The Martha’s Vineyard Commission voted unanimously Thursday night to approve an expansion project for Shearer Cottage, the historic Oak Bluffs inn that has been central to the long tradition of African Americans vacationing on the Vineyard.


Expansion plans for the historic Shearer Cottage in Oak Bluffs remain undecided, as longtime family owners attempt to balance a need for economic survival with environmental impacts.

History was on display at the Martha’s Vineyard Commission Thursday night when a public hearing opened on a major renovation plan for Shearer Cottage, the richly storied Oak Bluffs inn.


For the past 40 years, Shearer Cottage — the rambling, red-sided building in the East Chop highlands — has been the annual destination for a group of doctors from Vermont.


In the 1940s, a small group of women started the Shearer Summer Theatre. Olive Tomlinson's mother Cutie Bowles was one of them.


Editor’s Note: Olive Tomlinson spoke with Linsey Lee, oral history curator for the Martha’s Vineyard Museum, about her recollections of Liz White’s Shearer Summer Theatre, one of the first summer theatre groups on the Island after World War II. An actress who felt stymied by the stereotyped African American roles available to her on Broadway, in the summers Liz returned to Oak Bluffs where her family owned and operated Shearer Cottage, a popular inn for vacationing African Americans.