The Camp Ground, Then and Now

Two views of Trinity Park, shot eighty-seven years apart. Bill Ewen, a graphic artist from Providence and a summer resident of the Camp Ground for nearly thirty years, set up his camera in 2005 near the cottage he and his wife had bought the summer before.

Beginning in the summer of 1835, evangelical Methodists established a weeklong summer retreat in an oak forest near East Chop, hoping to get away from the temptations of the town. The Oak Bluffs camp meeting quickly became the most famous in New England. But as season followed season, the pilgrims found it increasingly hard to ignore the beautiful Island around them. The foundations for the tents became foundations for gingerbread cottages, and the spiritual purpose of the meetings eventually gave way to a more recreational one.

Though the two images look much the same, the second cottage from the nearest in the 1918 view is missing from the 2005 view. Cottagers own their homes, but the Martha’s Vineyard Camp Meeting Association still owns the land. If a homeowner doesn’t follow association rules, he can be forced leave the Camp Ground – and to take his cottage with him.

Eleanor Shabica, who was born in 1913 and still spends the season in the family’s cottage – the fourth from the closest in the 1918 view, bought that year by her father for $500 – remembers returning one summer to find the neighbor’s cottage missing. “They didn’t obey the rules,” Eleanor recalls her mother saying. “Imagine being told they could take away your house!

My sister and I were on our best behavior all summer long!”