The Cottagers’ 26th annual House Tour will be held on Thursday, July 17, rain or shine. In the fine tradition of distinctive homes associated with the event, five cottages will be on tour.
Two cottages are on Ocean avenue across from Ocean Park, and two houses and the historical Shearer Cottage are in the area of East Chop known as the Highlands.
Advanced tickets are available now at C’est La Vie and Cousen Rose Gallery at a cost of $20 per person. On the day of the tour, tickets can be purchased at Cottagers Corner, at 57 Pequot avenue across from Hartford Park beginning at 9 a.m. Look for the colorful windsocks to identify the residences. All proceeds go the Island charities.
16 Myrtle avenue Dr. Duncan E. and Jocelyn Coleman Walton
Jocelyn Coleman Walton and her husband Duncan have a love affair with the Vineyard. Jocelyn worked as a school administrator and math textbook author, and Duncan as a psychologist. Though Duncan has been coming to Oak Bluffs for a long time, Jocelyn first came at age one and describes their cottage in the Highlands as, “The place my heart calls home. . . . I grew up next door to writer Dorothy West and down the road from Isabelle Powell. I love it.”
The Walton Cottage is a study in family history that began in the early 1940s when Jocelyn’s grandmother, Luella Coleman, starting purchasing lots one at a time through savings from her home “allowance” and working winters in Boston department stores. Over time, she acquired the equivalent of 10 small lots in the Highlands: five on each side of Myrtle avenue at the end of the street.
Jocelyn’s grandfather was dean of Boston’s Black Theatre Project. Together he and Luella Coleman built the first family cottage and barn on three lots, a family legacy that stands today.
She recalls her grandmother saying she gave the lot owners “A nickel down and a nickel when they could catch me.” This property became known in Oak Bluffs as Coleman’s Corner.
The Walton Cottage belonged to Jocelyn’s father. His property, built on one of the five lots, originally was a tiny 20-by-20-foot prefabricated garage he built in the 1970s. It is a mere shadow of the new cottage the Waltons built, but its significance is front and center.
When Jocelyn and Duncan built their lovely, newly constructed summer residence, they restructured the original 20-by-20 space to become their new kitchen. The final structure, a two-bedroom, two-bath open plan home takes advantage of every inch of space. Though the Waltons were constrained by code as to the number of bedrooms and baths they could build, this end result is a cottage that is at once inviting, chock full of family history, and filled with charm.
The front entry is beautifully planted with lemon wave hydrangeas, butterfly bush, dappled willow, gooseneck loose-strife and a large pink Rose of Sharon bush, planted on the corner. Shade and sun gardens surround the cottage which also includes a hummingbird garden planted near the side patio.
The new cottage was built by Chip Mitchell of Sunrise Builders. You enter the cottage, with its den and spacious loft, into an expansive open-floor plan space. The vaulted ceilings have a bank of windows high above the living and dining room space. The spacious living room has large double sofas. Sand art from Ten Thousand Villages and Haitian paintings are displayed on the walls. Items original to the house can be found both indoors and outside.
The kitchen has oak cabinets and Corian countertops, while three woven wood chairs provide seating and company for the cook.
The clever design of the lower level allows the Waltons to sleep eight by using a trundle bed in the den. The den has a unique office armoire which houses the computer and other work area materials. When guests are in the cottage, screens are pulled across the area for privacy. A side door in the den leads outside to a deck with large, lush flower pots.
The guest bedroom is decorated in a shell motif in shades of green. The master bedroom is a surprising space for total relaxation. The large side window looks out over the back garden where sounds from a waterfall element below fill the room. But the real surprise is the beautiful master bath. The ceramic double sinks are fashioned from imported Mexican blue tile with a calla lily motif, designed, made, and shipped from Puerto Valetta. All accessories — soap dishes, tissue box, and cabinet door knobs — follow the same motif.
The loft level is a large space that serves as a television and family room. The family photo wall displays images in green frames in an interesting arrangement. A very special poem published by the Vineyard Gazette in July 6, 1962, Island Summer, written by her grandfather, is tucked in one corner.
The Waltons have taken the Coleman legacy to heart, not only preserving their past, but expanding its roots.
