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  • Writer's pictureGethin Thomas

Wesleyan Grove

Originally published on Photoblog by Gethin Thomas September. 27, 2020

Wesleyan Grove is a 34-acre (14 ha) National Historic Landmark District in Oak Bluffs, Massachusetts on the island of Martha's Vineyard. Also known as the Martha's Vineyard Campmeeting Association (MVCMA) or the Campgrounds, it was the first summer religious camp established in the United States. It is famous for its approximately 300 colourful cottages in a style now described as Carpenter Gothic.

Just after the American Civil War, the area developed as a large Methodist summer campground with open air Christian revivals. This meeting style became popular around the United States at the time, and many other similar camps were founded. Colourful, ornate, gingerbread cottages were built in an oak grove around a central church tabernacle.

The grove was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978, recognized in 2000 by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and declared a National Historic Landmark by the US Department of the Interior in 2005.

In the 1860s and 1870s, the family tents were rapidly replaced with permanent wooden cottages. There were 40 cottages in 1864 and 500 by 1880. As of 2019, there were approximately 318 cottages remaining. They are referred to as the gingerbread cottages. One source provides this description of the original buildings;

"They were between 11 and 16 feet in width, with wide, double-door entrances and tall roofs with steep gables pitched at 90 degrees. They were one and a half stories in height, and generally twice as tall as they were wide. The wooden platforms over which the tents had been erected morphed into the wide front porches of the cottages."

Today the Campground is a community of summer residents and a smaller number of year-round residents who own the cottages (often fully modernized) or rent them from the owners. Some of these folks are descendants of early revivalists although Wesleyan Grove is no longer a revivalist camp.

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