Marcia Strykowski

The Cottages of Martha’s Vineyard

Martha’s Vineyard is an island off the coast of Cape Cod in Massachusetts. It’s a smooth 30-40 minute ferry ride to get across from nearby locations. The island has become quite touristy in season and with good reason as it’s very scenic. But we’ll save the gorgeous rock cliffs and beaches for another day. What I was most excited to see when I visited last summer were the celebrated cottages, sometimes called ‘gingerbread cottages.’ After I got home I was curious to learn more about the history of these unique dwellings, each one competing with the next to be the quaintest. The Martha’s Vineyard Camp Meeting Association, which used to be known as Wesleyan Grove, was developed by a group of New England Methodists connected to the religious camp-meeting movement of the early 19th century. In the beginning, meetings were held at various places each year. They usually lasted around a week. The Vineyard’s first camp meeting was in 1827 and participants slept in crude tents.
These first meetings took place all day and night with plenty of praying and preaching. Attendance grew rapidly during those early years. Wesleyan Grove was one of the largest and best-known camp meeting sites in the country. In 1835, they had nine tents and by 1868 there were 570 tents sheltering 12,000 people. Often there were dozens of organized prayer meetings going on at once.
Although they were still religious, between 1855 and 1865 the meetings began to change and weren’t solely connected to any one faith. Visitors from all over began to take just as much pleasure in the other benefits of this amazing location by the sea. Family tents were built and people stayed for longer periods of time. Eventually, small wooden buildings were built in place of the tents. They kept the same size doors and were side by side like the tents they replaced.
Between 1859 and 1864 a new American building type: the Martha’s Vineyard cottage, became known for its  originality in appearance and structure. As mentioned, the architecture of these cottages was inspired by tents and kept to that same basic design. (We got to go inside the little museum where you can see traces of their unique beginnings.) Porches and various trims and frills began showing up in the 1880s. Some of the cottages were moved to other parts of the island, others were combined to make bigger cottages, and still others were torn down, but today there are still about 318 cottages.

A picture’s worth a thousand words, so here are some of the cottages as they stand today!The above pink house was built circa 1865 and I’ve been told there is lots of pink inside, too. You might think the last picture is a repeat, but if you look closely at the windows and nonmatching filigree, you’ll see it’s the other side of the cottage. Several artists have lived there over the years.

For new readers who may have missed earlier posts, here are two that also have connections to New England history: Cog Railroad in New Hampshire and Monhegan Island in Maine. Or, if you’re just into cute little houses, be sure to take a look at Little Free Libraries.

59 Comments

  1. I used to go there as a teenager and rent bicycles with friends. What a great place to visit. Back then it was a rustic beach community. I’d say it’s changed a bit. Those homes are so creative. I can imagine that it’s grown in popularity.

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    • What great memories you must have of biking on the island with your friends. Thanks for sharing your connection to Martha’s Vineyard!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I LOVE the cottages, Marcia! Especially the pink one. What a lovely post. Thank you for brightening my day with the lovely photos.

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    • So glad you enjoyed seeing the pretty cottages, Colleen. Happy spring!

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  3. That looks like a lovely place to visit!

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    • So many cozy cottages and it’s a short walk to the ocean with many shops and stops along the way.

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  4. Sigh. Love Martha’s Vineyard. Only been there once, and that was years ago. These cottages are the epitome of quaintness and charm. Thanks for sharing the pics!

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    • Aren’t they charming? Glad you got to visit the Vineyard years ago! 🙂

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  5. You’re a great tour guide. I love how curious you are to gather interesting historical tidbits – like candy – to pass along for us to sample. Thanks, Marcia!

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    • I love history, especially picturing long ago people walking the same streets and enjoying the same views as we do today.

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  6. I love, love, these cottages. I’ve heard of them but have never seen them. Thanks for sharing them. You would just have to be happy living in one of them!!

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    • They certainly do seem like cheerful places to live. During the summer people are always going past and taking pictures. I think I’d rather sit on one of the little porches while gazing out at the ocean, or anywhere more private.

