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Living on Martha's Vineyard

Boating on Martha's Vineyard

Boating on Martha's Vineyard

About Living on Martha's Vineyard:

 About Living on Martha's Vineyard:
Martha's Vineyard is a resort island off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts.  Nine miles wide and 23 miles long, this triangular shaped island is approximately 100 square miles of lush vegetation and quaint New England towns and residences.

Being a vacation destination, the population of Martha's Vineyard varies drastically between the quiet winter months and hectic summer tourist season.  The year-round residents consist of approximately 20,000 locals.  In the summer months the population swells to 120,000 plus and includes the seasonal residents who own second homes on the island and visitors who stay from as little as a day to the whole season.

Living on Martha's Vineyard can be challenging, but also rewarding.  With a short tourist season running from July 4th through Labor Day, earning a year round living in some industries can be challenging if not impossible.  However, if you are creative, resourceful and multi-talented, you may find a variety of jobs, online business opportunities, or simply a high volume summer can meet your income needs and provide for a very interesting and varied life.  The geography of Martha's Vineyard provides beautiful beaches minutes from everywhere, rolling countryside, forests, ocean cliffs, and the challenge of needing to take ferry to reach the mainland should you need something that can not be had on island.  A healthy lifestyle is easy to maintain on the miles of hiking and biking trails, or with swimming, kayaking and sailing, but the bumper to bumper traffic you will encounter in the summer may have you walking or biking to the store more than driving.  If you enjoy a close knit community than look no further than the 20,000 year round residents.  In a such a small community, everyone tries to be friendly and supportive of each other, frequenting local owned businesses and participating in local groups and clubs, but with that camaraderie also comes the small town atmosphere where everyone knows everyone and everything.  News travels fast.  Like every other location, Martha's Vineyard offers plenty of benefits and maybe a few drawbacks, but overall, it is an amazing place to live.

History of Martha's Vineyard:

 Martha's Vineyard was discovered in 1602 by Bartholomew Gosnold, an English explorer.  When they landed on the sandy shores, the explorers found a wealth of vegetation, wildlife and friendly Wampanoag Natives.  Gosnold decided to name the island after his daughter Martha and the abundance of grapevines growing naturally on the land, hence the name Martha's Vineyard.

By 1642, the first English settlers arrived on Martha's Vineyard.  Unlike what happened in most of the country, settlers on the island dealt fairly with the natives, buying their land and learning from them.  In fact, there remains to this day, an Indian presence on Martha's Vineyard in Aquinnah. 

The early economy of Martha's Vineyard thrived.  A major center of commerce, the island prospered on the boating industries of fishing, whaling and trade.  Faltering when trade and commerce moved away from the ocean, the residents of Martha's Vineyard persevered and gradually redefined the island into a resort destination.

History of Vineyard Haven:

Always a hub of island life, Vineyard Haven has an interesting history. Home to the island's only year-round port of entry, Vineyard Haven is a bustling town with an active business district and home to almost 1/3 of the Island's residents.

During Colonial times, its residents supported the American Independence movement and as a result was occupied and pillaged by British navel forces in 1778. In 1883, a huge fire destroyed 73 buildings along Main Street.

Vineyard Haven, Martha's Vineyard is actually incorporated as the town of Tisbury. It can be very confusing because while Vineyard Haven technically refers to only one section of the town of Tisbury, you will typically hear the two names used interchangeably. According to historical records, originally, Vineyard Haven was known to the Wampanoag inhabitants as Nobnocket. Plymouth colonists referred to the area as Homes Hole, "Homes" from a Wampanoag term for "old man" and "Hole" meaning a sheltered inlet. In 1871, the village officially changed it's name to Vineyard Haven.

History of Oak Bluffs:

Oak Bluffs is located on the northeast shore of Martha's Vineyard. In 1880, it was incorporated as Cottage City but was renamed in 1907 as the growing town outgrew it's Cottage roots.

