Weirs Martha? A look at the cottages of the Vineyard and the Weirs

  • Published in Columns
As of June 1, there were 1,190 residential homes available in the 12 Lakes Region communities covered by this report. The average asking price stood at $480,614 with a median price point of $264,950. Last June 1 there were 1,318 homes on the market at an average asking price of $493,820. The current inventory level represents a 15 month supply of homes available which is down from the 18.5 month supply as of June 1, 2012. That's pretty good!
I just spent a few days down on Martha's Vineyard and discovered that there are a lot of similarities between that beautiful island and our own Lakes Region. For example, there is a strong Indian history at both locales with the Wampanoag tribe originally inhabiting the Vineyard while we have the Algonquian and Abaneki to thank for the names of places that keep our tourists tongue tied. Both are big tourist destinations with water sports, boating, and great restaurants in abundance. While we both have some pretty expensive waterfront property, the Vineyard outdoes us by a lot in that regard. In 2012 the average sales price for a single family home on the Vineyard was $972,000 compared to $302,188 for the towns covered in this report.
The Vineyard, and specifically the town of Oak Bluffs, has something else in common with our own Weirs Beach area. Pulling into the harbor on the ferry you immediately notice the brightly painted cottages and homes that line the main street along the water. I immediately thought of the homes along Lakeside Ave in the Weirs with their bright colors and Victorian style architecture. These homes were built a decade or so after the civil war by members of the NH Veterans Association and were known as the Regimental Buildings.
The cottages in Oak Bluffs were also built at the end of the Civil War but they were constructed by members of the Methodist Church who traveled here in the summer for a week long regimen of intense spiritual inspiration. Originally though, the Methodists just pitched tents in a circle with the center of the circle designated as the church. The Methodist camp meeting was born in Oak Bluffs in 1835. It was called the Martha's Vineyard Camp Meeting Association and the area was called Wesleyan Grove. Eventually, the tents became a little more sophisticated and comfortable. They added wooden floors, a front porch, wooden sidewalls, and a canvas roof. The camp meetings became very popular as there was not much to do back then as NetFlix hadn't been invented yet. Pretty soon the circle of tents grew larger and larger as people decided to stay longer on the island and refresh the body as well as the soul.
The tents were soon replaced by small cottages built in a new whimsical architectural style with ornate filigree and embellishments that was dubbed Carpenter Gothic. I suspect it became somewhat of a contest as to who could create the most colorful and eye pleasing cottage. These cottages were typically long and narrow like a shot gun house with two or possibly three rooms on the first level. A set of double doors opened out onto the front porch mimicking church doors. The bedrooms were located up a set of very steep stairs on the second level and there was generally a balcony over the front porch. The kitchen and privy were located outside the house. Now the Methodists had to be a friendly lot as the front porch served as an outdoor living room and you could reach out and almost touch the cottage next to you because the lots were originally just big enough to hold a tent.
By 1880 there were over 500 of these cottages gathered in a radial-concentric pattern on 34 acres with small paths connecting the smaller circles of homes. Today around 300 cottages remain in a remarkable state of preservation along with a church, chapel, and a wrought iron Tabernacle which itself is an extraordinary building with soaring arches and unique construction. This place is well worth visiting if you ever get the chance.
The Methodist Camp Meetings also found a home in the Lakes Region when Methodists discovered that Weirs Beach provided the perfect backdrop for their summer religious meetings. In 1874, 13 acres were purchased for camp-meetings and by the 1890's the area called "Methodist Circle" had grown into a small colony of cottages on the shores of Winnipesaukee. The worshippers constructed an auditorium in the center of the circle and eventually built a church on Tower Ave in 1886. That church burned in 1924 but was rebuilt in 1926 and still stands today.
To get to Methodist Circle you go over the wooden bridge just up past the boardwalk on Lakeside Ave. There you will find a number of the original cottages and while they might not be quite as fancy or ornate as the ones in Oak Bluffs they are still pretty cool.
There is also another well known camp meeting area in Alton which began in 1863 and was called the Second Advent Campground. These early worshippers also started with tents but were finally given permission to build wooden structures to stay in because there seemed to be a delay in the coming of the Lord. Initially, they were not allowed to paint their structures as the day of resurrection was supposed to be imminent and the church leaders didn't want anyone to waste money on an unnecessary paint job. Eventually, the rules were loosened and the cottage owners were allowed to preserve their buildings with a good old coat of Benjamin Moore. The only problem was many were built so close together you couldn't get between them to paint them or do any maintenance. Fires have destroyed many of these cottages. The largest fire was in 1945, but one as recently as 2009 claimed over 40 structures.
To see photos of many of the Oak Bluffs cottages and some of our own cottages at the Weirs visit Data was compiled using the NNEREN MLS system as of 6/1/13. Roy Sanborn is a REALTORĀ® at Four Seasons Sotheby's International Realty and can be reached at 603-455-0335.