89 Ocean avenue Sissy and Kelsey Biggers
The Biggers Cottage, one of the grand cottages along Ocean Park overlooking Nantucket Sound, was purchased by the Biggers in 1998 and is a work of art. Its bright lemon yellow clapboards match perfectly the sunny disposition and friendliness of its owners, Sissy and Kelsey Biggers. Sissy works with Plum Television. Kelsey works in asset management though his avocation is fine woodworking and marquetry.
This cottage may be one of the most architecturally unique Victorian structures in town because it combines four Carpenter Gothic cottages, joined together to become one unit that was moved from the Camp Ground.
The Biggers’ daughter Sarah is working this summer at the Martha’s Vineyard Preservation Trust. She characterizes the construction of the cottage in a research paper on the Architecture of Oak Bluffs. She writes: “The layout of the four connected cottages is as follows: Cottage one faces the park and is crossed in the rear by cottage two, whose front facade runs perpendicular to the park. The cottage that became the front facade and entrance parlor was enclosed with an open porch that wraps around the front of the house. The former front facade of the next cottage back now acts as a side entrance into the house. This section of the house was extended on the north side with a bay window. The third cottage to be attached was added on behind the second cottage and if its front facade was still visible, it would face the street. Behind this cottage a fourth cottage is connected in the same manner as the second one. Cottage two and four run parallel to each other and are connected by cottage three.”
The Biggers worked with Reagan Construction on the restoration and renovation of this circa-1870 cottage. There is no doubt their combined efforts have created a summer place to be enjoyed by family, friends and future generations. The restoration, completed in 2008, and multiple additions to this turn-of-the century home, blends traditional Oak Bluffs character with a meticulous expression of modern comforts.
The spacious dining room has one of the most exquisite round dining tables, built and designed by Kelsey. Made of cocobola wood, this table was built in his Connecticut work room and seats 14. The enormous base of the table is pine with a row of inlaid circles. The table was delivered in pieces and reassembled in the dining room. It took several men to get it into the room.
The double yellow bedroom off the dining room which honors Kelsey’s grandmother, Susie Ella (Mussy) Biggers, has its special place in the house. The furniture, art, poetry and dressing table with family photos under glass, arranged exactly as they were in her house, all reflect the memories associated with this beloved family member. This bedroom has its own bath, one of five well-appointed spa bathrooms installed this year. Contiguous with the kitchen, it doubles as a powder room.
A state-of-the-art Clark’s kitchen is the hub of family activity with three separate areas for food prep and eating.
There is a newly built enclosed sun porch on the front of the house with sky-blue wainscoted ceiling and custom Italian furnishings. There are two distinct areas off a pair of new French doors on both sides of the kitchen — one, the breakfast patio on the Kelly garden side for alfresco dining, the other, the Norton garden side, a porch leading to a lawn dining area with a huge, teak picnic table Kelsey made and a new outdoor shower. Note the turtle stepping stones kept from previous owners, the Murasios.
The comfortable family room boasts surround sound and an LCD. Custom wall cabinets hold family artifacts.
Level two of the cottage is the bedroom level. The pièce de resistance is a fabulous, newly built tower which serves as a magnificent master bathroom. Views of the sound abound. There is a Victorian bedroom with cottage style furniture original to the house. The painting of the Victorian girl was purchased by Sissy’s father as a gift to her while on a business trip in New York. This extraordinary cottage is a testimony to the kind of attention to detail achieved by the owners and a gift to the community of Oak Bluffs.
4 Morgan avenue (Shearer Cottage) Lee Van Allen.
Few sites in Oak Bluffs have a more profound history for African Americans than Shearer Cottage, created out of sacrifice, vision and hard work.
Charles Shearer, the son of a slaveholder in Spanish Oaks, Appomattox County, Va., refused to follow his master as the Union Army approached. He was beaten and chained in the barn after declaring he would join the northern troops. He did indeed become a Union soldier. Found by the approaching Army, he gained his freedom near the end of the Civil War, joined the Union forces, and became a hunter and fisherman for the troops. How ironic that Appomattox County is where General Robert E. Lee surrendered in 1865.
