Home » 2008 Martha's Vineyard RV Vacation

Edgartown, MA

Thursday, July 3, 2008 - 11:00am by Lolo
0 miles and 0 hours from our last stop - 1 night stay


Edgartown Lighthouse at DuskEdgartown Lighthouse at DuskIt’s funny how such a small island can have such a variety of distinctive histories - Aquinnah has it Native American roots, Oak Bluffs its religious revivalist meetings, Tisbury its commercial trade, and Edgartown its whaling. While centuries have passed, these beginnings are very much still a part of these island communities today, and as a result, each town has its own distinctive personality. I would have to say that Edgartown’s is classy and reserved, a bit better behaved than the more raucous Oak Bluffs, but not as reclusive as its more rural neighbors Up Island.

Fishing on Memorial WharfFishing on Memorial WharfLike Oak Bluffs, Edgartown’s early history was rooted in religion – but in a different way. Rather than a gathering place for established religious movements, as in Oak Bluffs, Edgartown was settled in 1642 for the purpose of converting the Wampanoag Indians on the island to Christianity. Fortunately, unlike many examples of disastrous cultural clashes in the history of European settlements in North America, the relationship between the English settlers, under the leadership of the Reverend Thomas Mayhew, Jr., and the Wampanoags of Martha’s Vineyard was a peaceful one, characterized by mutual respect. In fact, when Mayhew was lost at sea 15 years after he had come to the island, the Wampanoag were so filled with grief that they made sacred the spot where he had said his last farewell to them. As a sign of their grief and respect, each time they passed this spot, they would place a stone on a cairn as a tribute to him. In 1901, the large cairn of stones was replaced by a single boulder with a bronze plaque, and a token small pile of stones cemented to its back. It is now known as “The Place on the Wayside” and it can be found along the airport road between Edgartown and West Tisbury.

Edgartown Harbor at DuskEdgartown Harbor at DuskI am embarrassed to say that after 30 years on the island, I have not seen this plaque, nor did I even know it existed until I began researching the history of Edgartown for this write-up. Once again, as with the story of “Boomer” in the State Forest, I have learned that research should happen before and not after travel to a place to get the most out of it.

A more obvious remnant of Edgartown’s past is the role it played in the whaling boom of the 1800s. You can’t walk very far in Edgartown without passing one of its many stately Captain’s Houses – always painted in white with black shutters – with their wraparound porches and oftentimes widow’s walk atop the roof. For years when the boys were little, our stroll along North Water Street always included gazing up at a lone female figure (stuffed I think) peering through a telescope, out across the Great Harbor in search of her man. Sadly, she is no longer there – maybe her Captain finally came home or maybe she just gave up trying. Sorry to be a spoil sport, but the real purpose of these “widow walks” was to allow residents to pour sand down their chimneys in the event of a chimney fire—much less romantic than the thought of anxious wives longing for the return of their loved one.

Night View from Memorial Wharf of Fishing BoatsNight View from Memorial Wharf of Fishing BoatsI would have to say that one of the things I enjoy most about Martha’s Vineyard is just strolling along the narrow streets of Edgartown, enjoying its unique history, charm, and beauty. In addition to the fine views of the great harbor and lighthouse, there are dozens of elegant shops, art galleries, and restaurants to wile away a summer day – or better yet, a summer evening, the time of day that we generally like to come to town.

After an active day of beaching, fishing, or biking at one of the many prime locations around the island, we usually park the RV in the big lot by the Triangle and walk or bike the mile into town. We like this time of day because the lighting that occurs just before and right after sunset is really good for photography, another one of our favorite island pastimes.

Andrew on Memorial Wharf DeckAndrew on Memorial Wharf DeckWe often start atop Memorial Wharf, where we can look out over the harbor and watch the boats return from a day of fishing – some for fun, and others to make a living. From here, one can watch the ever-faithful and ever-running On-Time Ferry, as it makes its way back and forth across the short distance to Chappaquiddick. When you get tired of looking out at the harbor, which is hard to do, you can just turn around and look out over the quaint and picturesque houses and shops of Edgartown. There is no bad direction to look.

