One Cottage, So Much History

The Oak Bluffs historical commission is right to speak out frankly in the matter of the Harmon cottage demolition in the Camp Ground. The chain of events that led to what the town building inspector is calling a progressive demolition are a little unclear, as are the lines of authority. The historical commission, the town and the Martha’s Vineyard Camp Meeting Association, which owns and controls the Camp Ground, all are involved in piecing together the facts in the case.

And why is the demolition of one small cottage so important?

There are two principal reasons.

One is about following the rules. From the facts available so far, it appears that the owners of the cottage were either ignorant of the town regulations regarding historic demolition, or they found a way to get around them, as the cottage was torn down in pieces over a period of weeks or months.

Either is no excuse.

The second reason is about history. The old buildings of the Vineyard are symbols of its rich living history, and nowhere more so than in the Camp Ground, whose origins as a place for religious revivals in the middle of the nineteenth century also mark the Island’s beginnings as a summer resort. The Camp Ground was placed on the National Register of Historic Places thirty years ago.

Cottage owners are stewards of that history, each in their own right, and as such have a responsibility to maintain the integrity of their buildings.

Historical commission member David Wilson summed it up last week when he said, “The historical significance of these buildings goes beyond the Camp Ground.”

The cease-and-desist order should provide time to get to the truth of the matter in the case of the Harmon cottage, and find a solution that respects the integrity of the process as well as the history of the place.