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 Campground was called, rode the crest of the religious revival movement. By the mid-1850s the Sabbath meetings 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 leisure urge could not be checked. Family tents turned into wooden cottages, designed to look like tents. And the cottages multiplied, trying to out-do each other in brightly painted fantasies of 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 ironwork architecture.
Within 40 years of the first camp meeting here, there were crowds of 30,000 attending the Grand Illumination that marked the end of the summer season with a glorious show of Japanese lanterns and fireworks.
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 Campground proper. By the 1870s, Wesleyan Grove had expanded into Cottage City and Cottage City had become the town of Oak Bluffs, with more than 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 Ulysses S. 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 and fall.
Fire – To report a fire dial 911
Wing Road Station: 508.693.0077
Police – To report an emergency dial 911
To report urgency, but no emergency dial 311
Lake Avenue Station: 508.693.0750
Oak Bluffs Town Hall
PO BOX 1327
Oak Bluffs 02557
Office hours: 8:30 am-4:00 pm
If no direct number is listed please contact the town hall or website.
Accountant –508.693.3554 ext. 100
Ambulance Coordinator –508.693.0077
Animal Control Officer/Inspector of Animals –508.693.0857
Board of Selectmen –508.693.3554 ext. 114
Collector of Taxes and Collector of Accounts – 508.693.3554, ext. 107
Conservation Agent –508.693.3554 ext. 118
Council of Aging Director –508.693.4509
Director of Emergency Management
Fire Inspector –508.693.0077
Gas Inspector – 508.693.3554 ext. 132
Health Agent –508-693-3554 ext. 116
Herring Warden –508-693-0072
Highway Department – 508.693.0072
Highway Superintendant –508.693.0072
Inspector of Buildings – 508-693-3554 ext. 121
Librarian –508-693-3554 ext. 141
Marina Manager –508-693-4355
Oil Burner Inspector –508-693-0077
Plumbing Inspector – 508-693-3554 ext. 132
Police Chief –508-693-0750
Principal Assessor – 508-693-3554 ext. 104
Sailing Camp Park Supervisor –508-693-6777
School Department – 508.693.0951
Shellfish Constable –508-693-0072
Smoke Detector Inspector – 508-693-0077
Town Clerk –508-693-3554 ext. 119
Town Counsel –508-627-3711
Treasurer –508-693-3554 ext. 112
Assistant Treasurer –508-693-3554 ext. 102
Tree Warden – 508-693-0072
Veterans’ Agent –508.696.3841
Wastewater Superintendant -508-693-0343
Water Superintendent – 508-693-5527
Water District – 508.693.5527
Water District Commissioners
Water District Moderator -508.693.5527
Wiring Inspectors –508-693-3554
Zoning Administrator – 508-693-3554 ext. 123
Town Boards, Etc.
Affordable Housing Committee
Capital Improvement Plan Committee
Community Preservation Act Committee
Copeland Plan Review Board
Cottage City Historic District Commission
Finance and Advisory Committee
Harbor Management Committee
Land Bank Advisory Committee
Martha’s Vineyard Commission Representatives
Resident Homesite Committee
Sailing Camp Park – 508.693.6777
Water District Commission