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  7. We’ve known of Martha’s Vineyard for ages, but we never went there. Your quick pictorial visit was marvelous. I had no idea such quaint, colorful cottages were there. Thank you for the quick tour.l

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  8. Walking down this lane would make me feel like strolling story-book land. Whimsy never gets old.Thank you!

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    • It does look like a story-book land. Thanks for stopping by, Marian!

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  9. This is wonderful, Marcia! History (which I love) and charm and the beach. Oh, and New England, too. I must read again your post on the Cog Railroad, as my husband and I saw the wonderful exhibit at the Currier Museum on the White Mountains, the Crown of New England. Can’t get enough of your terrific posts!

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    • Thanks, Jennie, sounds like we have a lot in common. 🙂 That must have been a good exhibit. I haven’t been to the Currier for a while, but maybe I should put it on my to-do list.

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      • I think we do, Marcia. Art, children’s books, history, and New England top the list. It was an excellent exhibit. The main painting of Mt. Washington at the Currier was nearly the size of a room. I so enjoy your posts.

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  10. Louise Pryor

    Thanks for the beautiful pictures and the history–I love reading/seeing both. Anything to do with architecture is a pleasure for me–thanks for feeding my architectural appetite.

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    • Happy you enjoyed this, Louise. The architecture of these little houses is so interesting. Inside the cottage museum, you could still see the original tent frame and the way they attached various length planks, tongue-in-groove style. Large furniture for the second floor was lifted in through the top double doors because the staircases were way too narrow.

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  11. So colourful! I’ve been to Cape Cod but haven’t made it across to Martha’s Vineyard so I’ve enjoyed seeing how quaint it is (and reading the fascinating history).

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    • It took me years to finally make the trip over even though I’ve been to Cape Cod many many times. Thanks, Anabel!

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  12. These are lovely. My dream is to live in a historic Victorian house. My parents lived in Cape Cod years ago. There was an Air Base there (Otis?) and they lived in a Cape Cod house as they were called.
    They have nice memories that they have shared with me. Thanks for sharing your photos and the history of the place.

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    • Oh, I think I know just where you mean. The air base at Buzzards Bay right near the canal. My uncle made several of the homes along there many years ago and my grandparents lived in a town nearby. I love Victorian homes, too. Thanks for sharing your connection to Cape Cod, Sharon!
      Edited to add: I guess Otis is actually further away, the one near the canal is a Maritime academy. 🙂

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  13. Lovely! I’ve been there once — great to see these photos!

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  14. Michelle

    Gorgeous photos and interesting history. Thanks for sharing!

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  15. Dear Marcia, so interesting and the cottages are beautiful. Living on this side of the pond Martha’s Vineyard has always sounded like an exotic kind of place to me or maybe romantic is a better word. I can see I was not wrong!
    I’m not blogging this week because Terry has been in hospital, home now and doing well, but I wanted to visit you and Colleen. I hope to be back online next week. Barbara x

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    • Thanks so much for checking in, Barbara. With all the news of London, I did notice your absence. I’m very sorry to hear Terry has been ill, but glad he is doing well now. I just recently came across some of his gorgeous photographs of puffins–amazing shots! Sending healthy good wishes to both of you and looking forward to your next posts. xo

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      • Dear Marcia, I hope you enjoy the spring flowers on my blog this week. I felt very guilty about my lazy post last week and hope I’ve made up for it today I hope your week is going well so far. It’s beautiful here, sunny and warming up nicely. Terry had a bit of a set back at the weekend (trying to do too much) but is looking very much better today. I will let him know you enjoyed the puffins. Hugs Barbara

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        • So sorry about Terry’s setback and very glad to hear he’s doing better today. Barbara, your ‘lazy’ post was wonderful and I’m looking forward to checking out your next one, as always. Sending speedy recovery vibes to Terry, photographer extraordinaire. xo

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  16. Marcia, this is so interesting 🙂 I love those little cottages, they are so cute, and all the different colours, so fascinating. Some of the cottages remind me of doll’s houses, although obviously they are not small…Love this post, thanks so much for sharing 🙂

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    • I hadn’t thought of that, you’re right, they do look like doll houses. Thanks for your comment, Lynne!