Once we are done with the photography, and can afford to have sticky fingers, we head to one of Edgartown’s many ice cream shops to get a cone to accompany us on our walk through town. You need a couple of nights in Edgartown so that you can experience each of the three great ice cream establishments: Candy Bazaar, Scoops, and Mad Martha’s.

Edgartown Lighthouse from BeachEdgartown Lighthouse from BeachOne of our favorite evening walks is to the Edgartown Lighthouse, which stands at the entrance to Edgartown Harbor and Katama Bay. The narrow path to get to it is located across from the Harbor View Hotel on North Water Street. There are no lights, so it is generally quite dark, and often a good place to immaturely scare your loved ones, which we have done on many occasions. My brother Jim had the misfortune of hiding in the bushes and jumping out on a group of strangers my mistake. They were not amused.

The original lighthouse was on a man-made granite island connected to the mainland by a wooden walkway, called the “Bridge of Sighs,” because it was often the place where men going off to sea on years-long whaling voyages parted with their families. Eventually the strong currents created a small barrier beach and sandy access strip that made the walkway unnecessary. The original lighthouse was destroyed by the Hurricane of 1938. In the following year, the white, cast-iron Essex Light in Ipswich, Massachusetts, was relocated to Edgartown to replace the one destroyed by the storm.

Boys on South BeachBoys on South BeachThe area around the lighthouse is called Lighthouse Beach, and it is a great place to come on a sunny day to just relax. It’s not as good for swimming as many of the other beaches on the island, but the views are hard to beat. You can just sit back and view the hustle and bustle of boats entering and leaving the harbor, the On-Time Ferry shuttling back and forth between Edgartown and Chappaquiddick, the captains’ houses along the Edgartown shoreline, the Chappy Beach Club, and “The Gut” at the tip of the Cape Poge Wildlife Refuge.

Although we usually have spent our time on the island in the RV or in a rental house, we have on occasion stayed at the Edgartown Inn, a wonderfully quaint and cozy inn on North Water Street with the most hospitable staff you ever want to meet. This Inn holds a very special place in our hearts because it is the site of two very important firsts for us. It was the place that we stayed on our very first trip to the island in 1980, and it was the place that we stayed on the first night of our honeymoon in 1985.

Lolo and Herb's Wedding at Federated ChurchLolo and Herb's Wedding at Federated ChurchThat brings me to the wedding. Herb and I loved the Vineyard so much that we thought it very appropriate that we begin our life-long journey together there – not to mention the fact that Herb realized the Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby would be going on the same time – ahh, romance.

The planning, even though most of it was done remotely, was quite easy. This was way before Martha’s Vineyard became “the” place to get married.” Nowadays, I am sure a Vineyard wedding requires years of planning, not the handful of phone calls I made (church, restaurant, florist, and band) that I did a few months in advance.

Lolo the BrideLolo the BrideHowever, no amount of planning can thwart the intentions of Mother Nature. As our wedding day (September 28) approached, we anxiously watched the Weather Channel track Hurricane Gloria’s progress up the East coast. Gloria was forecast to hit the island on Friday, the 27th. Knowing that there was a very strong possibility that the ferries would stop running, we made a quick decision. Herb and I, my parents, and Herb’s parents quickly threw our stuff together (including wedding gown) and started driving to Woods Hole Wednesday afternoon, fully knowing that the six of us might be the only attendees at the wedding. We literally caught the last ferry going over to the island that night – all ferries would possibly be canceled the next two days. The wind was already fiercely howling as we stepped out onto the deck. Hopefully, we were not making a foolish decision. But you have to keep in mind that Herb had struggled a bit with the “commitment” concept – we had already been dating 11 years – so I was not about to let a little Hurricane give him a way out.

