The Island of Martha's Vineyard lies seven miles south of Cape Cod. As you travel the 45-minute ferry ride across Vineyard Sound you will find yourself leaving your mainland cares behind you in anticipation of the unique beauty and simple tranquility of this enchanting place. Martha's Vineyard is twenty-three miles long and nine miles wide at its widest point - about one hundred square miles. The Island is made up of six towns, each with its own distinct character. This lends the Island the diversity which many first-time visitors find surprising and wonderfully appealing. Karen M. Overtoom Real Estate is located in the Island's heartland - the Town of West Tisbury, which is by tradition the agricultural center of the Island. To the west are the Towns of Chilmark, with its wonderful hills and vistas of the ocean, and Aquinnah, with its famous Gay Head Cliffs. To the north is our main seaport town of Vineyard Haven and Oak Bluffs with its Victorian "Cottage City". To the east lies Edgartown, the elegant whaling port and seat of government for the County of Dukes County. What can you expect to find on a visit to Martha's Vineyard? Diversity is really the word that best describes our Island. Diversity geologically, diversity of flora and fauna, diversity architecturally and most importantly diversity of culture and population.
If a tranquil getaway is your ideal for the best vacation ever, then perhaps you will want to rent a cottage "up-Island" (West Tisbury, Chilmark and Aquinnah) where the setting is rural and the beaches are spectacular. You will shop at the Farmers' Market on Wednesdays and Saturdays at the Grange Hall in West Tisbury, at Alley's General Store, the Chilmark Store, or Sewards Market. You will buy your fish at Larsen's in Menemsha, take out books from Chilmark's amazing public library and maybe send the kids for morning camp at Chilmark's Community Center. Dinner out will be steamed lobsters at the Homeport Restaurant or at The Aquinnah at the top of the Cliffs (where the pies are famous). If you want a little action, you will take a day sail to Cuttyhunk on Hugh Taylor's catamaran, Arabella, or finish an amazing bike tour by taking the bike ferry across from Lobsterville Beach to Menemsha harbor. If you are lucky enough to have a rainy day, then you will visit the Martha's Vineyard Glassworks in the village of North Tisbury to watch the amazing artists there in action; and take a tour of West Tisbury's many unique art galleries - several studios of the artists themselves. Evening entertainment will include sunsets at the beach, modern dance at The Yard, lectures and films at the Community Center - and everywhere you go, you will be gazing out at the most wonderful vistas of hills, farms, harbors and the ocean.
Maybe you choose to be "where the action is" for your vacation. The three "Down-Island" towns of Edgartown, Oak Bluffs and Vineyard Haven each have active, and distinctly different, town centers - all focused around their very busy harbors. Although the down-Island beaches are still wonderful, down-Island visitors benefit most from the great dining, nightlife and shopping the down-Island towns have to offer. While Up-Island vacationers spend more time in their cars, Down-Islanders travel often by bicycle, boat or on foot. In fact, walking tours through the Victorian village of Oak Bluffs with its rainbow colored cottages in the Campgrounds; and Edgartown's streets of early 1800's Greek Revival homes, built during the Golden Age of Whaling, can be fascinating. "Jaws" buffs will have fun imagining Edgartown's Main Street traffic flowing backwards as it did in Amityville. Speaking of sharks, Oak Bluffs hosts an annual Monster Shark Fishing Tournament in July that attracts hundreds of fishermen. You can see all the boats and their catches at the end of each day of the tournament while strolling along the waterfront.
