One of New England’s most elegant communities, Edgartown was the Island’s first colonial settlement and it had been the county seat since 1642. The stately white Greek Revival houses built by the whaling captains have been carefully maintained. They make the town a museum-piece community, a seaport village preserved from the early 19th century.
Main Street is a picturebook setting with its harbor and waterfront. The tall square-rigged ships that sailed all the world’s oceans have passed from the Edgartown scene, but the heritage of those vessels and their captains has continued. For the past hundred years Edgartown has been one of the world’s great yachting centers.
To view and appreciate this town fully, you must walk its streets. North Water Street has a row of captains’ houses not equaled anywhere. Study the fanlights and widow’s walks by day and stroll down the streets after the lamps are lit.
South Water Street is dominated by a huge pagoda tree brought from China as a seeding by Captain Thomas Milton in the early days of the last century. The house beyond it was that of Captain Valentine Pease, on whose ship Herman Melville made his only whaling voyage.
Many houses in Edgartown predate the whaling eras. Most are private residences, but three notable ones a re serving other needs. The Vincent House (built in 1672, the oldest known house on the Island) and the Thomas Cooke House are museums. At 34 South Summer Street, you’ll find the home built by Benjamin Smith in 1760. It is now the office of the Vineyard Gazette.
Across from the Gazette is the Federated Church, built in 1828. It still has old box pews, which are entered through little doors and have narrow seats around three sides.
The famous Old Whaling Church with its six massive columns commands Main Street. Built in 1843 at the height of the whaling industry, the Church was giving to the Martha’s Vineyard Preservation Trust in 1980. It has been transformed into a performing arts center. Next door is the Dr. Daniel Fisher House, built three years before the Old Whaling Church.
There are excellent public beaches in the township of Edgartown. Norton’s Point, known as Katama, is a barrier beach providing surf bathing and the opportunity to explore Katama Bay on the other side of the dunes. Wasque and Cape Poge on Chappaquiddick are both unspoiled areas owned and maintained by The Trustees of Reservations. They are favorite spots for bluefish and bass fishermen. Lighthouse beach, located off North Water Street near the town center, offers calm water and views of harbor activities. Bend-in-the-Road Beach, part of Joseph Sylvia Beach, has ample parking and is accessible by bicycle trail.
Felix Neck is about three miles outside the center of town on Vineyard Haven Road. The 200 acres, owned by the Massachusetts Audubon Society, provide marked trails and a program of wildlife management and conversation education throughout the year.
Reprinted from the Visitors Guide courtesy of the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce. www.mvy.com