|Martha's Vineyard -|
Aquinnah | Chilmark | Edgartown | Oak Bluffs | Vineyard Haven | West Tisbury
Martha's Vineyard, New England's largest resort Island, was formed by glacial action 10,000 years ago and lies 7 miles off the coast of Cape Cod, in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, USA. The Island is roughly triangular-shaped with its base the straight south shore. It is 9 miles wide and 23 miles long at its furthest points; the total land area is approximately 100 square miles. Martha's Vineyard has a total of 124.6 miles of tidal shoreline.
There are six towns on the Island of Martha's Vineyard; three up-island towns, Aquinnah (formerly known as Gay Head), Chilmark, and West Tisbury; and three down-Island towns, Vineyard Haven (also known as Tisbury) Oak Bluffs and Edgartown. The terms "up-Island" and "down-Island" are nautical terms referring to longitude on a map.
The Island of Martha's Vineyard covers roughly 100 square miles, and is home to both year-round and seasonal residents. Some live "up-island" in the more rural towns of Aquinnah, Chilmark and West Tisbury, and others live "down-island" in the more populous towns of Edgartown, Oak Bluffs and Vineyard Haven (also known as Tisbury). Each Island town is unique in its geography, personality, and character. All blend together to create this special place many of us love to call our home. If possible, take time to visit each of the Island towns during your visit. The following overview will give you an idea of what to expect when you get there.
The above information was found on the Chamber of Commerce’s web site www.mvy.com. Please view this web site for much more information about the island.
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Many year-round residents of Aquinnah are descendants of the Wampanoag Indians, who showed the colonial settlers how to kill whales, plant corn and find clay for the early brickyards. Much later, these Aquinnah Indians were in great demand as boat steerers in the whaling fleets. It was the boat steerer who cast the iron into the whale. The Aquinnah Indians were judged to be the most skillful and courageous boat steerers of that era.
The courage of the early residents of Aquinnah demonstrated itself in the many instances when they took to the seas in deadly weather to aid survivors of famous wrecks that took place off the Aquinnah Cliffs. As further testament to their valor, a plaque on the schoolhouse commemorates the fact that Aquinnah sent more men, in proportion to its size, to fight in World War I than did any other town in New England.
The brilliant colors of the mile-long expanse of the Aquinnah Cliffs astonished early explorers and have continued to be a source of intense interest to scientists and visitors alike. Here, layers of sands, gravel, and clay of various hues tell a hundred-million-year-old story of a land first covered with forests, then flooded and laid bare, then covered with new growth, time and again. The seas, glaciers, and land itself have contorted these once-level layers into waving bands of color that stream above the sea. Erosion continues as it has for centuries, turning the seas red and revealing fossil secrets. From the fossils revealed by erosion, we know of the great sharks that swam over what is now Chilmark, of the clams and crabs—so like those of today—that inhabited ancient seas. Pieces of lignite from the Cretaceous period are found on the beach, looking like nothing so much as the remnants of recent campfires. Fossil bones of camels and wild horses, as well as those of ancient whales, have been found in the Cliffs. The Aquinnah Cliffs are a national landmark; yet they are seriously threatened by carelessness. To protect the Cliffs, climbing and the removal of clay are both prohibited by law.
Because of the extremely dangerous rocky ledge offshore, the seas around Aquinnah have always been a place of great peril to the mariner. One of the first revolving lighthouses in the country was erected atop the Cliffs in 1799. It had wooden works that became swollen in damp or cold weather, when the lighthouse keeper and his wife would be obliged to stand all night and turn the light by hand. The current red-brick electrified Gay Head Light now stands in its place.
At this time, Aquinnah does not have a town web site. The above information was found on the Chamber of Commerce’s web site www.mvy.com. Please also view the Department of Housing and Community Development web site www.state.ma.us and click on local government, the community of Aquinnah.
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is known worldwide as a town of rolling hills and unmatched coastline. Not so long ago uninhabited except for an occasional farm or fishing village, it now provides the setting for many a summer home.
The stone fences of the sheep farms still ribbon the hills, while the old stone animal pound stands on the South Road—a reminder of the days when a gate left open resulted in a roaming flock and a fine for its owner.
The center of Chilmark boasts a lovely church. The unique pointed steeple was added when the building was moved in 1915 from its original site on Middle Road. Although no longer in use, the little village school stands as it has for more than a century.
All roads from the center at Beetlebung Corner lead to points of beauty. Middle Road, perhaps the least improved of Island main roads, provides an incredibly lovely view of a placid farm with the Atlantic Ocean as a backdrop.
The Menemsha Crossroad joins North Road and takes one to the fishing village once known as Menemsha Creek. Here the draggers still come in with their great nets and the lobstermen land their catches. Seafood may be purchased on the spot. Lovely private vessels lie along the docks while yachtsmen take on fresh water and supplies. A safe public bathing beach is another attraction. Menemsha is also the home of a Coast Guard station.
Before the days when the Coast Guard looked out for shipwrecked vessels, Vineyarders took it upon themselves to form volunteer groups that provided assistance to sailors in times of need. The open dories were launched into the stormy seas from Squibnocket Landing, the only beach on the south shore shallow enough for a boat to be launched or landed in heavy weather. It now is a beach for year-round and summer Chilmark residents.
