Essential Architecture- New England

Martha's Vineyard


Island Town
  Map of Martha's Vineyard. The island is roughly triangular in shape and is approximately 30 kilometers in length.
  A gingerbread house at Oak Bluffs, Martha's Vineyard and Edgartown Lighthouse on Martha's Vineyard at dawn, one of five lighthouses on the island. It is located at the opening of Edgartown harbor. It can be viewed by walking north on North Water Street to an area adjacent to the Harborview Inn.
  Gay Head cliffs
Martha's Vineyard (including nearby Chappaquiddick Island), is an 89.48 square mile (231.75 km²) island off the southern coast of Cape Cod (both forming a part of the Outer Lands region) and is often known simply as "the Vineyard". Located in the U.S. state of Massachusetts, the Vineyard makes up most of Dukes County, Massachusetts (the rest of the county consists of Cuttyhunk and the other Elizabeth Islands and the island of Nomans Land). It was home to one of the earliest known deaf communities; 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, though its year-round population has grown quite considerably since the 1960s, despite being accessible only by boat and by air. Many residents claim, due to the extremely large amounts of tourism year round, the island has become a much more expensive place to live, and the tourism has been known to cause islanders to move away to other states.


Originally (and still) 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 the 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. The original name of the island was Martin's Vineyard (after the captain of Gosnold's ship, John Martin); many islanders up to the 1700s called it by this name[1]. The United States Board on Geographic Names worked to standardize placename spellings in the late 19th century, including the dropping of apostrophes. Thus for a time Martha's Vineyard was officially named Marthas Vineyard, but the Board reversed its decision in the early 20th century, making Martha's Vineyard one of the few placenames in the United States today with a possessive apostrophe[2].

English Settlement had its origins in the purchase of Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket, and the Elizabeth Islands by Thomas Mayhew of Watertown, Massachusetts. Mayhew worked through the claims of two English "owners" of the islands and during his lifetime had friendly relations with the Wampanoags on the island in part because he was careful to honor their land rights as well. His son, also Thomas Mayhew, began the first English settlement in 1642 at Great Harbor (later Edgartown, Massachusetts).

The younger Mayhew began a relationship with Hiacoomes, an Indian neighbor, which eventually led to Hiacoomes' family converting to Christianity. Ultimately, many of the tribe became Christian, including the paw-waws (spiritual leaders) and sachems (political leaders). It became arguably the first successful cross cultural church planting mission in the history of Protestantism (Eliot's work on the mainland began a few years later). By most evidence the Mayhew approach was remarkably free of cultural imperialism so often a part of other missions of that and later eras. During King Phillip's War later in the century the Martha's Vineyard band did not join their tribal relatives in the uprising and remained armed, a testimony to the good relations cultivated by the Mayhews as the leaders of the English colony.

The younger Thomas Mayhew was lost at sea on a trip to England in 1657. The site of his farewell address became a memorial stone pile created by the Wampanoags which is preserved today. The elder Mayhew took over leadership of the English component of the Indian mission, and the Mayhew involvement continued for another three generations.

Indian literacy in the schools founded by Mayhew and taught by Peter Folger, the grandfather of Benjamin Franklin, was such that the first Native American graduates of Harvard were from Martha's Vineyard, including the son of Hiacoomes. They were literate in Wampanoag, English, Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. Sadly, all of the early Indian graduates died shortly after completing their course of study. However, there were many native preachers on the island who also preached in the English churches from time to time.

In 1683, Dukes County, New York was incorporated, including Martha's Vineyard. In 1691, the entire county was transferred to the newly formed Province of Massachusetts Bay, being split into Dukes County, Massachusetts and Nantucket County, Massachusetts.

Like the nearby island of 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 produced a cheaper source of oil for lamps and led to an almost complete collapse of the industry by 1870. After the Old Colony railroad came to mainland Woods Hole in 1872, summer residences began to develop on the island. Although the island struggled financially through the Great Depression, its reputation as a resort for tourists and the wealthy 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 linguist William Labov wrote his MA essay on changes in the Martha's Vineyard dialect of English. The 1963 study is widely recognised as a seminal work in the foundation of sociolinguistics.

The island received international notoriety on July 18, 1969, when Mary Jo Kopechne was killed when a car driven by U.S. Senator Edward Kennedy drove off the Dike Bridge (also spelled Dyke Bridge). The bridge crossed Pocha Pond on Chappaquiddick Island (A smaller island connected to the Vineyard and part of Edgartown). As a foot bridge, it was intended for people on foot and bicycles, as well as the occasional emergency vehicle when conditions warranted them. Currently, 4x4 vehicles with passes are allowed to cross the reconstructed bridge.

