This past weekend, my wife and I went out to Martha’s Vineyard and took on the bitter-sweet task of putting our little family cottage to bed for the winter. You see, with no heat or insulation, this truly is a seasonal home. We gathered up all items that were in danger of freezing (leaving the vodka, but taking the tonic), brought in all of the outdoor furniture from the porch, and made certain that all of the windows and doors were securely closed. Any time I spend working on our little place, I find myself contemplating the history of these tiny cottages that are ubiquitous to the town of Oak Bluffs.
Known today simply as the Campgrounds, the Martha’s Vineyard Camp Meeting community was born from Christian origins. In 1835, the first Methodist revival was held in a small patch of land, dotted with oak trees. These religious retreats grew enormously over the years. Whole congregations would come and set up “society tents”. These ephemeral canvas structures housed both men and women in a dormitory setting, with a canvas dividing “Wall” separating the sexes.
Soon families started leasing small parcels of land where they could pitch their own tents. In an effort to make themselves more comfortable, they would build tent platforms, offering wood floors to their temporary abodes. In the 1860s and 1870s these family tents were rapidly replaced with permanent, seasonal wooden cottages. Each cottage was based in size on the prescribed dimensions of the tent platform, making tiny structures that offered little in the way of luxury. At one point, there were approximately 500 of these Lilliputian dwellings. Today there are just over 300 in the original setting.
Ours is one of the re-located structures. Moved from the Campgrounds to the area known as East Chop sometime in the early 1900’s, our little “Wooden Tent” has been both added onto and reduced in size. There is something charming and liberating about the simplicity of our cottage. Come Spring, we will ceremoniously re-open the cottage. I always anticipate that day with the excitement of a child waiting to open his Christmas gifts! So until then, I will spend my time planning projects and looking forward to a summer of simple pleasures and good friends.