During the 19th Century, Oak Bluffs became the center of the Methodist movement. In 1835, it began hosting the annual summer camp meetings for the Methodist Church. The meetings at Wesleyan Grove were all-day gospel sessions that were drawing as many as 12,000 people by the mid-1850s. The visitors would camp in communal tents belonging to each individual church group. Their beds consisted of straw purchased from local farmers. The communal tents eventual gave way to "family tents" which were only granted by church authorities to families they deemed suitable. The family tents became small wooden cottages that were designed to look like tents and eventually became the fancy gingerbread houses we see today. In 1879, the big central tent used for services was replaced by an all steel structure known as the Tabernacle which still stands today.

Oak Bluffs is known for its many historial and famous landmarks. Probably the best known is the nation's oldest continuously operating carousel, the Flying Horses. Built by Charles W.F. Dare, the horses were hand-carved in New York City in 1876 and arrived in Martha's Vineyard in 1884. The Martha's Vineyard Camp Meeting Association consists of hundreds of beautiful gingerbread cottages showcasing the Carpenter Gothic style of architecture. Oak Bluffs is also home to the largest marina on Martha's Vineyard, the famed Tabernacle, public beaches, public parks, and the Farm Neck golf course. The downtown business district offers a variety of delicious restaurants, quaint inns, beautiful galleries, shops, movie theatres and live entertainment.

Several annual events help to round out Oak Bluffs appeal to residents and visitors alike including the Annual Monster Shark Tournament, Camp Meeting Association Illumination Night in the Campground, and the August Fireman's Association Fireworks.

To see the town of Oak Bluff's today, visit the live webcam feed.

Tour of Oak Bluffs

2008 Oak Bluffs Monster Shark Tournament

History of Edgartown:

Edgartown as incorporated as Edgar Towne in 1671. The first English village on the island, it was named after Edgar, the son of the Duke of York.

Edgartown made it's mark during the height of the whaling industry. As vessels returned from whaling trips, their hulls fully laden, they could not enter the shallow harbor of Nantucket until they off-loaded in the deeper waters of Edgartown. Edgartown residents capitalized on this opportunity and built factories, chandleries, sail lofts, shipping firms, and bakeries to serve the in and outbound ships.

Edgartown once encompassed a huge area. In addition to the remote barrens of Chappaquiddick, the town encompassed the eastern half of the island including East Chop, the wilderness that would become Oak Bluffs, the Katama plains, forestland in the center of the island which is now state forest, the Edgartown harbor, and the shell fishing grounds and estuaries of Sengekontacket Pond, Cape Pogue Pond and Katama Bay.

Today, Edgartown is the historical center of the island. To this day, taking a walk along Edgartown's brick sidewalks is like taking a walk through history as its' Federal style homes and captain's houses preserve the look and feel of the 19th century. Edgartown is also home to the Martha's Vineyard Historical Society and their museum which houses historic photographs, cultural artifacts, archival records and genealogical records.

Edgartown has more to offer than just history. The town lays claim to more miles of public beach than any other town on the island. Its harbor is the largest on the Vineyard and the Edgartown Yacht Club hosts the annual regatta each July and a 12-meter series in August. For panoramic views, Edgartown offers not just the upper deck of Memorial Wharf, but also entrance to and enjoyment of the historic Edgartown Lighthouse.

360 degree view from Memorial Wharf, Edgartown, MA

Tour of Edgartown, MA

History of West Tisbury:

West Tisbury was the second location on Martha's Vineyard to be settled by the English. In the 1670s, this new settlement was called Newtown and was established by the Mayhew family. Indians living in the area that were converted to Christianity prayed in a small church which became the center of a small Wampanoag community known as Christiantown. The cemetery of unmarked stones can still be found there.

West Tisbury's fertile land has made it the island's agricultural center. The farmers of West Tisbury organized themselves into an agricultural society in 1858 and began the annual livestock show and fair which is still one of the islands biggest annual events. Also a big draw is the weekly Farmer's Market where you can find not only fresh fruits, vegetables and live plants, but also home made foods and hand crafted gifts.

