Campground Association, Martha’s Vineyard

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I recently had the opportunity for a day trip to Martha’s Vineyard, making use of Boston’s relatively narrow season of pleasant weather and long days. Having done my research, one place I wanted to visit was the Campmeeting Association in Oak Bluff.  A brisk walk through the picturesque but nonetheless touristy town area led haphazardly to this entrance. 

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What a change of pace.  The use of this area dates to 1835 when New England Methodists spiked their tents in place for organized summer retreats.  Fast forward a bit, and the tent owners visited often enough to warrant bringing boards for temporary flooring above which they kept their tents.  By 1859, wooden buildings emerged to accommodate longer usage by attendees, which earlier included only adults, as well as the introduction of children as families began to recreate for longer than original week to 10 days of intensive religious activity.   Later, cottages emerged partially inspired by the look of the tents that they replaced as well as their close proximity. 

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A formal association was created in 1860 with 21 members of its Board of Directors, which continues to this day.  The Association owns the land (now 34 acres compared to its original half acre site), and tracts are technically leased to the cottage owners.  This also allows the Association to maintain some control of occupant’s houses – i.e. preservation.  It also creates difficulties.  As the houses may sell from $350,000 to $600,000, a loan may be required, and banks are less willing to lend for leased properties.  And to buy, you will need three recommendations, at least one from a clergy member vetting your religious devotion (though not necessarily Methodist) and another from a current campground member.  Of the over 300 homes remaining (there were over 500), only a handful go on sale each year; most are handed down from generation to generation.  Don’t forget to add ~$3,000 in property taxes and ~$2,000 for your land lease each year. All this is yours for a summer home of 650 sq.ft. to 1,400 sq.ft… and for a house built 150 years ago… that isn’t firmly secured to the ground.

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It has its charm, though, and you get to live in a National Historic District.  The houses reflect a Victorian influence and a penchant for scrolled “gingerbread” accents, and the somewhat vertical, peaked shapes suggest miniature chapels, though with balconies and porches.  Though cheaply constructed, the gingerbread scrolls are said to largely have been done by the owners.  Also, the houses were generally painted white rather than the rainbow shades seen today.

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The property is roughly centered around the Tabernacle (1879), an open sided wrought iron worship center, and near to it is the Grace Chapel (1885).  The land is immaculate, though not all houses are equally maintained.  Still, it’s essentially the equivalent of living in a doll house in a nice park setting.  The community does have many religious and social activities through the habitable months.  During the winter, the campground, and most of Oak Haven, is shuttered.

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While walking around, we found Brian Kirkpatrick painting on his porch.  He’s lived in the house for over 20 years and is a folk ark painter, selling in galleries both on the island and in Islamorada, FL.  He paints early and often, and, given the weather on the day I visited, why not?

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He has to be one of the most accommodating homeowners, freely welcoming conversation including his art and the history of the community.  He points towards the vertical post at the peak of his house as being from the tent originally on the patch of land and also confessed the house, which is obviously thin and narrow, teeters in high winds as it’s set on a stone foundation without straps or other securement.  The painting he was working on was inspired by his grandson holding a frog.

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Unasked, he also offered a peek inside.  And, me without a wide angle lens.  I’ve looked at a few other houses online, and they tend often tend towards feminine delicacy – simple antiques, lace and such.  I much prefer the splash of color and general character of the furnishings here.

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In any case, this area was more special as the downtown area is simply a better dressed Gatlinburg, Myrtle Beach, or (name your tacky tourist definition where souvenirs dominate).  It’s a very peaceful place. The complete set of pictures can be seen on Flickr.

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