The above information was found on the Chamber of Commerce’s web site www.mvy.com Please also view the Department of Housing and Community Development’s web site www.state.ma.us and click on local government, the community of Chilmark.
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One of New England's most elegant communities, Edgartown was the Island's first colonial settlement and it has been the county seat since 1642. The stately white Greek Revival houses built by the whaling captains have been carefully maintained. They make the town a museum-piece community, a seaport village preserved from the early 19th century.
Main Street is a picture book setting with its harbor and waterfront. The tall square-rigged ships that sailed all the world's oceans have passed from the Edgartown scene, but the heritage of those vessels and their captains has continued. For the past hundred years, Edgartown has been one of the world's great yachting centers.
To view and appreciate this town fully, you must walk its streets. North Water Street has a row of captains' houses not equaled anywhere. Study the fanlights and widow's walks by day and stroll down the streets after the lamps are lit.
South Water Street is dominated by a huge pagoda tree brought from China as a seedling by Captain Thomas Milton in the early days of the last century. The house beyond it was that of Captain Valentine Pease, on whose ship Herman Melville made his only whaling voyage.
Many houses in Edgartown predate the whaling era. Most are private residences, but three notable ones are serving other needs. The Vincent House (built in 1672, the oldest known house on the Island) and the Thomas Cooke House are museums. At 34 South Summer Street, you'll find the home built by Benjamin Smith in 1760. It is now the office of the Vineyard Gazette.
Across from the Gazette is the Federated Church, built in 1828. It still has the old box pews, which are entered through little doors and have narrow seats around three sides.
The famous Old Whaling Church with its six massive columns commands Main Street. Built in 1843 at the height of the whaling industry, the Church was given to the Martha's Vineyard Preservation Trust in 1980. It has been transformed into a performing arts center. Next door is the Dr. Daniel Fisher House, built three years before the Old Whaling Church.
There are excellent public beaches in the township of Edgartown. Norton's Point, known as South Beach or Katama, is a barrier beach providing surf bathing and the opportunity to explore Katama Bay on the other side of the dunes. Wasque and Cape Poge on Chappaquiddick are both unspoiled areas owned and maintained by The Trustees of Reservations. They are favorite spots for bluefish and bass fishermen. Lighthouse Beach, located off North Water Street near the town center, offers calm water and views of harbor activities. Bend-in-the-Road Beach, part of Joseph Sylvia Beach, has ample parking and is accessible by bicycle trail.
Felix Neck is about three miles outside the center of town on Vineyard Haven Road. The 200 acres, owned by the Massachusetts Audubon Society, provide marked trails and a program of wildlife management and conservation education throughout the year.
The above information was found on the Chamber of Commerce’s web site www.mvy.com Please also view the Department of Housing and Community Development’s web site www.state.ma.us and click on local government, the community of Edgartown.
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In 1835 this community served as the site for annual summer camp meetings, when Methodist church groups found the groves and pastures of Martha's Vineyard particularly well suited to all-day gospel sessions.
Wesleyan Grove, as the Oak Bluffs Camp Ground was called, rode the crest of the religious revival movement. By the mid-1850s, the Sabbath meetings here were drawing congregations of 12,000 people. They came for the sunshine and sermonizing in hundreds of individual church groups.
Each group had its own communal tent where the contingent bedded down in straw purchased from local farmers. Services were held in a large central tent. The communal tents gave way to "family tents," which reluctant church authorities granted only to "suitable" families. But the vacation urge could not be checked. Family tents turned into wooden cottages designed to look like tents. And the cottages multiplied, trying to out-do each other in brightly painted fantasies of gingerbread. A new, all-steel Tabernacle structure replaced the big central tent in 1879. It stands today as a fine memento of the age of ironwork architecture.
Within 40 years of the first camp meeting here, there were crowds of 30,000 attending Illumination Night, which marked the end of the summer season with stunning displays of Japanese lanterns and fireworks.
Wesleyan Grove struggled to hold its own against such secular attractions as ocean bathing, berry picking, walking in the woods, fishing, and croquet playing. There were efforts to ban peddlers, especially book peddlers. A high picket fence was built around the Camp Ground proper. By the 1870s, Wesleyan Grove had expanded into "Cottage City" and Cottage City had become the town of Oak Bluffs, with over 1,000 cottages.
Steam vessels from New York, Providence, Boston, and Portland continued to bring more enthusiastic devotees of the Oak Bluffs way of life. Horse cars were used to bring vacationers from the dock to the Tabernacle. The horse cars were later replaced by a steam railroad that ran all the way to Katama. One of the first passengers on the railroad was President Grant. The railroad gave way to an electric trolley from Vineyard Haven to the Oak Bluffs wharves, and the trolley eventually gave way to the automobile.
Oak Bluffs is also the home of the Flying Horses Carousel, the oldest continuously operating carousel in the country. Its horses were hand-carved in New York City in 1876. This historic landmark is maintained by the Martha's Vineyard Preservation Trust. It is open daily during the summer and on weekends in the spring and fall.