On November 23, 1970, in the Atlantic Ocean just west of Aquinnah, Simas Kudirka, a Soviet seaman of Lithuanian nationality, attempted to defect to the United States by leaping onto a United States Coast Guard cutter from a Soviet ship. In what is known as a significantly embarrassing incident in modern American history (prior to the breakup of the Soviet Union), the Coast Guard allowed a detachment of KGB agents to board the cutter, and subsequently arrest Kudirka, taking him back to the then-Communist Soviet Union.

Martha's Vineyard received further unwanted infamy on July 16, 1999 when a small plane crashed off its coast, claiming 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 (formerly Gay Head) until her death in 1994.

Martha's Vineyard received more world-wide attention when U.S. President William J. Clinton spent vacation time on the island during his presidency, along with his wife, future US Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and their daughter Chelsea. While the Clintons have made the Island famous in recent years, during the 1800s another famous President Ulysses S. Grant was also a summer visitor, staying in a Gingerbread cottage in the Methodist campground in Oak Bluffs.

In 1974, Steven Spielberg filmed the movie Jaws on Martha's Vineyard. Spielberg selected island natives Christopher Rebello for the part of Sheriff Brody's oldest son Michael Brody and Jay Mello for the part of the younger son Sean Brody. Scores of other island natives appeared in the film 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".

Distressed over redistricting, in 1977, Martha's Vineyard tried to secede from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts along with the island of Nantucket to become the nation's 51st state [2].

On March 5, 1982, John Belushi died of a drug overdose in Los Angeles, California, and was buried four days later in Abel's Hill Cemetery in Chilmark. On his gravestone is the quote: "Though I may be gone, Rock 'N' Roll lives on". Due to the many visitors to his grave and the threat of vandalism, his body was moved elsewhere within the cemetery. Many people visit his grave and in the summer it is often littered with beer cans, joints and other "tokens" for Belushi.

In the summer of 2000, an outbreak of tularemia, also known as rabbit fever, resulted in one fatality and piqued the interest of the CDC who wanted to test the island as a potential investigative ground for aerosolized Francisella tularensis. Over the following summers, Martha's Vineyard was identified as the only place in the world where documented cases of tularemia resulted from lawn mowing[citation needed]. The research may prove valuable in preventing bioterrorism.

 Political geography
Martha's Vineyard is made up of six towns:

Tisbury, including the main village of Vineyard Haven in the town center
Edgartown, which includes Chappaquiddick Island
Oak Bluffs, often mistakenly referred to as Oaks Bluff
West Tisbury, the "Athens" of the island.
Chilmark, including the fishing village of Menemsha
Aquinnah, formerly known as Gay Head.

Martha's Vineyard is located approximately 3 miles off the southern coast of Cape Cod. It is reached by a ferry that departs from Woods Hole, Massachusetts and by several other ferries departing from Falmouth, New Bedford, Hyannis, and Quonset Point, Rhode Island. There is regularly scheduled air travel (in season from June-October) from Boston, Providence, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC to the Martha's Vineyard Airport.

Locals refer to Martha's Vineyard as "The Island" or "The Vineyard" and its residents as "Islanders" or "Vineyarders".

Its relatively small year round population has led to a very activist citizenry who are highly involved in the Island's day to day activities. Tourism, over-development, politics and many other subjects are of keen interest to the community. Keeping the balance between the much needed tourist economy and the ecology and wildlife of the island is of paramount importance. in contrast to the seasonal influx of wealthy visitors, Dukes County remains one of the poorest in the state. Residents have established resources to balance the contradictions and stresses that can arise in these circumstances, noteably the Martha's Vineyard Commission and Martha's Vineyard Community Services, founded by the late Dr. Milton Mazer, whose book People and Predicaments remains a valuable source of insight.[3]

Due to its many high profile residents, movie stars, politicians, writers and artists also band together with residents in fundraisers and benefits to raise awareness for the fragile ecosystem of the Vineyard and to support community organizations and services. The largest of these is the annual Possible Dreams Auction.

The best known celebrities that live or frequently visit "The Island" are president Bill Clinton, comedian and talk show host, David Letterman, and musician Carly Simon. Also, retired anchorman Walter Cronkite and Mike Wallace of 60 Minutes are summer residents of Martha's Vineyard.

