Native Americans called the area "Nobnocket," meaning "dry place." Early Colonists referred to it as Holmes Hole. In 1871, settlers separated from what is now West Tisbury and later legally changed the town's name to Tisbury. Today, however, this beautiful area is commonly known as Vineyard Haven and is characterized as the Island's "year-round" town. While many shops, inns and restaurants pull down their shutters and close their doors off-season, Vineyard Haven's businesses and port serve the resident and visitor communities 365 days per year.
For over three centuries, Vineyard Haven was among New England's busiest seaports. Strategically located on key sailing routes, whaling vessels and trading ships found this an opportune port to take on supplies, wait for a favoring wind or tide or ride out bad weather. In 1845, close to 14,000 vessels from across the globe passed through this Island port.
While some early settlers eked out their livings as fishermen and whalemen, others became merchants of salt cod, whale oil, candles and wool.
The Island's first schoolhouse, now owned by the Martha's Vineyard Preservation Trust, dates to 1829. In 1776, the British threatened to take down a Liberty Pole residents had erected on the schoolhouse grounds and use it as a spar on one of their warships. To prevent their patriotic symbol from falling into enemy hands, three teenage girls from Vineyard Haven inserted gunpowder into the pole and blew it up. In 1898, a new pole was erected to commemorate their daring act of patriotism.
In 1883, a fire started at Crocker's Harness shop, the present site of the Bank of Martha's Vineyard. Although the blaze devastated most of the waterfront area, William Street was miraculously saved. Many fine examples of early Greek Revival architecture remain, reminding visitors of a glorious past. Today, the town's lovely parks, historic West Chop Lighthouse and the nearby splendor of Tashmoo Lake and the Tisbury Water Works invite visitors. Special points of interest include the Old Schoolhouse Museum and the Seamen's Bethel Museum.
- Zip Code -- 02568, West Chop--02573
- Tisbury/Vineyard Haven Links Directory
Rolling hills broken only by ancient stone walls, picturesque farms, tranquil ponds and marshes speckled with wildlife characterize this sleepy Island town. Time stands still in nearby Menemsha (which in the Indian dialect means "still water"). a classic fishing village. Here, just as in centuries past, each day fisherman and lobstermen return from their sea to unload their catches in this classic fishing village. Visitors might also recognize the harbor and other nearby sites, featured in the classic movie "Jaws."
The center of Chilmark, featuring the town hall, post office, library, school and several businesses, has been interestingly dubbed Beetlbung Corner. The name is derived from the tupelo trees nearby, which in years gone by were used to make mallets called beetles and wooden stoppers called bungs.
Special points of interest include Fulling Mill Brook Preserve and Waskosim's Rock Reservation.
- Zip Code -- 02535
- Chilmark Links Directory
Native Americans first referred to this area as "Takemmy," which means, "where anybody goes to grind corn." Early businesses included mills, clay works, salt works and trap fishing. At one time, Islanders produced satinet, a heavy fabric made for wool used in whalemen's pea jackets.
However, this lush area was and continues to be the agricultural center of the Island. In fact, the West Tisbury Agricultural Fair, best known for its horse-drawing contest, is now over a century old. However, the celebration, originally held in the fall when the crops were harvested, now takes place in August when most visitors are on the Island.
Miles Standish's son once lived in a house near the old inn, and after making a solitary journey around the world aboard his 36-foot sloop, "The Spray," Joshua Slocum decided to settle in this farming community. However, the sailor did not prove successful as a farmer and heeded a return call to the sea. From that point on, he was never heard from again.
Visitors are drawn to the peace and charm of this classic New England Town. Special points of interests include the Mayhew Chapel and Indian Burying Ground and the stunning Cedar Tree Nature Neck Preserve.
- Zip Code -- 02575
- West Tisbury Links Directory
In 1835, members of the Methodist church decided the groves and pastures on this part of the Island would provide the perfect backdrop for their annual summer camp meeting. Each group in attendance pitched a tent around a central tent reserved for services. The event became so popular that by the mid-1850s congregations of 12,000 people were attending the all-day gospel sessions in the campground called Wesleyan Grove.
Enamored by the salt air, sea and surf, members of the congregation began to extend their stays in this tranquil setting. As a result, brightly painted cottages with decorative "gingerbread" molding began to replace the original tents. Soon, hundreds of cottages dotted the 34 acres, called "Cottage City," the predecessor of Oak Bluffs.
The town is also home of the Flying Horse Carousel, the oldest operating carousel in the country (see historical sites).
Special points of interest include the historic Tabernacle, Joseph Sylvia State Beach and Farm Neck Golf Club.
- Zip Code -- 02557
- Oak Bluffs Links Directory
In 1642, Thomas Mayhew founded the Island's first Colonial settlement, which was later named Edgar Towne, after the son of the Duke of York. Today, the town is recognized as one of the world's most elegant seaport communities and yachting centers.
Much of the island's history is linked to this seaside community. By 1846, Edgartown boasted nineteen registered whaling ships and was ranked among the wealthiest communities per capita in the country. Between 1830 and 1845, prosperous whaling and merchant captains built the grand Greek Revival homes, which have been carefully preserved today. The 1672 Vincent House is recognized as the oldest known house on the island, and the magnificent Old Whaling Church, now a performing arts center, is still a focal point of the community.
Pristine beaches and quiet preserves are only a stone's throw away. In addition to the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary and Caroline Tuthill Wildlife Preserve, Chappaquiddick, an island off the island, offers unparalleled beauty. In the Indian Dialect, "Chappaquiddick" means "Separated Land." Over the years, the sea broke through a barrier beach that once connected the Katama end of Edgartown with the Island. Today, visitors can take a quick jaunt to "Chappy" aboard the On Time Ferry for a memorable day of fishing, sunning, swimming and exploring in the island's preserves.
- Zip Code -- 02539
- Edgartown Links Directory
At the westernmost end of the island, the cliffs present an awesome spectacle. Towering 150-feet over the sea, they form a brilliantly colored mile-long expanse. For this reason, the Wampanoag Indians named the area, Aquinnah, meaning "High Land."
Centuries ago, the Indians lived harmoniously with the Colonists, teaching them how to find clay for bricks in the massive cliffs and how to catch whales, which served many purposes. In fact the Indians were so skilled at harpooning the mighty beasts, they were in great demand as boatsteerers on whaling voyages.
In 1870, the town incorporated and for years was called Gay Head in recognition of the magnificent bluffs. In 1987, descendents of the Wampanoag people were recognized as a tribe, which now owns a variety of shops, a restaurant and the surrounding land. In recent years, the town's name reverted to Aquinnah.
- Zip Code -- 02535
- Aquinnah Links Directory
Click the town name on the map above to learn more about that town.
In exploring the area, references to "Up Island" and "Down Island" are bound to pop up in conversation or appear on directional signs. The terms have maritime roots. When a vessel travels down its longitude, it is heading east. When travelling up its longitude, it is heading west.
Therefore, western parts of the island West Tisbury, Chilmark and Aquinnah are referred to as "Up Island". The eastern towns of Vineyard Haven, Oak Bluffs and Edgartown are referred to as "Down Island".
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A live view from the cupola atop the Mansion House in Vineyard Haven. Image refreshes automatically every 30 seconds.
Webcam provided courtesy of the Mansion House Inn in Vineyard Haven.