottage in Oak Bluffs that they’ll let me rent, I would love to be in touch!
The Wesley House on Lake Avenue is the sole survivor of the numerous large hotels that sprung up in Oak Bluffs in the mid-1800s in response to the growing summer colony and tourism after the growth of the Methodist Camp Meeting Association. While many such hotels did not fare so well with storms and fires, the Wesley House has thrived over the years, even expanding multiple times as Martha’s Vineyard has continued to see larger summer crowds. The Wesley House was named after its original owner, Augustus G. Wesley, who was born Augustin Goupille in 1843 in Saint-Gervais, a village near Quebec City. Goupille emigrated to the U.S. in 1859, and in 1869 changed his name to Augustus G. Wesley. Whether his name change was motivated by sympathy with the teachings of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, or to endear himself to the Methodists who would soon patronize his cafe (and later hotel), is not known. Mr. Wesley built the hotel for the sum of $18,000, after seeing the demand for larger lodging options with limited space near the ocean. The original main entrance fronted Commonwealth Square and the Wesleyan Grove, before shifting the entrance to the more prominent Lake Avenue. The hotel remained under Wesley’s ownership until he was convicted of attempted arson of the hotel in 1894, for the insurance money, and on September 25 of that year, he began serving a sentence of three years at hard labor in the New Bedford House of Corrections (but was pardoned after just ten months).
The hotel ownership was passed to a family friend and after subsequent owners and expansions, it was purchased by Lark Hotels in 2015, changing the name to Summerhouse, and completely updating the interior, while preserving the iconic Second Empire exterior with balconies.
The year after Trinity Methodist Church was constructed, the Martha’s Vineyard Camp Meeting Association at Wesleyan Grove, built the wrought-iron Tabernacle, the most significant single building in the campground. The beautiful iron Tabernacle, which seats over 2,000, was designed and built in 1879 by John W. Hoyt of Springfield, Massachusetts. The building was completed in less than four months after the contract was signed. The Tabernacle covers the original consecrated ground of 1835 where the first Methodists erected canvas tents to worship under the trees. By 1869, the attendees at the revival meetings needed more protection from the sun and rain because the large oaks that had attracted the founders 35 years before had begun to die. Since 1870, the Association erected a mammoth canvas tent supported on tall poles every summer. The tent proved unsatisfactory because of ventilation problems and a tendency to collapse in storms. In 1878 the Association solicited designs for a large wooden tabernacle a building of vast roofs, minimal supports, and open walls. The plans it received, which were elaborate versions of the wooden tabernacles or “arbors” of southern camp meetings, proved too expensive to build on this site. Campground resident John W. Hoyt solved the problem with a much cheaper wrought iron structure that was largely prefabricated and could be speedily erected on the uneven site. The gorgeous Victorian Gothic tabernacle remains today as the centerpiece of the Wesleyan Grove National Historic Landmark District, an esteemed historical designation.