In addition to the national celebrities who have homes on Martha's Vineyard, "The Island" has also become a summer retreat for many of the nation's most prominent Jewish families. The first Jews to build summer estates on the island did so in the mid 20th century when Jews were implicitly discouraged from settling on the equally exclusive island of Nantucket. Today the island is famous as a summer hideaway for wealthy Jewish families, like the Rosenwald family, Pillsbury family, Fleishman family, Tishman family, Sulzberger family and Scheuer family.

Martha's Vineyard has also been or is home to a number of artists and musicians including Evan Dando, Ray Ellis, James Taylor, Willy Mason, and Unbusted, Mike Nichols, Diane Sawyer, and Kahoots. Historian and author David McCullough is also an island resident. The late author William Styron also lived on the Vineyard.

 Scenic landmarks, stores and locations

Gay Head cliffs

Menemsha Harbor (sunset location of the island)
Menemsha Pond (great for sailing or kayaking)
the Bite ( #10 in nation fry shack)
Remnants of the JAWS boats
Lucy Vincent Beach (LVB)
Arabella Boat tours
Larsens Fish Market
The Homeport
Squid row
Menemsha Deli
The Galley
Chilmark Chocolates


The On Time Ferry (also known as the Chappy Ferry) is so named because there is no schedule. The trip between Martha's Vineyard and Chappaquiddick takes 2-3 minutes. Click on photo to enlarge.Edgartown is an old whaling town that re-emerged in the 20th century as a summer sailing and beach town. It is characterized by hundreds of 18th and 19th century home including well-preserved whaling captain homes, unique historic churches, and a small town ambiance. The town of Edgartown

South Beach (part of Edgartown)

South Beach at Katama, Edgartown, MA. This is an open ocean beach with waves that range from docile to large and dangerous. Spectacular beach, but children must be watched closely because of wave action. Click on photo to enlarge.
Aerial view of South Beach at Katama on Martha's Vineyard (1998) on a perfect beach day. Click on photo to enlarge.A beach runs the entire length of the southern end of Martha's Vineyard. Portions of this beach have been named to represent the locale (Lucy Vincent Beach in Chilmark and Long Point in Tisbury). The name "South Beach" generally refers to a stretch of this larger beach that is demarcated by Herring Creek Road on the west and Katama Road on the east. This stretch of beach is open to the public, has lifeguards during the season, and is easily accessible by car. Some would also include the stretch from Katama Road to the beginning of Chappaquiddick Island. On a sunny mid-summer day the beach is stunning — a combination of crashing surf (that may be dangerous for children if the waves are high), warm sand, and a cool ocean breeze. The combined effect draws beachgoers back year after year. It is a beach to be enjoyed most in July, August, and September when the water warms to a tolerable level.

Right Fork Diner at the Edgartown (Katama) Air Field
The "Right Fork Diner" is the most recent name for the diner at the Edgartown Air Field. The restaurant is located immediately adjacent to the airfield and the parade of planes taxiing by the restaurant has provided endless entertainment for generations of children. The addition of a biplane ride from Classic Aviators and the soaring glider rides concession in the 1980s (or so) added another level of entertainment.

Katama General Store
This small store on Katama Road on the way to the beach has morphed from a farm/feed store into a small general store focusing on essential food/pharmacy items without disrupting the flavor of the farm-like building. Immediately adjacent to the Katama General Store is the American Legion where bingo can be played every Thursday evening.

Mattakesett refers to the southern most portion of Katama immediately adjacent to the beach. Although the term is historical, in recent times it has been most commonly associated with a resort named "Mattakesett", first developed in the mid-1970s. A second resort hotel named "Winnetu" was opened in the same area in 2001. The term is also used in the street "Mattakesett Way" (runs along the east side of Katama Airpark and The Right Fork Diner to Navy Way (see aerial photo in Katama Airpark) and "Mattakesett Herring Creek" (a small tidal creek running parallel to South Beach that functioned as a herring run earlier in the 20th century).

Katama Airpark
Katama Airpark (508-627-9018) is a public airport owned by the Town of Edgartown, Massachusetts. It has three runways, averages 22 flights per day, and has approximately four aircraft based on its field.[1]

Aerial view of Katama (Edgartown) airfield in Edgartown, MA. Photo shows the airfield on the left and Katama Farm on the right. South Beach is at the bottom of the photo. The road running vertically in the center of the photo is Mattakesett Way, separating the airfield on the left and Katama Farm on the right. The large structure bisected by a strut between the upper and lower wing of the airplane is the Winnetu Resort[1]. Click on photo to enlarge.During World War II, Martha's Vineyard functioned as an outer defense and a training facility for gunnery and pilots. In addition to the main Martha's Vineyard Airport (MVY), there was a small airport at Katama near a gunnery practice area at the beach. Following WW II this airport was purchased by Steven Gentle who ran the Katama Airpark until the 1980s when it was purchased with state conservation funds. It is currently managed by the municipal government of Edgartown. It is the quintessential grass airfield — no fancy navigation equipment. Its uniqueness lies in the ability to use a small plane to fly to the beach. It is possible to land and park the plane no more than 100 feet from the spectacular South Beach. During the season (roughly May 31 to Labor Day), there are biplane and glider rides available.

