~ WESLEY HISTORY~
Old Wesley -1907
The Wesley Hotel is
the last of the grand hotels which were built in Oak Bluffs during
the late 1800's. The Wesley has been in continuous operation as
a destination for travelers since 1879. According to the Best Read
Guide the Wesley was built by Mr. A.G. Wesley for the sum of $18,000.00.
Over the years, the hotel has undergone many changes. At its largest,
there were 105 rooms, including those in the Arms building which
was built around 1924. Currently the hotel has a total of 95 rooms.
The Wesley occupies a highly visible location across from the Oak
Bluffs harbor. It is one of the first buildings seen by travellers
coming by land or by sea. The hotel personifies the Victorian atmosphere
which can be seen throughout the town. The majority of the hotels
were not yet in existence when the Wesley House opened in the spring
of 1879 in Vineyard Grove (Cottage City from 1880-1907 and now Oak
Bluffs). Today it is a splendid tribute to those who have assumed
its care and defied a nearly universal fate.
ideal location of the hotel, between the Methodist Camp Ground and
the harbor, also undoubtedly contributed to its longevity. Initially
the hotel fronted Commonwealth Square and the Camp Ground - its business
related very much to that source. A transformation in 1906 established
its main entrance and expansive verandas on the harbor side. By the
1920s its waterfront orientation had become its principal asset.
The Wesley was the first hotel outside Boston to be wired for electricity.
During the first half of this century, virtually every Governor of
Massachusetts visited the hotel, which enjoyed a repeat business of
nearly 75 percent.
Wesley's founder, French Canadian cook Augusten Goupee, changed his
name to Augustus G. Wesley. This change was part of a business plan
to make a subliminal connection with John Wesley, the founder of Methodism.
Twenty years of professional operation by the Wesley family was greatly
tainted by Gus' arson conviction and subsequent jail term for setting
an insurance fire in the hotel in November of 1894.
Joseph Fullerton Hilton eventually assumed ownership in 1899 and his
son-in-law, attorney Herbert M. Chase, came to manage the hotel in
1902. Its most glorious days ensued. Chase continued to run the hotel
through World War II, before passing it to his son, George. It appears
that as late as the early 1950s the Wesley Hotel was the largest hotel
on Martha's Vineyard with 92 rooms of which 25 rooms were in the arms
building and 67 rooms in the main building with a dining room seating
part of Edgartown, Oak Bluffs was once known as the Cottage City
of America. Soon church folk from all over the country gathered
here for the Martha's Vineyard Camp Meeting. They came to preach,
pray, reflect and repent in a spirit of religious fervor. As stores,
hotels and larger homes sprang up around Cottage City, it developed
into a seaside resort. Oak Bluffs is a relatively young town, by
Island standards, and since its economy had more to do with recreation
than with the time-honored whaling or shipping trades of Edgartown
and Vineyard Haven, it evolved with a much more frivolous, light-hearted
air. Instead of serviceable, weather-hardy salt-boxes or dignified
captains' houses, Oak Bluffs filled with frilly, even gaudy, multicolored
gingerbread cottages, unwinterized "wooden tents" erected
to replace the earlier Methodists' canvas ones. Oak Bluffs businesses
also leaned toward pure entertainment; there were theaters, a giant
roller skating rink, hotels, and a carousel (still in operation).
Before the turn
of the century, townsfolk were feeling their own needs, separate
from Edgartown so community leaders began agitating for separation.
In 1880, they broke away and named the town Cottage City. In 1907
they renamed it as Oak Bluffs. As the Vineyard's first summer resort,
Oak Bluffs fostered a vacation economy that soon spread throughout
the Island to replace the disappearing whaling economy.