West Tisbury Agricultural Fair 2008

History of Aquinnah:

Aquinnah, a remote town, is attached to the Vineyard on the West by a thin strip of beach along the south shore. This remoteness and a strong determination saved the last of the four Vineyard native tribes. In 1681, Mattack the chief of the Aquinnah tribe decreed, to no avail, that no land under his control could ever be sold to the settlers. That land was, in fact, deeded by the Mayhew family to the New York governor, Thomas Dongan, but the governor never moved to the Island to claim the land and it primarily remained in Wampanoag control.

The land on this corner of the island was named Gay Head by the English because of the beautiful variety of colors visible in the sea cliffs. The Aquinnahs had effectively set up their own government by 1825 and refused to become part of a the state guardian system in 1828. Gay Head was incorporated in 1870. In 1987, the tribe was granted federal recognition of proprietorship over all the Common Lands of the town and is the only federally recognized tribe in Massachusetts. In 1998, the name of the village was changed to Aquinnah meaning "place under the hill."

Aquinnah natives were farmers and fishermen. When whaling became big business, the captains recognized the whaling skills of the Gay Head men and were only too anxious to bring them on board. Starbuck, in Moby Dick, was a Gay Head native.

The Cliffs, below Gay Head Lighthouse, are a National Landmark. These beautiful cliffs with their striking colors and impressive size, are a record of 75,000,000 years of New England geology. Formed by glaciers 12,000 years ago, a visitor can view them at a distance from the Aquinnah observation platform, or hike to the bottom on Moshup's Trail.

The Cliffs and Lighthouse, Aquinnah, MA

History of Chilmark:

Like Edgartown, the original boundaries of Chilmark were far reaching. Early Chilmark was a huge tract of land in the center of the Island and encompassed the village of Chilmark and surrounding lands, all of Aquinnah (Gay Head), the island of Noman's Land, and the Elizabeth Islands. Unlike most of the American colonies, Chilmark started out as a feudal town when the Mayhew family was granted a baronetcy over the Manor of Tisbury. A commoner by birth, the merchant Thomas Mayhew became Governor Mayhew when he settled Martha's Vineyard in 1642, chief justice of the Vineyard's supreme court, and Lord Mayhew when the baronetcy was granted in 1671.

Menemsha Fishing Port, Martha's Vineyard

Martha's Vineyard Fun Facts:

  • During the 19th century, the rate of those being born deaf on Martha's Vineyard was 1 in 155 (compared to 1 in 6,000 on the US mainland.)
  • The high deaf population on the island resulted in the development of Martha's Vineyard Sign Language which later merged with mainland signs to form American Sign Language.
  • Aquinnah was known as Gay Head until 1998.
  • Martha's Vineyard is shaped like a triangle.
  • While Nantucket grew famous for providing whaling ships, the Vineyard as best known for their captains, crew members, and services catering toward operating whaling ships.
  • At least 200 Islanders served as captains of whaling ships during the course of the 19th century.  By 1846, it is believed that Vineyard men were in command of a fifth of the American whaling fleet.
  • The island's newspaper, the Vineyard Gazette was started by Edgar Marchant on May 14, 1846.
  • Dr. Daniel Fisher of Edgartown rode across the great plain in the middle of the Island to inspect his flour mill so often that the pathway he carved became known as the Dr. Fisher Road.  The pathway is still visible as it makes it way through the state forest.


Husky1970 on December 19, 2010:

After 20+ years of being a seasonal resident, my wife and I lived on the island year round from 2002-2006. That is when we learned what a close-knit community it truly is. Fun to watch the population start increasing gradually in April, May, and June, explode in July and August, and the begin to wane in September, October, and November, Just like the surrounding tidal waters.

Eiddwen from Wales on September 06, 2010:

really enjoyed reading this. Thank you so much for sharing !

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