The Farm Institute
The Farm Institute operates from two large farms in Katama. The first, Katama Farm (pictured in aerial view of Katama Airpark), was purchased by the town of Edgartown with state conservation funds. The second, Herring Creek Farm, was purchased from its original owners after a long and protracted legal battle. Both are within a half mile of South Beach. The Farm Institutes's mission is to reconnect children and the community with farming. Through a variety of programs centered around farming, they have provided a rural farming experience for many children since its creation in 2000.[3]

The Boat Landing
The Town of Edgartown maintains a boat launch on Edgartown Bay Road in the southeast corner of Katama. Boats are launched into Katama Bay and exit to the ocean through Edgartown Harbor to the north. The boat landing is rarely crowded and accommodates 20-foot boats from an inclined ramp. (Directions: Take Katama Road south from Edgartown center almost to the beach. Turn left on Edgartown Bay Road. The ramp is approximately 3/4 of a mile on the right.)

Katama Bay (popular for kayaking)
Katama Bay is defined by the eastern end of Martha's Vineyard Island, the western end of Chappaquiddick Island, and on the south by a barrier beach. The tide replenishes Katama Bay through Edgartown Harbor to the north.

 Oak Bluffs

 Flying Horses Carousel (The oldest operating carousel in the United States)
The Island and Strand Movie theatres
Gingerbread Cottages
Oak Bluffs Harbor
Martha's Vineyard Ferry dock (Transport to Woods Hole, MA)
Oak Bluffs Public Library
East Chop Lighthouse
Hiawatha Park
Dick's bait and tackle
Farm Neck Golf Course
Mocha Motts Coffee Shop

 Vineyard Haven
The Black Dog Tavern
The Toy Box

 West Tisbury
Alley's General Store
Summer IMPers performances at the Grange Hall
Lambert's Cove Beach (LCB)

 All Towns

 Annual events

4th of July parade and fireworks
Edgartown Ghost Tour
12 Meter Boat Race at the Edgartown Yacht Club (Featuring many winning America's Cup boats)

Last Day/First Night. Many events and fireworks.
Tisbury Street Fair
Santa arrives on the ferry every December.

 Oak Bluffs
Illumination Night
Oak Bluffs Harbour Festival
August fireworks
Oak Bluffs Ghost Tour
2nd Annual Juneteenth Celebration, P.A. Club, June 23rd, 2007
Oak Bluffs Monster Shark Tournament (covered on ESPN)
Chili Festival

 West Tisbury
The Agricultural Fair
Farmer's Market

 Martha's Vineyard's success in Hollywood
Martha's Vineyard played a major role in the sets of the movie Jaws.

The Inkwell is a 1994 romance-comedy-drama film, directed by Matty Rich. This movie stars Larenz Tate, Joe Morton, Suzzanne Douglass, Glynn Turman, and Vanessa Bell Calloway. The Inkwell is about a 16-year-old boy coming of age on Martha's Vineyard in the summer of 1976.

Also in the movie Stuck on You, the main characters are from Oak Bluffs. They work at a restaurant that slightly resembles one of the restaurants on Circuit Avenue in Oak Bluffs.

Merchant Ivory's The Bostonians (1984) was filmed here, and Vanessa Redgrave, Madeleine Potter and Jessica Tandy spent summertime on the island.

On the television show The X-Files, Fox Mulder was raised in Chilmark.

On the television show Gilmore Girls there is an episode titled "A Vineyard Valentine" that takes place on the Vineyard, however there are no recognizable landmarks.

The popular movie Sabrina, starring Harrison Ford, has several scenes filmed on Martha's Vineyard

Actor Tom Welling (Smallville) and model Jamie White were married here on July 5, 2002.

