Reprinted from the 2004 Visitors Guide courtesy
of the Martha's Vineyard Chamber of Commerce. www.mvy.com
In 1835 this community served as the site for annual summer
camp meetings, when Methodist church groups found the groves
and pastures of Martha's Vineyard particularly well suited to
all-day gospel sessions. Wesleyan Grove, as the Oak Bluffs Campgrounds
was called, rode the crest of the religious revival movement.
By the mid 1850's the Sabbath meeting here were drawing congregations
of 12,000 people. They came for the sunshine and sermonizing
in hundreds of individual church groups.
Each group had its own communal tent where the contingent bedded
down in straw purchased from local farmers. Services were held
in a large central tent.
The communal tents gave way to "family tents", which
reluctant church authorities granted only to "suitable"
families. But the vacationist urge could not be checked. Family
tents turned into wooden cottages designed to look like tents.
And the cottages multiplied, trying to outdo each other in brightly
painted fantasies out gingerbread. A new all-steel Tabernacle
structure replaced the big central tent in 1879. It stands today
as a fine memento of the age of iron-work architecture.
Within 40 years of the first camp meeting here, there were crowds
of 30,000 attending Illumination Night to mark the end of the
summer season with stunning displays of Japanese lanterns and
Wesleyan Grove struggled to hold its own against such secular
attractions as ocean bathing, berry picking, walking in the woods,
fishing, and croquet playing. There were efforts to ban peddlers,
especially book peddlers. A high picket fence was built around
the Campgrounds proper. By the 1870s, Wesleyan Grove had expanded
into "Cottage City" and Cottage City had become the
town of Oak Bluffs, with over 1,000 cottages.
Steam vessels from New York, Providence, Boston, and Portland
continued to bring more enthusiastic devotees of the Oak Bluffs
way of life. Horse cars were used to bring vacationers from the
dock to the Tabernacle. The horse cars were later replaced by
a steam railroad that ran all the way to Katama. One of the first
passengers on the railroad was President Grant. The railroad
gave way to an electric trolley from Vineyard Haven to the Oak
Bluffs wharves, and the trolley eventually gave way to the automobile.
Oak Bluffs is also the home of the Flying Horses Carousel, the
oldest continuously operating carousel in the country. Its horses
were hand carved in New York City in 1876. This historic landmark
is maintained by the Martha's Vineyard Preservation Trust. It
is open daily during the summer, and on weekends in the spring