The above information was found on the Chamber of Commerce’s web site www.mvy.com Please also view the Department of Housing and Community Development’s web site www.state.ma.us and click on local government, the community of Oak Bluffs.
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|Vineyard Haven (also known as Tisbury)|
Excellent shops, fine restaurants, and a beautiful harbor are only a few of the attractions that make Vineyard Haven so special to tourists and residents alike.
The town that incorporates Vineyard Haven is called Tisbury, after a parish in England near the birthplace of the Island's first governor, Thomas Mayhew. English settlement of the area dates from the mid-1600s, when Mayhew purchased the settlement rights from the local Wampanoag.
Owen Park, off Main Street just beyond the shopping district, is named for gramophone innovator William Barry Owen, whose wife donated the parcel for public use. The town beach here is a fine place to watch the harbor. Ferries shuttle in and out, providing the Island's year-round connection to the mainland.
On the opposite side of Main Street from Owen Park is the Old Schoolhouse Museum. Erected in 1828, this building has served many uses. It was once a carpentry shop, a school, and later served as the Congregational Church. In front of the museum stands the tall white Liberty Pole, commemorating the daring of three young women who inserted gun powder in the base of the town's liberty pole in 1778 and blew it up to keep it from being used as a spar by a British warship.
When the Congregationalists outgrew their little church in 1844, they built a neoclassic building on Spring Street that later became the Unitarian Church and eventually the town hall. Vineyard Haven's municipal building is one of the Island's most handsome architectural legacies of whaling days. The Vineyard Playhouse building, on Church Street, was built in 1833 as a Methodist meeting house. Today it houses the Island's only year-round professional theater company.
When ships were powered by wind and canvas, Vineyard Haven was one of New England's busiest ports because of its strategic location on the sailing routes. Most of the coastwise shipping traveled through Vineyard Sound (13,814 vessels were counted in 1845). Holmes Hole, as this harbor community was called, provided a convenient anchorage. Here a ship and its crew could lay over comfortably to wait out bad weather, pick up provisions, or take on an experienced local pilot who could negotiate the rips and shoals that were the special perils of this sea route.
In addition to Owen Park, the town maintains War Veterans' Memorial Park off Causeway Road (located just behind the fire station). The park includes playground equipment for young children and playing fields used by local ball teams.
There are many scenic places around the town: in addition to Main Street and the harbor, the Tashmoo Lake overlook on State Road, the nearby Tisbury Water Works, West Chop Lighthouse, and the area around the drawbridge on Beach Road are favorite spots for photographers.
The above information was found on the Chamber of Commerce’s web site www.mvy.com Please also view the Department of Housing and Community Development’s web site www.state.ma.us and click on local government, the community of Tisbury.
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West Tisbury has all the characteristics people associate with a typical "New England village," with its white church, general store, post office, old mill, farms, and ponds. It was the mill site that originally attracted the settlers here, because there was no stream in Edgartown strong enough to dam for a water wheel. The grist mill gave way in 1847 to the manufacture of satinet, a heavy fabric for whalemen's jackets made from Island wool.
The Congregational church on State Road is always open to visitors. Solid and settled as it now looks, even this structure did not escape the Islanders' penchant for moving buildings around. The original churchyard, where the first settlers of the town are buried, is about a quarter of a mile down the road. Near the church is the Dukes County Academy building, now West Tisbury's Town Hall. Next to that is the famous old Agricultural Hall, site of the Farmer's Market and other events in the summer.
Several old houses here started out as inns, back when a trip from the down-Island ports to Gay Head or Chilmark was a long haul over sandy roads. Daniel Webster stayed at the house next to the store building. Across the little pond from the old inn is a house built by the son of Miles Standish in 1668. Captains owned the largest houses in town, and some of the finest are still occupied by their descendants. Several captains' houses can be found on Music Street, given its name after a number of its families purchased pianos with new whaling money.
The Lambert's Cove settlement has its share of fine homes and a charming white church. The cove was once a place of anchorage for the town of West Tisbury. The area housed clay works, salt works (needed for the herring which were exported), and extensive trap fishing operations. All this has vanished. Even the road to the harbor is gone. A woodland path leads to the beach, which is now set aside for year-round and summer residents of West Tisbury.
Other points of interest are the Cedar Tree Neck Nature Preserve and the Christiantown Memorial to the Praying Indians. Cedar Tree Neck may be reached from the Indian Hill Road. It is a matchless piece of unspoiled Vineyard woods with a freshwater pond and brooks, bounded by North Shore Beach. Picnics, fishing, and bathing are not permitted here, but there are marked trails for those who appreciate the opportunity to watch birds, follow woodland paths, and walk along a quiet shore. The Memorial is located off Christiantown Road. Here one may see a tiny chapel, a pulpit rock where services were held for the Wampanoag Indians in the 17th century, and the rough small burial stones of these first converts. The Martha's Vineyard Garden Club has planted a wildflower garden nearby.
The above information was found on the Chamber of Commerce’s web site www.mvy.com Please also view the Department of Housing and Community Development’s web site www.state.ma.us and click on local government, the community of West Tisbury.