The Vineyard grew as a tourist destination primarily because of its very pleasant summer weather (during summers, the temperature rarely 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. Today, the Vineyard has become one of the Northeast's most prominent summering havens, having attracted celebrities like The Clintons, Tom Welling, Warren Buffett, Jake Gyllenhaal and Maggie Gyllenhaal, Ted Danson and Mary Steenbergen, Carly Simon, James Taylor, Peter Simon, Alfred Eisenstadt, Dan Aykroyd , Jim Belushi, and Donna Dixon, Spike Lee, Michael J. Fox, William F. Buckley, Alan Dershowitz, former US Senator Bill Bradley, Diana Ross, Beverly Sills, Art Buchwald, Walter Cronkite, Dorothy West, Mike Wallace, David Letterman, David McCullough, the late Katherine Graham, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and the late Diana, Princess of Wales. Patricia Neal, Luke and Owen Wilson, and Meg Ryan.

Grammy Award-Winning music artist Sheryl Crow had album cover stills taken here. A collection of these photos can be seen in her The Very Best of Sheryl Crow CD booklet.

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 center 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.

The island now boasts a year-round population of about 15,000 people in six towns; 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. Martha's Vineyard Airport links the island to the mainland with scheduled air carrier service. The easiest way to travel to Martha's Vineyard if you are flying would be to fly into the Providence Airport

The Vineyard is home to Troubled Shores, a theater company that teaches and performs comedy improv along with other types of theater. Its improv troupe, WIMP, held their last show on July 6, 2005. The IMPers, a teenage improv troup, perform regularly. Troubled Shores also runs a summer theater camp, known as IMP All Things Theater Camp. The Vineyard's only equity theatre is The Vineyard Playhouse located in Vineyard Haven. During the summers the theatre converts from community based productions to a SPT (Small Professional Theatre) approved space featuring equity actors from around the country.

The island has been designated an official American Viticultural Area and is home to the winemaker Chicama Vineyards in West Tisbury.

Other popular attractions include the annual Illumination festival in Oak Bluffs; Katama Farm in Tisbury; and the Flying Horses in Oak Bluffs, the oldest carousel in the United States.

 Genetic deafness and sign language
A high rate of genetic deafness was documented in Martha's Vineyard for almost two centuries. The island's deaf heritage cannot be traced to one common ancestor and is thought to have originated in the Weald, a region in the English county of Kent, prior to immigration. Researcher Nora Groce estimates that by the late 1800s, 1 in 155 people on the Vineyard was born deaf (0.7 percent), almost 20 times the estimate for the nation at large (1 in 2,730, or 0.04 percent).[4]

Mixed marriages between deaf and hearing spouses comprised 65% of all deaf marriages in the late nineteenth century, (higher than the US average of 20%)[5] and Martha's Vineyard Sign Language was commonly used by hearing residents as well as deaf ones until the middle of the twentieth century.[6] This allowed deaf residents to smoothly integrate into society.

In the twentieth century, tourism became a mainstay in the island economy. However, jobs in tourism were not as deaf-friendly as fishing and farming had been. Consequently, as intermarriage and further migration further joined the people of Martha's Vineyard to the mainland, the island community more and more resembled the wider community there.

The last deaf person born into the island's sign language tradition, Katie West, died in 1952, but a few elderly residents were able to recall MVSL as recently as the 1980s when research into the language began.

Martha's Vineyard is served by Martha's Vineyard Public Schools.

Five of the six towns have their own elementary schools, while Aquinnah residents are closest to Chilmark's elementary school.

Martha's Vineyard Regional High School, which is located in Oak Bluffs, serves the entire island. The principal is Margaret Regan.

^ Charles Edward Banks, M.D.. The History of Martha's Vineyard. Published by George H. Dean: Boston (1911), Volume I, pg. 73
^ George R. Stewart. Names on the Land. Houghton Mifflin Company: Boston (1967), pg. 345
^ Milton Mazer, M.D. People and Predicaments: Of Life and Distress on Martha’s Vineyard. Published by Harvard University Press (1976), Cambridge, MA.
^ Groce, Nora Ellen (1985). Everyone here spoke sign language: Hereditary deafness on Martha's Vineyard, Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-27040-1
^ Lane, Harlan L., Richard C. Pillard and Mary French. Origins of the American Deaf-World: Assimilating and Differentiating Societies and Their Relation to Genetic Patterning. Sign Language Studies 1.1 (2000) 17-44. Online. Accessed via Project Muse on April 23, 2006
^ Bahan, B., and J. Poole-Nash. "The Signing Community on Martha's Vineyard". Unpublished address to the Conference on Deaf Studies IV. Haverhill, Mass. 1995. Quoted in Lane 28