The next day we went to the Navigator Restaurant in Edgartown to discuss the final plans for the reception, where we were told to come back the next morning if they were still standing. That was comforting. Workmen were boarding up the windows as we left. Okay, this was definitely going to be different than planned. Ironically, I actually found myself a lot less nervous about being a bride. Things were now totally out of our control.

Lolo and Sons with Jim and Alex at South BeachLolo and Sons with Jim and Alex at South BeachWe went back to the condo we rented in the center of the island to weather out the storm. The wind howled all night and the rain came down, but the island was spared from any real damage – just a few trees down, but everything still standing. And an added bonus – the days following a hurricane are truly beautiful, as it seems to clear out everything and leave crystal clear blue skies behind.

Gloria wasn’t without its problems though and I give thanks and credit to our brave and determined friends, who had a difficult journey up I95 trying to find gas stations with power to pump gas. All but two of our guests made it to the wedding in time.

The wedding, if I must say so myself, was beautiful. The church service was held at the Federated Church on South Summer Street – a beautiful old whaling church with boxed pews and two aisles. I got to pick which one I walked down. The reception was held at the Navigator Restaurant at the end of Main Street, overlooking the harbor and the check-in point for the Bluefish Derby. Herb spent a good deal of the reception gazing down from the balcony at the fisherman bringing in their catch to be weighed. There was a beautiful Harvest Moon that night rising over the harbor. I would have to say that Gloria, who fortunately left early and did not attend the wedding, made the mood even more festive and celebratory.

Tommy with first 100 bicycle mile Vineyard VacationTommy with first 100 bicycle mile Vineyard VacationOne other thing about holding a wedding in a beautiful place – you can’t get rid of your friends for the honeymoon, but that’s okay. Ours was spent with 11 of our closest friends, one of which got quite annoyed when her husband announced that this was the best honeymoon he had ever been on.

After our wedding, and right up until the time we bought the RV in 1999, each summer we rented a house for 2 weeks with my brother and his wife and other assorted friends – generally out by Katama (South Beach). Probably our favorite house, which we rented for about 7 years, was located on Katama Farm Road, adjacent to what was then Katama Farm (today it is the Farm Institute).

The island is actually very lucky to still have this huge piece of very prime real estate undeveloped. It almost wasn’t so. In the 70s, the farm was purchased by the Strock family, who planned to divide it into 700 buildable lots. Thankfully, Strock Enterprises went bankrupt and the development never took place. Eventually, conservation groups banded together to raise awareness and funds, resulting in the property being purchased by the town of Edgartown.

From the 1980s – 2005, the farm was leased to various tenant farmers, who attempted to make a profitable dairy farm. These were the years that we took the boys to see the cows and the pigs. Unfortunately, none of these farmers were able to make a go of it, and the farm became vacant and fell into disrepair. Fortunately, the farm is now run by the FARM Institute (TFI), who has lovingly restored barns, fields, and equipment.

Boys on Farmland outside Tony's Rental HouseBoys on Farmland outside Tony's Rental HouseThe house at the edge of the farm, we affectionately called “Tony’s House,” because Tony was the gentleman that rented it to us each year, at what we later found out was a very good price. From there, we could walk to South Beach, although we generally drove because of too much beach paraphernalia. South Beach is probably the nicest public beach on the island for pure fun in the surf. Unlike the calm waters on the northern shore of the island, the waves here can be very fun. It does, however, get pretty crowded on a hot summer day.

Near the end of Katama Road, is the Edgartown Bay Road, where we also rented a house for several years. The views of Katama Bay along this road are very pretty. Over the years, we have used the scenic 2-mile loop as a place to run, bike, and even roller blade.

Along the Edgartown Bay Road is Town Launch, a public boat launch on Katama Bay, from which we have on many occasions launched a variety of watercraft – my brother’s Boston Whaler, our faithful blow-up boat, a windsurfer, and kayaks. From this point, you can cruise along Katama Bay, past some very beautiful homes, and into Edgartown Harbor, past the Chappy Ferry and onto the lighthouse. It’s one of my favorite cruises.

