Oak Bluffs, Massachusetts

Oak Bluffs is a small town situated on Martha’s Vineyard in Dukes County of the US State of Massachusetts. The town serves as one of the main arrival points for summer tourists on Martha’s Vineyard Island. Oak Bluffs is well-known for the “gingerbread cottages” and other well-preserved mid-to late-nineteenth-century buildings. Since the eighteenth century, Oak Bluffs has been a historically important center of African American culture.

Geography Of Oak Bluffs

Aerial view of Oak Bluffs, Massachusetts
Aerial view of Oak Bluffs, Massachusetts. 

Oak Bluffs covers a total area of 67 sq. km, of which 19 sq. km is occupied by land, and 48 sq. km is covered by water. It is the third smallest community in Dukes County. East Chop, the northernmost point of Oak Bluffs, is just over 8 kilometers from the mainland. The town is bordered by the Nantucket Sound to the north and east; Edgartown to the south; and Lagoon Pond, Vineyard Haven Harbor, and Tisbury to the west. Oak Bluffs also shares a common corner, along with Tisbury and Edgartown, with West Tisbury.

The Climate Of Oak Bluffs 

According to Köppen Climate Classification, Oak Bluffs experiences a humid subtropical climate with warm, humid summers and cold, snowy winters. The average temperature for the year in Oak Bluffs typically varies between -4.4°C and 26.1°C. July is the hottest month with an average high temperature of 25.5°C, while the coolest month is January, which has an average low temperature of -3.8°C. The town receives an average precipitation of 1148.1 mm per year.

Brief History Of Oak Bluffs

Soldiers' Memorial Fountain, Oak Bluffs, Massachusetts.
Soldiers' Memorial Fountain, Oak Bluffs, Massachusetts. Editorial credit: M Rose / Shutterstock.com

The Wampanoag people were the first inhabitants to settle in Oak Bluffs. They lived in Martha’s Vineyard (Wampanoag name: Noepe) for more than 10,000 years. They called the area where Oak Bluffs is currently situated as “Ogkeshkuppe,” which meant damp thicket or woods. In 1642, the Europeans settled in the area, which was part of Edgartown, until it was officially incorporated as Cottage City in 1880. In 1907, the town was re-incorporated as Oak Bluffs. The name “Oak Bluffs” was chosen as the town was the site of an oak grove along the bluffs overlooking Nantucket Sound. Oak Bluffs was among the six towns on the island that were deliberately planned and the only town that was developed specifically with tourism in mind.

The town of Oak Bluffs has been an important center of African American culture since the eighteenth century. People of African descent arrived at Martha’s Vineyard in the 1600s. They came as enslaved West Africans who worked on farms owned by European settlers. In the 18th century, the Oak Bluffs harbor drew freed slaves, sailors, and laborers, and white colonists sold them land. Slavery was abolished, and the formerly enslaved Africans came to Martha’s Vineyard to work in the fishing industries. During the late 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, several middle-class blacks managed to buy and rent summer homes, and many of their descendants returned annually. The religious services held in Baptist Temple Park drew many formerly enslaved people and their descendants who bought the property in the area. By the 1930s, local black landowners in Oak Bluffs were transforming the town into the country’s best-known and most exclusive vacation spot for African Americans. Wealthy African Americans from New York, Washington, and Boston came to Oak Bluffs, the only Martha’s Vineyard town that welcomed black tourists as the other towns on the island did not allow black guests to stay in hotels and inns until the 1960s.

The Population Of Oak Bluffs

Oak Bluffs is home to 4,665 residents with a median age of 40.8 and a population density of 196 people per square kilometer. Around 92.88% of the residents in Oak Bluffs are US-born citizens, while non-US-born citizens account for 2.68%. The most common hometown of the foreign-born residents of Massachusetts is China, then comes Brazil, and then the Dominican Republic. The largest ethnic groups in Oak Bluffs are White, most of whom are considered non-Hispanic, and they account for 86.72% of the town’s population, followed by Black or African Americans at 4.31%, and Two or more races at 4.28%. The minor ethnic groups in the town are Native Americans, representing 1.51% of the Oak Bluffs population, followed by Others at 2.5%, Hispanic or Latino at 1.19%, and Asians at 0.67%.

The Economy Of Oak Bluffs

The passenger ferry "Island Queen" in Oak Bluffs, Massachusetts
The Island Queen passenger ferry runs between Falmouth on Cape Cod to Oak Bluffs on Martha's Vineyard on a daily basis. Editorial credit: Ceri Breeze / Shutterstock.com

The median household income of Oak Bluffs is $87,648, which is higher than the median annual income of $65,712 across the entire United States. The economy of Oak Bluffs employs around 1,400 people in different industries. Two-thirds of the working force work in private companies, while one-third work in government institutions. The largest industries in Oak Bluffs are Professional & Scientific Services, Retail Trade, and Educational Services.

Visiting Oak Bluffs

Iconic gingerbread cottages in Oak Bluffs, Massachusetts
Carpenter Gothic cottages with Victorian style, gingerbread trim on Lake Avenue, Oak Bluffs, Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts. Editorial credit: travel view / Shutterstock.com

Visitors can engage in many recreational activities in Oak Bluffs. The town has many places to visit, including the iconic gingerbread cottages, the outdoor event complex of Trinity Park Tabernacle, the Mocha Mott’s, which is famous for the organic and fair-trade coffee espresso drinks, and baked goods. Visitors also enjoy the Flying Horses Carousel, the oldest platform carousel in the United States.

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