Edgartown, named for an infant nephew of Britain's King Charles, is the quintessential small New England town and it was the Island's first colonial settlement. It has been the county seat since 1642. By the 1800s, more than 100 Edgartown men were captains of whaling ships that plied the seas of the world. It is now one of the cultural centers of the Island.
The town is appreciated for its beautiful, stately Greek Revival and Federal homes dating from the 18th century and built by whaling captains. Now many of their homes are owned and maintained by summer residents, some of whom keep the traditional sky-blue paint (said to repel bugs) on the ceilings of their wraparound porches. They line the beautiful harbor where whaling ships use to anchor and that is regularly visited by many of today's fine cruising and racing vessels, including the America’s Cup sailboats during their regatta in August! Among the oldest buildings is the Vincent House, built in 1672, now a museum furnished to depict architecture and life on the Island throughout the last four centuries. Edgartown is also home to the Old Whaling Church, often used for weddings and cultural events.
The town has a total of 35 square miles, with a population of around 3,000, but the village center is fairly compact. It is called the Historic District and is dotted with fine restaurants, galleries and shops (including ice cream and candy stores!). One can stroll to Dock Street and the Town Wharf where you can sit and watch the three car Chappy Ferry ply back and forth and various vessels go by, or throw your fishing line in the water and catch dinner! There is a park on Main Street where one may also relax and watch who goes by—seasonal locals Carley Simon, James Taylor, Meg Ryan, Ted Danson, or Jim Belushi…or even just ordinary, but interesting folk!
A “must” is a stop at the Martha's Vineyard Museum, on School Street. There one cannot only view the hand-carved ivory pieces done by the sailors on the whaling ships (which can also be seen at the Edgartown Scrimshaw Gallery on Main Street!) and other historic items, but you can purchase a copy of Island historian's Arthur Railton's "Walking Tour of Historic Edgartown." While you are there, take a look the old lighthouse light in the middle of the museum's compound. The light is an original 1854 Fresnel lens removed from the Gay Head lighthouse and given to the museum by the Coast Guard. The Museum is also the steward of three of the Island’s lighthouses and in which there are regularly scheduled tours.
Edgartown contains miles of waterfront, either on the beaches, harbor or Edgartown Great Pond. Families with young children can relax and play at Joseph Sylvia State Beach, where the water is calm & the sand is soft. Right in town there are Fuller Street and Lighthouse Beach are just a stroll away. The oft- favored South Beach is for those craving lively, ocean surf!
One of the special geographical areas is the Katama Plains, a 190-acre site south of Edgartown and visible on your way to South Beach. The glacier-produced sand plains that are one of the most significant ecosystems in Massachusetts as many of the plants there occur nowhere else on earth.
The plains are home to many Martha’s Vineyard vacation rental homes. There is also the Katama Airfield, a single runway mowed through the grasses and used only for small private planes which often fly in so their occupants can go to South Beach. One can also stop there for breakfast at the little restaurant and look at some of the old open-cockpit bi-planes including the Red Baron that takes up riders. In Katama, and in the Island's state forest, there are abundant walking, hiking and mountain bike riding paths.
Some of the important events on the Edgartown calendar begin with the ushering in of the summer season by the annual Taste of the Vineyard festivities held in a huge, lovely tent next to the Old Whaling Church. Owned by the Martha's Vineyard Preservation Trust, the church, built in 1843 by the whaling captains, is considered one of the finest examples of Greek revival architecture in New England. Then there is the Island's only Fourth of July parade followed by fireworks, the Vineyard Food & Wine festival in September and Christmas in Edgartown, a festive collection of events on the first or second weekend of December that includes an old-fashioned celebration that includes a lighting of the Christmas trees set up along Main Street.
Come and enjoy!