towns & information
About Martha's Vineyard Island MA
Martha's Vineyard is a roughly 100 square mile (259 km²) island off the southern coast of Cape Cod, and is often known simply as "the Vineyard". Located in the state of Massachusetts, the Vineyard makes up most of County of Dukes County, Massachusetts (the rest of the county consists of Cuttyhunk and the Elizabeth Islands). It was home to one of the earliest known deaf communities, and consequently a special dialect of sign language, Martha's Vineyard Sign Language, developed on the island. The island is now primarily known as a summer colony, but seems to be growing as a year-round community.
Martha's Vineyard is made up of six towns:
- Tisbury, also known as Vineyard Haven.
- Edgartown, which includes Chappaquiddick Island.
- Oak Bluffs, often mistakenly referred to as Oaks Bluff.
- West Tisbury.
- Chilmark, including the fishing village of Menemsha.
- Aquinnah, formerly known as Gay Head.
The Towns of Martha's Vineyard, County of Dukes County, MA
Tisbury, MA 01568
Tisbury was settled by the English in the mid-sixteen hundreds. Its' ample harbor lies nestled between two small peninsulas, or "chops", thus creating the year-round port and village of Vineyard Haven, once called "Holmes Hole". The harbor is home to several shipyards and marinas, in addition to the Steamship Authority terminal. It remains to this day a "dry" town. The nightlife tends to be more low key, the better to enjoy many fine restaurants, shops, galleries, and theatres. Bike and walking paths are found on and off the road, and leisurely strolls along the harbor or side streets are full of local history and architecture.
Since the mid 1800's, Oak Bluffs has been a vacation destination for a diverse group of visitors, and has retained its character as a charming Victorian seaside community that is especially family friendly. It is home to colorful gingerbread cottages, a beautiful town park and a long stretch of calm, sandy beach. The bustling harbor and downtown area offer many restaurants, shops, galleries and ice cream parlors, two vintage movie theaters and the Flying Horses, the oldest carousel in the nation. Annual summer events include Illumination Night, weekly band concerts and sing-a-longs, a monster shark tournament, and an evening of fabulous fireworks at Ocean Park, signaling the end of summer.
Edgartown was the Island's first colonial settlement. It was a major whaling port in the eighteenth century, and the stately Greek Revival houses built by the whaling captains still line the streets of the downtown area. The Whaling Church is the venue for many events. The charming Edgartown lighthouse overlooks the harbor, world renowned as a great yachting center.
The small island of Chappaquiddick is just a short ferry ride away. Walk the streets to see the variety of architectural designs, visit the restaurants and shops. Drive or bike to South beach, well known for its gulfs stream warmth and rolling breakers, the perfect place to swim, build a sand castle, and read the book you've been saving.
West Tisbury, with its white church, general store, old mill, farms, ponds, open space, and even an arboretum, is often referred to as "the Athens of Martha's Vineyard". It has all the characteristics people associate with a typical New England village. Several homes in town were once owned by sea captains, and are still occupied by their descendants. The old agricultural hall regularly hosts antique markets and farmers' markets throughout the summer and fall. Farm grown vegetables and homemade baked goods, flowers, and assorted crafted items serve up tempting treats. The new agricultural hall hosts the annual four day Agricultural Fair in August and several major art and craft shows.
Chilmark is known for its panoramic views and unmatched coastline. The rolling hills "up island" offer unobstructed views of farmland and livestock with a backdrop of the Atlantic Ocean. Ancient stone walls line the roads and crisscross the fields. The beaches are unspoiled, and are known to be some of the best in the world. The center of Chilmark boasts a lovely church and a general store. The busy community center is nearby, where family activities are held all summer. Catch a swim or a fish on Menemsha Harbor where draggers still come in with their catches, and where seafood may be purchased on the spot. Stay for sunset while watching a parade of pleasure and fishing boats return to port.
Chilmark is also the home of the scenic and historic fishing village of Menemsha. A small opening for boats, called Menemsha Bight, leads vessels from Vineyard Sound to a safe harbor with scenic and quaint fishing port along the shores. Colorful fishing shacks, houses, and shops adorn the docks and streets of the village. Menemsha is famous not only for its fresh seafood and unique architecture, but also for the stunnning sunsets along the harbor, Lobsterville and Menemsha beaches. Menemsha is a very popular touring stop on the island.
Aquinnah, formerly known as Gay Head, sits high on the southwestern end of the Island and, as a 3,400-acre peninsula, is surrounded by some of the most beautiful beaches anywhere. It has been home to the Wampanoag Tribe for thousands of years. The Wampanoags taught the colonial settlers how to farm and hunt whales. To this day their descendants keep their memories and traditions alive. Aquinnah is known to sun worshippers and scientists alike for its' breathtaking clay cliffs, a national landmark. The colorful layers are a geological treasure, and from its crest beyond the shops are seen panoramic views towards the Elizabeth Islands, New Bedford, and the Atlantic Ocean.