Herb loading Kayaks at Norton PointHerb loading Kayaks at Norton PointAs I mentioned in the Chappy write-up, 2012 was the first year that we had our new kayaks on the island, and we quickly found that it was really a great way to see new places or at least old places in a new way. We decided to launch our kayaks at Town Launch and paddle across Katama Bay to Norton Point to explore the breach that a 2007 storm made in the barrier beach that used to connect Edgartown to Chappy. The wave action in the opening between the bay and the ocean was definitely a bit intimidating – kind of like a washing machine – so we decided to stop just short of it and beach the kayaks and just lounge in the sun for awhile. There were some pretty strong currents, which we managed to ride a bit back into the main part of Katama Bay. It was a good maiden voyage for our kayaks – about 5 or 6 miles round trip, highly scenic, and not too strenuous. Probably the most strenuous part of the event was getting the kayaks back up onto the racks on top of the RV. I don’t know how Herb does it.

Family on Grady cruising Edgartown HarborFamily on Grady cruising Edgartown HarborDuring the years that we rented houses on the island, we often trailered our 20-foot Grady White to the island and kept it in a marina. The years we kept it at the Harborside Marina were fun, because we got to hang out at their pool and hot tub. We took so many wonderful expeditions on that boat: two circumnavigations of the island, numerous trips to Menemsha Pond and Lake Tashmoo, fishing trips out to “The Gut” and Wasque, and the lovely evening cocktail cruises around Katama Bay and Edgartown Harbor.

Our Katama houses were a perfect bike riding distance to town for the boys when they were growing up, and I can’t think of how many times we rode those 3 miles along the bike path with the promise of “Mrs. Miller’s muffins” or “ice cream” at the other end.

Family and Aggy at Edgartown Inn BreakfastFamily and Aggy at Edgartown Inn BreakfastOne of our favorite destinations was to have a classic Vineyard breakfast at the Edgartown Inn, where Herb and I spent our first honeymoon night and where my parents often stayed on their trips to the Vineyard. The best part of that breakfast for the boys was Henry, the waiter, who wore a bow tie and had plenty of tricks up his sleeve to entertain kids of all ages. Their personal favorite, which they never tired of, was the mustard trick. Henry would ask them if they wanted mustard – I am not sure why anyone would for breakfast. No matter how you answered, Henry would squeeze the bottle and mustard-colored yarn would shoot out dangerously close to your face. Henry was an icon at the Edgartown Inn up until the time he passed away a few years back.

Our bicycle trips to town often did not end in Edgartown. Charged up on food, we would ride our bikes onto the Chappy Ferry and peddle out to Dike Bridge or Wasque (see Chappaquiddick) – a pretty impressive distance for kids on heavy Toys R Us bikes. There were many vacations where they would put as much as 100 miles on their odometers.

Herb with Boat Caught Striped BassHerb with Boat Caught Striped BassAnother great bike ride that we have often enjoyed is the route from Edgartown, out past Cannonball Park and the Triangle, and onto the bike path along State Beach. The ride here is very pretty, with Sengekontacket Pond on one side and Nantucket Sound on the other. On summer days, the entire 2-mile strip is lined with cars parked bumper to bumper mostly with families to enjoy the calm waters of State Beach. There are two bridges along this road going over inlets connecting the Sound to the Pond. From one of these bridges, you will find dozens of kids of all ages perched atop the rail and then jumping off into the inlet. For movie buffs, this inlet might be familiar as the site of a shark attack in the movie Jaws.

Before the boys were in school, we usually came to the island in September or October, which was perfect – weather and water still warm, less crowds, and more fish. In fact, Fall is the best time of the year to catch blues and stripers, and timing of the annual Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby.

