TheVillage

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The Island’s First Visitors

The first Englishman known to have set foot on Martha’s Vineyard were Captain Bartholemew Gosnold and members of the crew of his ship Concord in 1602. It is believed they came ashore in Edgartown, on the northern tip of Chappaquiddick; and that Captain Gosnold named the island Martha’s Vineyard in honor of his infant daughter. While this landing marked Edgartown as one of the first places known to English explorers, Gosnold and his crew did not stay long. In fact, the first official settlement of Martha’s Vineyard was not until nearly four decades later when King Charles of England provided Thomas Mayhew and his associates “full power and authority to plant and inhabit” the island of Martha’s Vineyard. Of course, at the time of Mayhew’s arrival, the island already had a population of roughly 3,000 native Indians.

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From the Great Harbour to Edgar Towne

The village itself was originally called “Great Harbour” a literal reference to its most defining feature. Only later when the town was incorporated in 1671, was the name changed to Edgar Towne. The name, Edgar Towne, was chosen to honor the only son of the Duke of York, brother of King Charles. Because the king himself was childless, Edgar, a three-year-old, was next in line to the crown upon the death of his Uncle Charlie. The Mayhews, hoping to curry favor, chose the name Edgar, not knowing the boy had died a month before. It is said that this is the only Edgartown in the world. Had the youngster lived, there might be as many as there are Charlestowns and Jamestowns today.

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The Boom Years of Whaling

In the first 100 years on the island, some settlers worked the land as farmers, but most turned to the sea for their livelihood. Their real prosperity, however, came in the early 1800s, the boom years of whaling. As early as 1775, Martha’s Vineyard had 156 seamen employed on whaling vessels. By the 1800s, more than 100 Edgartown men were masters and when they returned from their voyages with a full cargo, they were rich beyond their dreams. Most of the historic houses in Edgartown Village were built by whaling masters during this golden era of whaling. After the Civil War, whaling went into decline as petroleum became abundant, cheaper and better than whale oil.

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New Visitors Discover the Vineyard

As it happened, the island was rescued from financial decline by a religious happening; which inadvertently transformed Martha’s Vineyard into a summer vacation destination. It was triggered by Jeremiah Pease, who in 1835 convinced the Edgartown Methodists to hold a camp meeting in an oak grove he had selected in today’s Oak Bluffs, then part of Edgartown. The camp event became an annual meeting, attracting at first hundreds, then thousands of Mainlanders. Once these visitors discovered the lovely vistas, sandy beaches and general tranquility of the island, word spread and soon off-Islanders were building and buying summer houses on the island. Gradually, the old Captains’ houses of Edgartown were bought by wealthy summer visitors; many of whom were committed to preserving the village’s historic flavor.

Edgartown Harbor

3 blocksfrom the house
Originally called “Great Harbour” it is today a bustling mix of fishing boats, pleasure craft, restaurants and retail shops.
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The Federated Church

Across the streetfrom the house
The oldest church on the island, its enclosed pews were designed to trap heat in the winter.
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The Martha’s Vineyard Museum

1 blockfrom the house
Martha’s Vineyard’s premier museum, founded in 1922, it celebrates the history and culture of the island.
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The Whaling Church

2 blocksfrom the house
This historic structure is home to many performing arts events from concerts to author talks to town meetings.
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The Main Street of Edgartown

2 blocksfrom the house
This four-block stretch, and its side streets, house dozens of restaurants, galleries and specialty boutiques.
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Beaches

The unspoiled charm of Martha’s Vineyard is probably best exemplified by the many scenic beaches located here. The beaches vary from protected, shallow, clear-water stretches on the northern and eastern sides of the Island to expanses of rumbling surf along the south side. Some beaches are open to the public without restriction, while others are reserved for residents and summer visitors who are staying in the towns where the beaches are located.

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Boating

One of the great pleasures of visiting an island is exploring its edges, and this is particularly true on Martha’s Vineyard with its four natural harbors, and dozens of inlets and ocean ponds. From yacht races to sailing camps; kayak tours to paddle board lessons; ferry boats to Boston Whalers, there is endless variety of adventures to be had on the island’s watery edges.

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Biking

Choosing to see the Island by bicycle is a great way to soak up the Vineyard’s character. Cycling also helps reduce auto traffic, preserves the environment, promotes fitness, and – best of all – is a lot of fun! More than 44 miles of bike trails and miles of roadways are available for cyclists to enjoy; including several that run right through the heart of Edgartown.

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Hiking

Many people are surprised when they discover Martha’s Vineyard covers about 100 square miles. Additionally, the island’s nearly dozen land preservation groups have helped to conserve more than 3000 acres, creating vast vistas for hikers, beachcombers and birders to explore in near splendid solitude.

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Dining

Dining out on Martha’s Vineyard offers many pleasures: locally sourced foods, fresh seafood and of course, the delicious seasonal dishes prepared by the Island’s creative and talented chefs. With more than 80 restaurants across the island, and nearly two dozen in Edgartown alone, you’re sure to find the perfect food for every mood – from simple sandwiches to extensive tasting menus; from artisanal beers to fine wines and inventive cocktails.

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Shopping

Island shopping can range from handmade crafts to high fashion designers, from local poet’s chapbooks to national bestsellers, from summer souvenirs to heirloom antiques. And while the Vineyard is home to literally hundreds of specialty boutiques, art galleries and one-of-a-kind shops, the one thing you won’t find on the island are national chains.