International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: U.S.
Martha's Vineyard - Tranquility on the East Coast
Vineyard, popularly known as an exclusive summer spot for the wealthy
and well-known, is, in actuality, a vacation locale where thousands
of visitors pour ashore each year. This 100-square-mile island in
the Atlantic holds six towns, five lighthouses, miles and miles
of bicycle trails, and plentiful beaches and harbors. Its remote
location seven miles off the southern shore of Cape Cod, its abundance
of weathered cedar shake homes, and its absence of franchise businesses
give Marthas Vineyard an away-from-the-rest-of-the-world feel.
All seasons of
the year the Vineyard gives people reason to visit. But it is the summer
- when ferries and private boats sail vacationers through the Atlantic
to its shores, when summer residents return, for a time, back to the
island, when its population swells from 15,000 to 75,000 - that Martha's
Vineyard springs to vibrant life.
Remaining true to its seafaring heritage, the Vineyard uses nautical
terminology to divide itself into two sections - up-island for the western
section and down-island for the eastern. In nautical terms, when you
go up, you're going west because it's further from zero degrees of longitude
than is east.
Martha's Vineyard is comprised of six towns - three of them up-island
and three down-island. Aquinnah, West Tisbury and Chilmark - all up-island
- have sights well worth seeing. The towns offering the most in the
way of shops, restaurants, accommodations and action, though, are down-island
- Edgartown, Oak Bluffs and Vineyard Haven. Edgartown, an old whaling
village dating back to the 17th Century, is full of residential streets
lined with stately colonial homes and white Greek revival houses where
sea captains once lived. Strolling the streets to gaze at these homes
is a good way to get to know this little town.
get a look past their exteriors, enter some of the homes-turned-museums,
including the Vincent House, believed to be the oldest house on
the island, and the Thomas Cooke House. Both give visitors a view
into the past with furnishings from different periods during which
the homes existed. Also in Edgartown is the Martha's Vineyard Museum.
The museum is steward of the Edgartown, East Chop and Gay Head lighthouses
and offers sunset tours for all three. The Edgartown lighthouse
is also open to the public during the daytime. All of these lighthouses
are still in use today, shining their lights to sailors out on the
A small business
district near the water, lined with both upscale and casual restaurants,
clothing boutiques, art galleries and small shops carrying souvenirs,
helps make this town one of the island's most popular.
Three miles south of Edgartown, accessible both by street and bicycle
trail, lies the very popular Katama Beach, nicknamed South Beach. Small
wooden fences blown over onto sand dunes at the entrances of this beach
give it a character popular with artists and photographers. At three
miles in length, Katama Beach has plenty of room for the thousands who
come to enjoy its dramatic waters on the open Atlantic. Just a three-minute
trip from Edgartown lies the five-square-mile island of Chappaquiddick.
This trip is taken by ferry. Two ferries run simultaneously to transport
vehicles, bicycles and people back and forth between the two islands.
Officially called the On Time II and On Time III, they're nicknamed
the Chappy ferries.
Chappaquiddick, just next to the ferry landing, are two beaches,
one facing Edgartown Harbor and the other looking out toward the
Nantucket Sound. Beyond the beaches you'll find an almost purely
residential island, full of large homes on dirt roads. Decorating
14 acres of this tiny island is Mytoi, a Japanese garden. The Cape
Poge Wildlife Refuge stands at Chappaquiddicks eastern end
and is home to beaches as well as a lighthouse. Originally built
in 1801, the Cape Poge lighthouse has been overpowered by the sea
and rebuilt a number of times. It currently stands 300 feet inland
to protect it from the waters. Chappaquiddick is small enough to
explore in its entirety by bicycle, or you can travel by car to
see its sights.
Six miles north
of Edgartown you'll find bustling Oak Bluffs. Its harbor is host to
many a yacht and hundreds of smaller boats, and its downtown area is
full of shops and restaurants. Its beach on the Nantucket Sound is large
yet tranquil, and its nightlife is known as the best on the island.
On the edge of town is Flying Horses, the country's oldest functioning
platform carousel and a presence on the Vineyard since 1884.
But Oak Bluffs' real draw dates back to the early 19th Century. Beginning
in 1835 Methodists began holding annual summer camp meetings in this
town. For years, attendees erected small tents in which to stay and
a large central tent in which to hold their services. Eventually, they
replaced the worship tent with a steel tabernacle, which is still in
use today. Interdenominational services are held on Sundays in July
and August, and people gather for community sings in the tabernacle
on Wednesdays during these same summer months. The tabernacle was not
the only tent which turned into a permanent structure. Many of the meeting
attendees were so drawn to Marthas Vineyard that they began replacing
their tents with cottages which they could call home. Painted in a variety
of bright colors and decorated with filigree trim, these were nicknamed
gingerbread cottages. This style of house became so popular in Oak Bluffs
that today hundreds of these colorful cottages exist on the former camp
meeting grounds. You can get a feel for what life inside them was like
when they first were built by touring the Cottage Museum, a gingerbread
house full of 1800s period furniture.
three miles up-island from Oak Bluffs is Vineyard Haven, less commonly
known as Tisbury. This small town, with its shops, galleries and
restaurants, is also home to the famous Black Dog Tavern, an establishment
on the Vineyard Sound.