Oak Bluffs and Edgartown offer clubs as well as restaurants, while Vineyard Haven and the Up-Island towns are "dry" towns, inviting you to bring your own wine or spirits to their restaurants. If you love breakfast out, don't miss The Artcliff Diner in Vineyard Haven, which also offers a dynamite lunch. Cafe Moxsie on Main Street is a small, charming bistro (make your reservations in advance) and Le Grenier offers classical French cuisine and stays open for us year-round! In Oak Bluffs, we love the Sweet Life Cafe for a gourmet dinner and its sister restaurant, Slice of Life, for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Giordano's not only offers Italian, but also the best fried clams anywhere - in the restaurant or from their takeout window. Together with Linda Jeans, they are great for taking the family. The Island's Micro Brewery, the Offshore Ale Company, serves up brick oven pizzas and live music. Edgartown has several outstanding gourmet restaurants, each offering beautifully prepared food in a unique setting. Atria's deep fried lobster is wonderful and several of their delicious appetizers can be ordered as entrees. Alchemy never disappoints - the food is truly exciting while the bar/restaurant is always one of the most happening spots in town. For your most special occasions, try L'etoile at the Charlotte Inn. The Inn is one of the finest in the Country and the restaurant is a star attraction. You dine in the conservatory or in the garden, the service is impeccable and the cuisine sublime. Detante just opened this year and is proving to be a wonderful addition. The food is great and they have an extensive list of wines by the glass.
Each of the Down-Island towns have movie theaters offering the latest releases, as well as live concerts at historic buildings like the Old Whaling Church in Edgartown and the Union Chapel in Oak Bluffs. Vineyard Haven is the center for live theater, with the Vineyard Playhouse, Shakespeare Festival at the Amphitheater, and lectures and concerts at the Katherine Cornell Theater.
The Vineyard has an amazing history. It was created at the end of the ice age by melting glaciers. As the ice receded and the glaciers to the north melted, the level of the sea rose and cut the Island off from the mainland. It is thought that the first humans came to the Island after the ice was gone, but before the Island was separated from the coast. The earliest Native American camps found here have been carbon dated to 2270 B.C.!
The arrival of white men came much later and is not well documented. It is believed that Norsemen were here about 1000 A.D. In 1524 Verrazzano sailed past and named the Island Louisa, while the Natives here called it Noepe. The name that stuck, though, was given to the Vineyard by Bartholomew Gosnold, who named it for the wild grapes that thrive here and for one of his beloved daughters, Martha.
In 1642, the first white settlement was established at Great Harbour, now Edgartown, with Thomas Mayhew, Jr. as its leader. Thomas's father, a bay colony businessman, had purchased the Island, together with Nantucket and the Elizabeth Islands, for 40 pounds. Young Thomas was an ordained pastor and by example established a policy of respect and fair dealings with the native Wampanoags. The early colonial period was one of peace and plenty. The sea provided excellent fishing and the Wampanoags taught the settlers to capture whales and tow them ashore and boil out the oil. Farms were so productive that in 1720 butter and cheese were being exported by ship.
Before the American Revolution, Vineyarders built large sailing vessels and traveled the North Atlantic in search of whales and their valuable oil. The war, however, brought hardships here as it did to all the Colonies. Despite the Island officially declaring itself neutral, the people's sentiments were patriotic and they formed companies to defend against a British invasion. Little could be done, however, when on September 10, 1778 a British fleet of 40 ships sailed into Vineyard Haven harbor. The British raided and burned many Island vessels and removed more than 10,000 sheep and 300 head of cattle from the Vineyard. The economic blow that resulted affected Island life for more than a generation. The whaling industry did not recover until the 1820's, when many mariners built beautiful homes in Edgartown, which can still be found there today. This Golden Age of Whaling came to an end during the Civil War, when the North's whaling ships were captured at sea by the Confederate Navy or were bottled up in harbors, unable to ply their trade. This was financial ruin for the ships owners and for their Island home.
In 1835 a desperately needed new industry was literally God-sent. Revival meetings were being held in outdoor settings by the hundreds. The Edgartown Methodists decided to hold a camp meeting high on a bluff at the northern end of town (now Oak Bluffs). The worshippers and their ministers lived in tents and made a speakers' platform from driftwood. The camp meeting became a yearly event and grew rapidly in popularity. Many came for the revival meetings and found the Island's beaches, waters and lovely surroundings truly uplifting. In this way, the Island entered into its new life as a summer resort. We owe much of the Island's diversity to our residents who first came here as short-term or seasonal visitors and who then decided to put down roots here and stay. To learn more about each of our towns, click on the specific town in the navigation bar at the top of the page.