Island History - The Island of Martha's Vineyard is a jewel
of many facets. It is the largest and, thought to be, one of
the most picturesque islands in New England. The Vineyard is
shaped like an irregular triangle, approximately twenty miles
in length and nine and a half miles at its widest point. Located
just a few miles off the southeast coast of Massachusetts, the
island is easily accessible by airplane or ferry. It is comprised
of six towns, three of which are referred to as "Up-Island"
(Aquinnah, Chilmark & West Tisbury), and three of which are
referred to as "Down-Island" (Edgartown, Oak Bluffs & Vineyard
Haven, which is also known as Tisbury).
still offers a great deal of open space and rolling fields,
as well as ponds and marshes, which are now protected by conservation
restrictions. We are fortunate to have retained much of the
charm and character that the first inhabitants found so appealing,
though it's a fragile commodity.
Wampanoag Indians were the original inhabitants
of Noepe, now known as Martha's Vineyard,
and date back about seven to ten thousand years ago. There
were numerous sachemships on the island, but the Aquinnah
Wampanoags are the only ones who continue to live here today.
To trace the
first white man's discovery of Martha's Vineyard you have
to consider a couple of different theories. One of the popular,
but hard to prove, theories deals with the Norsemen. In Icelandic
lore, there are references made to the discovery and exploration
of America, including the discovery of a land referred to
as Vinland (Wineland), which was named because of its abundance
of grapes. It is believed that Leif Ericsson,
a mariner in the eleventh century, was the first to sail this
hemisphere, and it is quite possible that he was the first
white man to discover this as yet unspoiled island.
The most commonly
told story begins when Bartholomew Gosnold,
an English mariner, set sail from Falmouth, England in 1602,
to explore the shores of the new world. He sailed around Cape
Cod and up the southern shores of Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard,
mistaking them for the mainland.
on the larger island of Martha's Vineyard after exploring
and naming the Elizabeth Islands. Although the Wampanoags
called the island "Noepe", Gosnold dubbed it "Martha's Vineyard",
named for his daughter Martha and the presence of wild grapes
on its shores. Upon exploration of the island, Gosnold discovered
"Lakes, ponds and streams of the purest water, bushes bearing
edible berries, tree growth from which hung fruit filled vines,
while birds and animals were everywhere."
October 13, 1641, Thomas Mayhew purchased
Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket and the Elizabeth Islands from
Sir Ferdynando Gorges and the Earl of Stirling.
orders to colonize the island, the English first settled on
the east end of Martha's Vineyard in 1642. During the first
ten years of the settlement there were approximately three
thousand Indians on the island and not more than three dozen
The first semblance
of a government of record was in 1653 when Martha's Vineyard
became a colony of New York. Today Dukes
County is comprised of the six towns on Martha's Vineyard
and Gosnold (Cuttyhunk and the Elizabeth Islands). Each town
has its own government, police force and fire department.
- Until recently, the Town of Aquinnah had been known as Gay
Head. The name Gay Head was thought to have been given because
of the multi-colored clay cliffs at its head that spill into
the Atlantic. The name was changed back to its original Indian
name of Aquinnah in 1998. Many descendants of the original
Wampanoag Indians still reside in Aquinnah.
The clay cliffs
for which the town is known were created by glaciers during
the Ice Age. There have been many fossils found as the cliffs
have eroded over the years, however it is now illegal to remove
clay or anything else from the cliffs for fear of causing
permanent damage to this magnificent natural formation.
One of the first
lighthouses in America was built on the cliffs of Gay Head
in 1799. In addition to the breathtaking views of the Gay
Head cliffs, Aquinnah has many beautiful vistas, private beaches
(for town residents only), and one public beach, Moshup Beach,
located off Moshup Trail. Aquinnah is located on the western-most
point of the Vineyard.
- The up-island town of Chilmark is known for its rolling
hills and magnificent views. Ancient stonewalls gracing the
countryside are a common sight in this New England town. Chilmark's
coastline is very dramic, ranging from the sloping sandy beaches
of the south shore to the rocky coast of the north shore.
town of Chilmark was named for Chilmark, England, the ancestoral
home of Thomas Mayhew's wife. For centuries Chilmark consisted
mainly of farmland and the tiny fishing village of Menemsha.
Menemsha is now world renowned for its subtle beauty and traditional
New England charm. In addition to being a classic New England
fishing village, it is one of the only harbors on the east
coast where you can watch the sun set into the sea. Among
the best features of Menemsha are the dock-side fish markets
where you can have your lobsters cooked to go, or pick up
some of the freshest seafood imaginable.
many beautiful beaches, two are for Chilmark residents only
(Squibnocket and Lucy Vincent), however Menemsha Beach is
open to the public. Chilmark also boasts some of the highest
property evaluations in the state, yet has one of the lowest
- West Tisbury is a quaint New England village with many historical
points of interest. It has large tracts of unspoiled land,
much of it still used for farming. The center of town still
has the old country store (Alley's) as its centerpiece, along
with the Congregational Church, the Old Mill Pond, the Grange
Hall and the Town Hall.
was once a stopover on the long trail from one end of the
island to the other by horseback or horse and
buggy. Today West Tisbury is best known for the Farmer's
Market and the Agricultural Society Fair.
is home to Lambert's Cove Beach, one of the most beautiful
on the north shore. Also, the Trustees of Reservations own
a large south shore beach which is available to members of
the Trustees of Reservations.