Originally inhabited by the Wampanoag Indians, Martha's Vineyard was known in their language as Noepe, or "land amid the streams." It was named Martha's Vineyard by English explorer Bartholomew Gosnold, who sailed to the island in 1602. Gosnold's mother-in-law as well as his daughter, who died in infancy, were each named Martha, and even today there are many areas of wild grapes on the island.
Like the nearby island Nantucket, Martha's Vineyard was brought to prominence in the 19th century by the whaling industry, sending ships around the world to hunt whales for their oil and blubber. The discovery of petroleum in Pennsylvania, producing a cheaper source of oil for lamps, led to an almost complete collapse of the industry by 1870. The island struggled financially through the Great Depression, but since then its reputation as a resort for tourists and the wealthy has continued to grow. There is still a substantial Wampanoag population on the Vineyard, mainly located in the town of Aquinnah. Aquinnah (which means "land under the hill" in the Wampanoag language) was formerly known as Gay Head, but was recently renamed its original Indian name.
The island received international notoriety on July 18, 1969, when Mary Jo Kopechne was killed when a car driven by U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy drove off the Dike Bridge (also spelled Dyke Bridge). The bridge connected Chappaquiddick Island (which is next to the Vineyard and generally thought of as part of it) with an isolated barrier beach. Martha's Vineyard received further notoriety on July 16, 1999, due to a plane crash off its coast that claimed the lives of pilot John F. Kennedy Jr., his wife Carolyn Bessette, and her sister, Lauren Bessette. Kennedy's mother, former U.S. first lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, maintained a home in Aquinnah until her death in 1994. Mrs. Onassis frequently stated that she preferred to keep her children away from the often troubled Kennedy family compound in Hyannisport.
In 1974, Steven Spielberg filmed the movie Jaws on Martha's Vineyard. Spielberg selected island natives Jay Mello and Chris Rebello for the parts of Sheriff Brody's sons, and used scores of island natives as extras. Later, scenes from Jaws 2 and Jaws the Revenge were filmed on the island as well. In June, 2005, the island celebrated the 30th anniversary of Jaws with a weekend long "JawsFest."
In 1977, Martha's Vineyard tried to secede from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (it also tried to secede from the United States and become an independent nation) along with the island of Nantucket.
Martha's Vineyard received more world-wide attention because of the many summers U.S. President William J. Clinton and his wife, now-U.S. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, spent on the island during his presidency.
Tourism and Residents
The Vineyard grew as a tourist destination primarily because of its very pleasant summer weather — during many summers the temperature never breaks 90°F — and many beautiful beaches.
Wealthy Boston sea captains and merchant traders formerly created estates on Martha's Vineyard with their trading profits, and today, the Vineyard has become one of the Northeast's most prominent summering havens, attracting celebrities like the Clintons, Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Ted Danson and Mary Steenbergen, the late Katherine Graham and Princess Diana, Carly Simon, James Taylor, Dan Aykroyd and Donna Dixon, Spike Lee, Michael J. Fox, William F. Buckley, Alan Dershowitz, former US Senator Bill Bradley, Diana Ross, Roger Styron, Beverly Sills, Art Buchwald, Walter Cronkite, Mike Wallace and David Letterman.
The roster of celebrities who vacation on the Vineyard often makes people think of the island as glitzy, which is not the case. It is better thought of as intentionally rustic, a place where people who normally spend their time around glitz can wear T-shirts and flip flops. The charms of the island are not obvious to someone who visits for a day or less. Martha's Vineyard has very little in the way of obvious tourist attractions. This is mostly a conscious strategy, as vacationers there seek an escape from the city, not a re-creation of it.
Martha's Vineyard is one of the traditional resorts of U.S.'s African-American upper class. Due to a long history of racial harmony on the island, many black families started vacationing there a century ago. The epicenter of black culture on Martha's Vineyard is the town of Oak Bluffs, where many African American celebrities own houses. Its main beach has been dubbed "The Inkwell" by African-American residents.
Martha's Vineyard has become one of the best real estate values in the United States in recent decades. Excellent construction and renovation specialists, as well as service and maintenance companies, enjoy thriving business throughout the year. The addition of high speed internet service has also increased off-island job and shopping opportunities, and has added to a growing year-round population. The island is home to five elementary/middle schools and a highly rated blue-ribbon regional high school and charter school. Additionally, the MVRHS sports programs are very good, and have won state championships in football, hockey, and cross-country in recent years. Any game with rival island Nantucket is well attended, with the annual football game played the Saturday before Thanksgiving receiving national attention in newsprint (USA Today) and television (NBC).
It now has a year-round population of about 20,000 people in six towns, but in summer the population swells to 100,000 residents, with more than 25,000 additional visitors coming and going on ferries every day. The most crowded weekend is July 4. In general, the summer season runs from June to the end of August, correlating with the months most American children are not in school. May and September are often as nice or nicer, without crowds and with much cheaper prices.