Vineyard Haven

Vineyard Haven

Reprinted from the 2004 Visitors Guide courtesy of the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce.

Excellent shops, fine restaurants, and a beautiful harbor are only a few of the attractions that make Vineyard Haven so special to tourists and residents alike.

The town that incorporates Vineyard Haven is called Tisbury, after a parish in England near the birthplace of the Island’s first governor. Thomas Mayhew, English settlement of the area dates from the mid 1600s, when Mayhew purchased the settlement right from the Crown.

Owen Park, off Main Street (just beyond the shopping district), is named for gramophone innovator William Barry Owen whose wife donated the parcel for public use. The town beach here is a fine place to watch the harbor. Ferries shuttle in and out, providing the Island’s year-round connection to the mainland.

On the opposite side of Main Street from Owen Park is the Old Schoolhouse Museum. Erected in 1828, this building has served many uses. It was once a carpentry shop, a school and later served as the Congregational Church. In front of the museum stands the tall white Liberty Pole, commemorating the daring of three young women who inserted gun powder in the base of the town’s liberty pole in 1778 and blew it up to keep it from being used a spar by a British warship.

When the Congregationalists outgrew their little church in 1844, they built a neo-classic building on Spring Street that later became the Unitarian Church and eventually the town hall. Vineyard Haven’s municipal building is one of the Island’s handsomest architectural legacies of whaling days. The Vineyard Playhouse building on Church Street was built in 1833 as a Methodist meeting house. Today it houses the Island’s only year-round professional theater company.

When ships were powered by wind and canvas, Vineyard Haven was one of New England’s busiest ports. Most of the coastwise shipping traveled through Vineyard Sound (13,814 vessels were counted in 1845). Holmes Hole, as this harbor community was called, provided a convenient anchorage. Here a ship and its crew could lay over comfortably to wait out bad weather, pick up provisions, or take on an experienced local pilot who could negotiate the rips and shoals that were the special perils of this sea route.

In addition to Owen Park, the town maintains War Veterans’ Memorial Park off Causeway Road. The park included playground equipment and playing fields used by local ball teams.

There are many scenic places around the town; in addition to Main Street and the harbor, the Tashmoo Lake overlook on State road, the nearby Tisbury Water Works, West Chop Lighthouse, and the area around the drawbridge on Beach Road are favorite spots for photographers.