In all the years that I've been going to the Vineyard and driving right through Oak Bluffs, the only time I've taken the time to notice any of the gingerbreads is when I've been driving along Beach Rd or photographing Christmas lights at Ocean Park. I knew there was an entire community nestled back in town but just never took the time. This trip I vowed I would wander around with the intent of not just seeing the houses but photographing them at Christmastime.
A little background on the 'Hansel & Gretel' houses and the community: it was a group of Methodists who held religious retreats and meetings on the Islands back in the 1800's and at the time, they camped out mainly just in tents. As the attendance grew, so did the need for better and more permanent accommodations as well.
The original cluster of 500 cottages was initially known as “Cottage City,” until the name was changed to Oak Bluffs in 1880. The storybook design is actually an architectural style called Carpenter’s Gothic which was very popular at the time. As time went on, these individually decorated cottages, painted with bright and vivid colors with candy-like pillars and ornaments, became known as the “gingerbread houses.”
There are currently about 300 of these houses in the "campground," the cottage museum at the entrance, and the Tabernacle at the center of the complex where meetings and religious activities take place and where it is rumored that Larry David will occasionally surface. The big event of the year is Grand Illumination Night which began in 1869. The campground and the cottages are decorated with paper lanterns transforming the area into a magical fantasyland!
Just below you'll see a sampling of the utter cuteness of the gingerbread homes taken a few days after Christmas. Click on each one to view full size in the gallery. If you are interested, any of the photos can be purchased in many formats and you can purchase a digital download for just $2 which affords you unlimited, non-commercial use.