Prior to 1866 the area now called Oak Bluffs was largely undeveloped with the exception of the famed Methodist meeting camp at Wesleyan Grove that had been established in 1835. By the 1860s the meeting camp was attracting large numbers of middle class visitors from Boston and surrounding towns who came for summer retreats; in 1868 approximately 600 tent and cottage lots were being leased in the Methodist compound. The Land & Wharf Company catalyzed this success into profit, by developing a more commercial presence on Circuit Avenue and developed housing on large lots to the east.
The first major structure built by the Land & Wharf Company was the Arcade Building. In it, they established their office from which they directed development of the resort. The central open arcade provided access to the campground from the heart of Oak Bluffs’ commercial area. The Arcade was designed by Boston carpenter/architect/inventor Samuel Pratt (1824-1920) who was also responsible for many of the cottages in Oak Bluffs. The Arcade remains a historically significant and well-preserved commercial building in town. My bad photo doesn’t do it justice! 😦
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.
This quaint little summer cottage in Wesleyan Grove was built in 1875 for Hanson Arnold, a merchant and methodist from Woonsocket, R.I. The home is typical of many other summer cottages in Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard, with its delicate stick work, turned posts, full-length porch, and second story balcony with pierced bargeboards. The home was at one point named “Seas the Day”, a trend of naming the cottages occurred sometime in the 20th century by families who summered on the island, many incorporating the family’s name somehow. The home was restored recently with all new detailing and a reversion back to the original porch configuration.
Tall Timbers is one of the more unique cottages in the Wesleyan Grove development, a religiously oriented summer community in Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard. The cottage was actually built in two phases. The small two story cottage was built first before 1870 and features gothic bargeboard, lancet windows, and paired doors. It was purchased around 1870 by William Newell, of Rhode Island, who had a three-story wing added to serve as a summer cottage. The addition is notable for the full-length vertical boards that rise through the entire three stories without a break like trees after harvesting, likely the inspiration for the name of the cottage. William Newell was a manufacturer of brass fixtures and ran a foundry in Central Falls in Rhode Island. Mr. Newell was active in politics and early in his career joined the cause of the anti-slavery party, which was likely solidified in his experiences in the ethnically diverse Martha’s Vineyard.