Charles Shearer found opportunity in that freedom, graduating from Hampton Institute in 1880. He married Henrietta Merchant, a woman of free birth and mixed ancestry. They moved to Everett, near Boston, and together raised their 10 children. It was the religious revivals at the Baptist Temple Park in Oak Bluffs that drew Charles and Henrietta to the Island, where they purchased their first home in 1900. The site at the time overlooked Baptist Temple Park. In 1912, Charles and Henrietta built a 12-room house which was connected to a laundry specializing in washing and ironing, “fancy work” Henrietta began, providing pick-up and delivery with her horse and wagon.
Later, the horse and wagon was used to transport guests to and from the inn, which was the only place African Americans were welcome on the Island. This inn is a place that has particular significance for the Cottagers Inc., who held their initial meetings here more than 50 years ago.
The lovely, quiet setting for this family inn became the social and economic hub for the African American community. When African Americans began coming to the Vineyard on vacations, this was the place that welcomed them and many who eventually purchased homes attribute stays at Shearer Cottage to those decisions to purchase.
They included singer and actress Ethel Waters, actor and opera star Paul Robeson, composer and arranger Harry T. Burleigh, who preserved and recorded the oral spirituals, and Madame C.J. Walker, a beauty magnate and self-made millionaire. Future Congressman Adam Clayton Powell Jr. came as a teenager with his father, the Rev. Adam Clayton Powell Sr., pastor of Harlem’s Abyssinian Baptist Church. More recently, such entertainers as Lionel Richie and the Commodores have vacationed there.
During the 1960s, the 12 guests rooms and shared baths were renovated into six efficiency kitchen units.
In the past, the dining room was the center of activity and delicious meals. Today it has been converted into a common living room where guests intermingle and relax. Two cottages will be opened to ticket holders.
18 Wendall avenue Audrey Dixon
The property on tour today is located on the grounds of the famous Twin Cottage, which formerly was owned by Elizabeth Pope White of the Shearer Cottage family.
Liz was an actor, writer and for years ran a children’s theatre; plays were routinely performed on her porch. She left the property to her son Richard, now deceased. Her daughter in law, Audrey Dixon, has been coming to the Island since she was 17. Along with their daughter, the Dixons spent more than 50 years vacationing there. The Dixons’ daughter, Maritza Sands, was married on the porch.
After the cottage fell into disrepair, all hopes of saving it were dashed. Today, a new four-bedroom cottage has been built on the site. Audrey has been able to keep some of the original Twin Cottage furnishings. Her daughter has most of the original pieces.
The new cottage is a four-bedroom center hall colonial built in 2004 for personal family use. Kitchen, family room and dining nook are open spaces; there are separate dining and living rooms.
In honor of Liz White’s legacy on the Island, Audrey had a large boulder placed on the property with one of Liz’s poems inscribed on a bronze plaque.
93 Ocean avenue Sharon and John Kelly
The Kelly Cottage and gardens is one of the most exquisite examples of the elegant Queen Anne style and one of the crown jewels of Ocean Park.
Built in 1860, probably by the Oak Bluffs Land and Wharf Company, it has been enlarged twice, once in 1880 and again in 1914. This cottage has been the site of grand parties since it was built. Where it stands today, four identical cottages were built circa 1850. The excitement of this cottage rests with its original furnishings and respect for its historical roots. This six-bedroom, four-bath cottage with magnificent views across Vineyard Sound allows one to step back to a period in our history to be found nowhere else on the Island.
When John and Sharon purchased this home in 1977, they had no idea what they were getting into. It was John’s father and his father’s friend who helped John and Sharon take on this daunting task, but John and Sharon did the difficult research and took the time to ensure accuracy and respect for this historical grand dame. The results are stunning.
As you approach the property, beautiful flower beds planted on both sides of the walkway share the same theme. The enormous wraparound porch, ideal for relaxation as well as entertainment, is furnished with antique wicker. Authentic double-screened entry doors invite guests into a large living room with a big brick fireplace and coffered ceiling.
There was a tower the Kellys had seen on post cards which had blown down during the hurricane of 1938. They had the Reagan builders reconstruct the tower in 1987. Because the stairs are so narrow, furniture for the tower had to be put in place before the tower was completed.
The billiard room boasts a restored 1897 billiard table. The great charm of this room? Its stained-glass windows which Sharon made.
On the night of the fireworks in Oak Bluffs, this gem comes alive with a fabulous party and ballroom dancing, established as a tradition in 1990.