- Edgartown is a scenic seaport village. Many of the beautiful
antique homes that line the streets of this charming community
were built in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The
main section of town is graced with stately captain's homes
that were built when Edgartown was a prosperous whaling community
during the 1800's. The massive "Old Whaling Church" that dominates
Main Street was built in 1843 and is a well-known Vineyard
Island is one of the most beautiful parts of Edgartown. With
gorgeous beaches and hundreds of acres of preserved land it
provides a habitat for many endangered species of plants and
is a delightful place to while away a lazy summer day browsing
thorough its many shops or dining at any of its fine restaurants.
Take a stroll down by the docks and you'll see why Edgartown
is best known for its yachting community.
- Oak Bulffs is known the world over for its "gingerbread
houses", built on the site of the original Methodist summer
camp meetings in the 1800's. Today the Tabernacle and many
beautiful gingerbread-style cottages are located in the area
known as the Campgrounds. "Illumination Night",
when all of the cottages light japanese lanterns throughout
the campgrounds, is one of the most popular events.
Bluffs Fireworks over the gazebo in late August
Oak Bluffs is
also home to the "Flying Horses" carousel, the oldest operating
carousel in the United States. Its horses were hand-carved
in 1876 and the manes and tails are made of real horse hair.
Each horse has a unique name, and choosing your favorite is
half the fun.
Oak Bluffs' Ocean
Park is among the town's big attractions. Concerts are regularly
held in the gazebo during the summer months, and the August
fireworks held by the park are fabulous.
The main streets
of Oak Bluffs are lined with arcades, shops, and restaurants.
Oak Bluffs is one of two ports on Martha's Vineyard where
the Steamship Authority docks, however, Oak Bluffs is not
used in the off-season.
- Tisbury, named for Tisbury, England, birthplace
of Thomas Mayhew, is better known as Vineyard Haven. The port
of Vineyard Haven is home to the Steamship Authority year-round.
Vineyard Haven's harbor is one of the most beautiful on the
island and offers up a bit of history. In the 1800's most
of the coastwise shipping traveled through the Vineyard Sound
and Holmes Hole, as it was called then, was a good port for
The town has
many scenic spots and points of interest. To this day Vineyard
Haven is the center of year-round trade, as it is the only
port on the Vineyard used by the Steamship Authority in the
is a beautiful and diverse island. It is an exclusive summer
resort community for many who vacation here, and for the rest
of us it's home. We hope you'll come visit, enjoy its beauty
and help preserve it for future generations. "Martha's Vineyard
is an island-separate, but never equaled."
Neck Golf Club - 18-hole Bent grass course wrapped to
the Sengiekontacket Pond shoreline. Built in 1979. Considered
a landscaping jewel by golfing enthusiasts. Designed by Geoffrey
Cornish & Bill Robinson. Enjoy a debate of which is the "signature"
hole -- #3,4,7,8,12, 14, and 17 are the field -- and that's
a lot of contenders for one course! Weekday green fees for non-members
are seasonal. Call for more information.
Meadows Golf Club - Mink Meadows Golf Club, located
in Vineyard Haven, on Martha's Vineyard, was designed and
constructed in 1936 by Wayne Stiles. The nine-hole semi-private
course measures to 3076 yards, and features rolling terrain
with ocean views over Vineyard Sound to Woods Hole and the
Elizabeth Islands. Osprey and hawks regularly nest in the
woods bordering the course, deer and wildlife sightings are
a common occurance. The public may enjoy this well-groomed
course by making tee times two days in advance.
Neck Wildlife Sanctuary - Explore Felix Neck’s two
miles of trails, which provide spectacular views of the surrounding
woodlands, meadows, pond, salt marsh, and barrier beach. In
the summer, enjoy such sights as nesting pairs of ospreys
and a tree swallow colony. From the observation building,
look for wood ducks and other waterfowl in the pond during
the fall and winter. In the spring, barn owls can also be
seen nesting in the barn loft.
Horses Carousel - Located on Oak Bluffs Avenue in
the heart of Oak Bluffs, this treasured carousel has been
enjoyed by Vineyarders and visitors for more than a century.
Acquired by the Preservation Trust in 1986, the Flying Horses
Carousel is the nation's oldest operating platform carousel
and a National Historic Landmark. It is one of the two known
carousels built by Charles W.F. Dare in 1876. In 1884, the
Flying Horses were brought to Martha's Vineyard.
Hill Arboretum - Welcome to The Polly Hill Arboretum,
a Martha's Vineyard horticultural and botanical landmark,
developed over the past forty years by the legendary horticulturist,
Polly Hill. It is here that Polly brought twenty acres under
cultivation while preserving forty additional acres as native
woodland. Crisscrossed by old stone walls surrounding open,
wildflower-filled meadows and characterized by vernacular
Vineyard architecture, the Arboretum is preserved as a not-for-profit
institution established in 1996 and is devoted to the cultivation
and study of plants.