The time has finally come to catch up on my black hole of content from August of 2016 to April of 2017! I can’t wait to turn my detailed notes and journals into blog posts from Canada, the United Kingdom, Hawaii, Thailand and Bali! But first, my final stop in the continental US, Martha’s Vineyard.
My apologies for any confusion with the timeline, and thanks for sticking with me!
I can hardly believe it’s been two years since I last led a virtual house tour of our family cottage in Oak Bluffs, the most charming little town on Martha’s Vineyard! Most charming might seem like a big call when it comes to an island this cute, but I’m not alone in finding it particularly squee-inducing — simply strolling through our neighborhood, the Martha’s Vineyard Camp Meeting Association (MVCMA), is consistently listed as the number one thing to do on the island via Tripadvisor.
Also known as “The Gingerbread Houses,” or “The Campground,” the thirty-four acres that make up the MVCMA are a National Historic Landmark, and the residents that call them home proudly treat them as such. My mom took the plunge into cottage ownership in 2012, and it’s been a whirlwind of paint, plywood, and porch parties ever since.
But fear not, you don’t have to become our new neighbors in order to experience this incredibly unique little island community (though we’ll absolute show up with a welcome basket like our neighbors did for us, if you do!) In fact, there are several ways you can get to know The Campground, as we tend to call it, beyond simply strolling through. Read on to see my mom’s latest DIY cottage updates, the magazine she was featured in last summer, and how you can get to know our little piece of paradise a little better on your next visit to Martha’s Vineyard.
Take a Walking Tour
The easiest and cheapest way to get an overview of the The Campground is to take an official MVCMA Summer Walking Tour. These guided walks through our historic-home lined streets are led by residents of the cottages themselves, and raise money for The Tabernacle’s restoration fund. What’s The Tabernacle, you ask? It’s the physical and spiritual heart of the Campground, an ornate octagonal and open-air structure that hosts weekly worship services as well as regular cultural events. Sometimes I dream of getting married there someday.
Cottage owners like my mom are proud of preserving the integrity of their homes, most of which date back to the 1800’s. Summer Walking Tours point out special architectural features, share the history of the planned community and its religious roots, and tell you fun little secrets of Campground life you wouldn’t hear otherwise. Plus it keeps you on track when it’s easy to get lost — there are 312 Victorian cottages that make up The Campground!
Tours are held every Tuesday and Thursday in July and August from 10-11:30am. They cost $12 and you’ll also get free admission to the the Cottage Museum, which is typically $2. Frankly, the museum isn’t my favorite feature of The Campground, but if you want to see the interior of one of the cottages, it’s a good way to peek inside one and at least get a sense of the scale.
Fun fact: we actually stumbled our way into Gingerbread life thanks to one of these tours! After spending essentially every summer of my childhood on Martha’s Vineyard in various vacation rentals, my mom and I planned a nostalgia-bomb of a trip in 2012 and ended up on a Summer Walking Tour after seeing an ad for it in the paper. Towards the end, a for sale sign piqued our interest, and next thing you know we had a shiny new set of house keys.
Today, you might luck out and get my mom as your volunteer tour guide! (Or even spot my sister or I with our noses upturned against the window trying to embarrass my mom when she comes by with her tour group.)
Cottage photos by my fabulous friend Kristin Luna
Sign up for the Gingerbread Cottage Tour
Want to get inside the cottages? There’s a tour for that too! Now, this one is only one day a year, so you’ve got to time it carefully. The Annual Gingerbread Cottage Tour is typically the second Wednesday in August.
Tickets are $30 and include admission to the Cottage Museum and five historic cottages that rotate every year. After the tour, head to the Tabernacle for a display of irresistible baked goods that raise further funds (you can always yoga them off later!) While we are super lucky to see the interiors of many of the cottages just by hanging out with our neighbors, we always eagerly attend this event as a way to ogle even more of them — we’ve even opened our doors as one of the tour cottages in the past, and surely will again someday.
It’s so much fun comparing the different cottages and seeing how each owner has made theirs into a modern home. If you like watching HGTV, this is like a marathon of it come to life!
Stay in a Gingerbread House
Staying in the Campground isn’t as easy as it seems. The historical neighborhood has several strict regulations, including limiting owners to renting or loaning their homes for a maximum of six weeks per year — and many owners choose not to rent at all. We do rent our cottage, but even if we let friends borrow the cottage for a week when we aren’t there for free, it counts as one of our rental weeks — so supply is limited and demand is high.
The easiest way to find a place is to check the MVCMA’s website for cottages for rent and a few affordable apartments for rent. You might also luck out and find one listed on Airbnb, though listings there might be houses that are on the outskirts of the Campground and not within the MVCMA itself (not that there’s anything wrong with that!) Get $40 off your first Airbnb booking by using my discount code.
If you’re interested in renting our house, contact me directly — we have so many renters that come back year after year at this point, we don’t really advertise at this point.
Longtime readers might remember all the way back to the before-and-after reveal in my very first house tour post, one year in to cottage ownership. Two years later, I gave another behind-the-scenes tour to show off our latest updates. Frankly, while there were HUGE leaps to showcase in those last two posts, there wasn’t really any drastic changes to show off between the summers of 2015-2017.