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  17. Ashley

    These are the cutest little houses! I want to live in one! One more thing to add to my bucket list!!!

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    • It probably would be fun to come home to one of these each day. 🙂

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  18. I have been to MV a handful of times (mostly in college). I have seen the cottages, but i really didn’t know anything about them. They are so unique looking and quaint- I always thought they looked like they belonged in a fairy tale. 🙂 Thanks for sharing so much of their history with us. 🙂

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    • They do have a fairy tale look. Must have been a fun place to go during your college years. Thanks, Stephanie!

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  19. Bette Norton

    The Gingerbread Houses were one of my favorite things to see the few times I have been to Martha’s Vineyard! I never knew the history of those pretty little cottages! Fascinating to learn that the island was a religious camp meeting place and that the little cottages originated from the style of wooden tents. That explains why they are all in rows so close together. Thank you for the photographs of these pretty colorful little cottages and the wonderful history behind them. I always learn so much history from your posts on so many wonderful topics. A most delightful post to read on a cold dreary day! 🙂

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  20. mirkabreen

    These look like doll houses, or fancy frosted cakes. Amazing visuals, again.

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  21. What a fun fun post Marcia!! I’ve heard of Martha’s vineyard–being beautiful and quaint, but have never seen photos of all these cottages!! Amazing–so bright and friendly. Are they vacation homes or do people live in them year round?? It would be so fun to find a tour inside a few of them. Are you going to post more pictures from the Island?? Hope so! Always fun to see you travels!! hugs hugs!

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    • I think the homes are a mix, some people live in them year round. Every so often there’ll be one for sale, too. I didn’t get many pictures as it was a rather quick visit. I’ll just have to return some time. Have a nice week, Rhonda, and thanks for your visit! 🙂

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      • Hi Marica– That would be fun to go to the “open house” for the cottage that was for sale and see the inside!! Loved your pics– so vivid!! I am having a good week. My daughter and 3 coworkers are here for the week doing local photoshoots (for their photo website). Been fun to get to know them. Take care dear Marcia…

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        • Oh, that would be fun to check out the inside at an open house. Your photoshoot sounds wonderful, maybe you’ll share the link when the pictures are up. Have fun!

          Liked by 1 person

  22. I enjoyed being able to virtually visit Martha’s Vineyard via this post. The gingerbread cottages are lovely. I really enjoyed learning a little about their history. It’s amazing how their design was inspired by tents.

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    • It’s fun to picture homemakers in those cottages using some of the hundred-year-old recipes you feature on your blog. 🙂

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  23. Anonymous

    Dear Marcia – I so enjoyed my visit to Martha’s Vineyard. This has always been somewhere I wanted to visit and have not. Those cottages are so lovely. Thanks for sharing.

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    • Dear Anonymous, I hope you’ll get to visit Martha’s Vineyard someday. Thanks for letting me know you enjoyed the post!

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  24. claudinegueh

    How exquisite and adorable the cottages are! (Strangely, I’m beginning to think about horror stories when it comes to these doll-like houses.) My niece, Olive, would love that pink cottage. I’d pick a blue one. Thanks for sharing the history behind MV. I didn’t know about all these until your post, Marcia!

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    • Ha, you’re right, might be the perfect place to set a mystery (not sure about horror and creepy dolls though!) 🙂

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  25. I live on Cape Cod, so I’m afraid I often take the vineyard for granted. But I went over last summer, and it doesn’t matter how many times you’ve seen the Gingerbread Cottages before. They’re always worth taking the time to see again.

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    • Oh, lucky you to live on Cape Cod! The National Seashore is SO beautiful. Thanks for your comment, Ruth.

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