Despite its name, this is a seafood restaurant, not a bar. In fact,
as Vineyard Haven is a dry town, if you want to drink you must bring
your own. People sometimes sail from Cape Cod, dock at the Vineyard
Haven harbor, then come into town for dinner
Haven is also home to the West Chop lighthouse. On October 5, 1817
its light began to shine. Over the years, as the ground around the
lighthouse eroded, another was built 1,000 feet away, and this is
the lighthouse that stands today. The town of Aquinnah, formerly
known as Gay Head, lies at the western tip of the island. This is
a town that likes to keep its residential areas to itself but welcomes
visitors to explore its beaches and drive to the top of its cliffs,
where you can browse through shops and have a bite to eat on the
deck of a restaurant overlooking the cliffs and the water.
Along with the lighthouse
that stands atop them, these cliffs make this area one of the island's
most popular draws for visitors. The Gay Head lighthouse, first erected
in 1799, was replaced by the current red brick structure in 1844 and,
for a time, was lit by a 1,009-prism Fresnel lens. Today the lens is
gone from the lighthouse but is on display at the Historical Society
in Edgartown. Chilmark, another up-island town, is home to a charming
and rustic little fishing village called Menemsha. Its weathered buildings
house restaurants and gift shops. Its small beach with its quiet waters
is a peaceful setting for getting some sun. Across the road from the
beach, fishermen reel in their catch from a jetty, and fishing boats
tied to their moorings sway in the water. The sunset over Menemshas
waters is known as one of the most beautiful on the Vineyard.
HOLIDAYS AND TRADITIONS
on Marthas Vineyard brings with it both typical holiday festivities
and unique island traditions. One holiday is celebrated in style
in Edgartown. On the 4th of July an early evening parade through
its streets lets you see island groups, schools and businesses bring
themselves to life in their own interpretations through costumed
parade walkers and floats. And in a nighttime harbor-side fireworks
display, the entire town's sky fills with color. In August, multi-colored
Japanese and Chinese lanterns begin appearing by the thousands on
the porches of the gingerbread cottages in Oak Bluffs.
In a tradition
harking back to the camp meeting ground days, these lanterns hang awaiting
the one and only night on which they will be lit - Illumination Night.This
night helps mark the end of summer on Marthas Vineyard. Usually
held mid-August, its exact date is not announced until just a few days
beforehand. On Illumination Night, hundreds of people gather for a sing-along
in the Oak Bluffs tabernacle. Afterward, the gingerbread houses take
on all-new color when the lanterns are finally lit. They continue to
shine in the darkness until the time arrives for their lights to be
extinguished to await their illumination the following year.
One island tradition was made famous in an opening shot of the movie
"Jaws," filmed on Martha's Vineyard. On the road that runs
along the water between Oak Bluffs and Edgartown is the American Legion
Memorial Bridge, where at all hours during summertime days you'll see
kids and the occasional adult jumping off the bridge into the Nantucket
Sound. The jump is short but still a blast. After you jump, you swim
to the nearby jetty and climb ashore. And jump again if you want.
GETTING THERE AND GETTING AROUND
There are no bridges that connect Martha's Vineyard to the mainland,
so you must arrive by sea or air. Most people arrive by ferry. Several
different locations in Massachusetts, along with one in Rhode Island,
have ferries which will take people to the Vineyard. If you want to
bring your vehicle along, you need to make a reservation for it on the
Steamship Authority ferry located in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. This
is the one and only ferry that transports vehicles as well as passengers
to the island. If you own a boat, the island's numerous harbors have
room for hundreds.
There is an airport on Marthas Vineyard, so you can fly from anywhere
to the island. Having a car on Martha's Vineyard is really unnecessary.
Their extensive shuttle bus system can easily and inexpensively ($1.00
from one town to the next) take you anywhere you wish. It is handicapped
accessible and runs year 'round. You can pay when you board the bus
- in which case you must have exact change - or buy passes for one or
more days. If you do wish to travel by car and you haven't brought your
own across on the ferry, you can rent one on the island.
Moped rentals are also available. If youre up for it, riding a
bike along the island's bicycle trails can get you most anywhere you
want to go, as well as the roads, which are not heavily trafficked and
are fairly safe to bike on. You can bring your own bike across on the
ferry for a small fee or rent one when you arrive on Martha's Vineyard.
Local info and bookings here
© Sabina Lohr - March 2009
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