Just hold onto your hats for the tour coming in 2018, though — we renovated the shed into a new bedroom and bathroom! The most notable updates you’ll see in this post are really to the side yard, which we’ve slowly been converting into a peaceful garden and outdoor dining room.
In the dining room, the floors are still craving a refinish, and we’re still daydreaming about doing something fun with the house’s original dining room chairs, which are crying out for a paint job and desperately need to be re-seated. (Is that a word? Basically, you’re in serious danger of falling straight through a few of them.)
One of the things I love about the Campground is that houses are generally sold with the furniture they came with. Of course you’re welcome to do what you wish with it, but we did our best to keep the home’s original furnishings wherever possible — perhaps with a fresh coat of bright paint.
The kitchen, also known as my favorite room in the house, is our pride and joy.
It’s amazing to think how many people we’ve crammed into the three bedrooms and one bathroom upstairs — we’re just going to be feeling spoiled for space this coming summer now that the downstairs bedroom is finally set!
One super exciting update to announce? My mom’s cottage was featured in Yankee Magazine! The editor actually got in touch after seeing my last house tour, so it was pretty fun to see all that come from a lil ‘ol blog post.
Staying in the Campground is so special. Not only do you get the joy of living in a Gingerbread House come to life and the experience of stepping back in time, you really get to experience the super tight-knit and unique community that is the Campground. And summers here are busy, fun, and family-focused!
The Tabernacle is a hub of activity all week round in the summer, from the free book club Community Reads some Tuesdays, a free Community Sing every Wednesday — which I pretty much guarantee you’ll find my mom front row and center at singing hymns, folk songs, camp songs, and patriotic tunes — a free Speaker Series every Thursday, the free Sunset Concert Series every summer Friday (don’t miss our favorite local band, Johnny Hoy & The Bluefish!), and multi faith and interdenominational worship services in the Tabernacle on Sundays, followed by Bible Study sessions*.
That doesn’t even cover the busy and ever-changing summer calendar of one-time plays, talks, concerts and more in the Tabernacle! Plus, there’s usually a few vinyasa yoga sessions per week in a tent around the Tabernacle for $10 a pop or $135 for 15 sessions. Just check the bulletin boards around the Campground for dates.
Of course, you can attend any of these events without actually staying in the Campground — but they’re just more fun when they happen to be right in your backyard.
*While the MVCMA grew out of the religious “camp meetings” of the 19th century, and some religious traditions do linger — we had to get a clergy-person to write recommendations for us in order to buy our home there, for example — today it is officially a secular community.
Everything else is just a warm-up — the most beloved Campground event of the year is Grand Illumination Night. The tradition of Illumination began over a century ago to celebrate the visit of the Governor of Massachusetts and it stuck — today, the Grand Illumination is one of the highlights of a Vineyard summer.
Held the third Wednesday in August, Illumination Night is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen, and I have fuzzy memories of it all the way back to my childhood. Campground houses are covered in paper lanterns, some of them dating back decades or more, and it feels like the entire island comes out to bask in their magical glow,
We usually have a lantern painting party at our house a day or two before the big night, and there’s also an official version led by a campground artist at the Tabernacle on the Tuesday prior for $15 if you don’t have your own supplies.
The thing about Illumination is it happens quick. Houses are generally decorated that morning and all lanterns tend to be removed by the next day — so you have to be quick to really sock everything up. Once our lanterns were just right, we grabbed a glass of wine and strolled around admiring our neighbors work before it was time to report to the Tabernacle.
Once we arrived, it was standing room only and we found a grassy spot around the edges to lay down a blanket and enjoy the Community Sing and Vineyard Haven Band concert.
Once the show was over, it was back to our house, where we took turns greeting our neighbors and tourists while our friends on the island sipped and snacked on our porch. Though we aren’t on the main avenue surrounding the Tabernacle, we still get a fair amount of tourist foot traffic and always take the time to have a smile and a chat with anyone who is super curious about life in the Campground. My mom even had one woman show up this summer clutching a copy of Yankee Magazine — and she gave her a tour inside!
Occasionally, we’d sneak away from our hosting duties to check out different streets and see their quaint little cottages aglow in the dark.
But for the most part, we kick around in our porch and our garden pinching ourselves that we really get to be a part of something so special.
While the Grand Illumination is by far the most beloved, it’s not the only Campground event of the year — check the schedule for a flea market, an art show, a craft fair, History Week, a July 4th parade, and a whole list of kid-focused fun. One thing’s for sure — it’s rarely boring around here.
I hope you enjoyed this guide to exploring our brightly colored gingerbread cottage community. While it’s always hard to say goodbye to Martha’s Vineyard for the summer, a ticket to Newfoundland did ease the pain.
Any questions about life in the MVCMA? Leave ’em in the comments — I’ll do my best to answer!
I can’t wait to give you a 2018 update — complete with the shed-to-master-bedroom renovation six years in the making!
If you’d like to see Martha’s Vineyard through my eyes, my family’s historic Oak Bluffs gingerbread cottage is available for weekly rentals. We renovated each room by hand and I’d love to share its magic with you!