4th of July on Edgartown Inn Porch4th of July on Edgartown Inn PorchHowever, once the boys started school, we had to time our vacations with the rest of the crowds and come during the height of summer. There were some advantages to this as well – one of which was joining in on the 4th of July celebrations in Edgartown. I am usually not that big a fan of parades, but the Edgartown one is a classic Americana event. Since my parents often stayed at the Edgartown Inn during the celebration, we got to join them on the porch – one of the best vantage points in town – not to mention the warm chocolate chip cookies that Sandy, the host of the Inn, made for her guests.

There are the usual floats and marching bands, kilt-clad bagpipers, fire trucks, and veterans and flags as far as the eye can see. But this parade has one thing like no other – a giant inflatable rat, on par with Big Bird in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. Anyway, every year the same thing happens. Just as the rat inches its way past the cheering crowds on the Edgartown Inn porch, it gets caught in a low-hanging branch. This brings the entire parade to a halt. Then everyone cheers as the exterminator driving the float frantically tries to deflate it enough so that it can do a kind of limbo under the branch. It never gets old.

Neither does Edgartown. No matter how many times I come here, I will never tire of its charm.


Lolo on Porch of Edgartown Rental HouseLolo on Porch of Edgartown Rental HouseThe town of Edgartown is located on the eastern end of Martha’s Vineyard (referred to as “down island”), bordered by Nantucket Sound to the northeast and east and the Atlantic Ocean to the south. The small island of Chappaquiddick, which is technically part of the town of Edgartown, is separated from the town by Edgartown Harbor and Katama Bay. Transportation between the two is via the On-Time Ferry, which carries three cars across the harbor approximately every 5 minutes. Chappaquiddick will be described in more detail in a separate stop.

Like Oak Bluffs, Edgartown also has a very fascinating, but significantly different, history. Edgartown, which was originally named Great Harbor, was first settled by English settlers in 1642, when the Reverend Thomas Mayhew, Jr. brought a group of families to start a colony on the island after his father, Thomas Mayhew, purchased it for 40 pounds—significantly more than the Dutch paid for Manhattan. At the time, the island was inhabited by the Wampanoag Indians, a courteous and friendly tribe of Native Americans, who had lived on the island for centuries. Mayhew treated the Wampanoag with respect, even paying them for parcels of their land. He learned the Wampanoag language and traveled to Indian villages throughout the island, preaching Christianity. He opened the first school on the Island to teach English to the Wampanoags.

Kleins and Gaidus' on Porch of Edgartown RentalKleins and Gaidus' on Porch of Edgartown RentalAfter 15 years of missionary work, Mayhew decided to visit England to report on his missionary progress and to bring back more teachers and books. He said farewell to his Wampanoag friends at a place near what is now the airport road between Edgartown and West Tisbury. His ship was lost at sea. As a sign of their grief and deep respect for Mayhew, his Wampanoag friends made the scene of his farewell a sacred place, known as “The Place on the Wayside,” where each passing Indian would place a stone on a cairn as a tribute to him. In 1901, the large cairn of stones was replaced by a single boulder with a bronze plaque, and a token small pile of stones cemented to its back. Today, there are still many Mayhews living on the island.

Edgartown Yacht Club at NightEdgartown Yacht Club at NightFor the following two centuries, Edgartown was primarily a place for farming, grazing, and fishing. Meanwhile, on the mainland and in Europe, the Industrial Revolution was creating a great demand for whale oil as a machine lubricant and a source of illumination. Edgartown’s location on a perfect harbor helped it become one of the primary ports for the whaling industry during the 1800s, and more than 100 Edgartown men were captains of whaling ships. The profits from successful whaling voyages were enormous, as can be seen by the elegant mansions these captains built. These Captains’ Houses are traditionally painted white, with black or very dark green shutters, and have long wraparound porches with sky-blue paint on the ceilings—which theoretically repelled the bugs. Many of these homes have ornate top floor rooms called widow’s walks, from which wives could look out over the harbor in search of their husbands returning from sea. While this might sound very romantic, the real purpose of these structures was to allow residents to pour sand down chimneys in the event of a chimney fire—much for mundane than the thought of anxious wives longing for the return of their loved one.

The thriving whaling industry came to an end in latter 1800s when oil and kerosene began replacing the need for whale oil.

Dog on Sailboat Vela with DinghyDog on Sailboat Vela with DinghyToday, Edgartown’s source of livelihood is tourism, as thousands of mainlanders invade the island each summer to enjoy its unique history, charm, and beauty. One can wander for hours along the narrow streets of town enjoying the meticulously restored captains’ houses and views of the great harbor and lighthouse. In addition to the fine views, there are dozens of elegant shops, art galleries, and restaurants to occupy the crowds who flock to this up-scale town each summer. Or, just sit atop Memorial Wharf and watch the action, both in the town and out on the harbor.

Across the street from the Harbor View Hotel on North Water Street is a path leading to the Edgartown Lighthouse, marking the entrance to Edgartown Harbor and Katama Bay. The original lighthouse, which was built in 1828, was on a man-made granite island connected to the mainland by a wooden walkway. This walkway was called the “Bridge of Sighs,” because it was often the place where men going off to sea on years-long whaling voyages parted with their families.

Horseshoe Crab Circle with LoloHorseshoe Crab Circle with LoloEventually the strong currents created a small barrier beach and sandy access strip that made the walkway unnecessary. The original lighthouse was destroyed by the Hurricane of 1938. In the following year, the white, cast-iron Essex Light in Ipswich, Massachusetts, was relocated to Edgartown to replace the one destroyed by the storm.

From the Lighthouse Beach, one can just sit back and view the hustle and bustle of boats entering and leaving the harbor, the On-Time Ferry’s shuttling back and forth between Edgartown and Chappaquiddick, the captains’ houses along the Edgartown shoreline, the Chappy Beach Club, and “The Gut” at the tip of the Cape Poge Wildlife Refuge.

Edgartown also shares a section of the Joseph A. Sylvia Beach (more commonly called State Beach) located along Nantucket Sound on the road connecting Oak Bluffs and Edgartown. This beach is described in a separate stop.

Boys on Lifeguard TowerBoys on Lifeguard TowerFor a very different beach experience, head 3.5 miles south of town to South Beach at the end of Katama Road, either by car or along the paved bike path. Unlike many of the calmer beaches on the northern part of the island, Katama Beach is pounded by the crashing waves of the Atlantic Ocean. With the sun and the surf comes the crowds that you will be sure to find here on a sunny summer day.

Another way to explore Edgartown is by kayaking in Katama Bay. The boat launch is located on Edgartown Bay Road, a left turn off Katama Road, about 1.6 miles south of town. The bay is 3 miles long and 2.2 miles wide and generally quite shallow. Paddlers can weave in and out of the multitude of sailboats moored in the bay, while viewing the water-side of Edgartown’s grand mansions. The northern Chappaquiddick side is more bucolic. Norton Point Beach, the 2.5 mile barrier beach that sometimes connects Edgartown and Chappy, is located a short paddle across the bay. The only other way to reach this beach is by four-wheel drive (permit required) or a very long walk from South Beach. A storm in 2007 broke through this barrier beach making Chappy an Island again—at least for the time being.

There are 4 ½ public beaches (State Beach is shared with Oak Bluffs) in Edgartown:

  • Katama (South Beach) – located 4 miles south of Edgartown at the end of Katama Road on the Atlantic Ocean
  • Lighthouse Beach – located near the Edgartown lighthouse on Edgartown Harbor
  • Fuller Street Beach – located at the end of Fuller Street near Lighthouse Beach
  • Norton Point Beach – barrier beach between Katama Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, which was breached by a big storm. Accessible by four-wheel drive from South Beach.
  • Joseph Sylvia State Beach (State Beach) – this beach is shared with Oak Bluffs (see Oak Bluffs description)

Kayaking opportunities:

  • Katama Bay
  • Eel Pond and Edgartown Outer Harbor
  • lEdgartown Great Pond

Edgartown location map in "high definition"

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