New England


Martha’s Vineyard: An American Tradition

Maria Boado


Martha's Vineyard, on the east coast of the United States, is highly regarded for its seascapes and pristine countryside.


An all American enclave, Martha’s Vineyard, is located in Dukes County, Massachusetts, south of Cape Cod. The island was named, 300 years ago, by the captain of a whaling ship. It is said that the wild vines that grew along the site reminded him of his daughter, Martha. The island was originally inhabited by the Wampanoag people, who called it Noepe, which in their native language means, “land between streams”.

Martha's Vineyard

In colonial times, the British, creating the foundation for future coexistence, which, at the time, was a model for the rest of the country, converted the majority of the natives to Christianity. For centuries, its residents have developed a great tradition of fishing, and to this date, tourists flock to this New England paradise to delight on the magnificent seafood available year-round.

In the 19th century, after a long history of economic irrelevance, the island gained international attraction for its prosperous whaling industry, which provided an abundant supply of whale oil, used for the illumination of colonial households and lighthouses. Edgartown harbor thus became an important pier where a large number of foreign vessels sought refuge and shelter.

The Bostonian bourgeoisie began building grand family waterfront estates along Water Street, following the canon of classic New England architecture. But the discovery of oil in Pennsylvania, which eventually replaced whale oil, accelerated the decline of the local economy in the late 1800s. The arrival in 1872 of the railway to the mainland post of Woods Hole contributed to better communication with the rest of the country and prompted an increased in the construction of summer homes on the island.

Martha's Vineyard

Martha’s Vineyard was also a popular meeting place for pious Methodists, who used to gather, each summer, in large outdoor camps, in the Oak Bluffs grasslands. Many of these families began to build small cottages painted in bright colors and adorned with balconies, porches and whimsical roofs. Over time, they built about 350 of these beautiful summer residences, popularly known as gingerbread cottages or gingerbread houses, which were declared historical monuments in 2005.

Martha’s Vineyard is particularly known for its majestic seascapes and beautiful countryside. Its visitors— especially attracted by a cultural tradition in which everything revolves around the sea— come to enjoy boating, fishing and swimming in the cool waters of its pristine beaches.

In the past century, politicians and celebrities flocked to the island for saltwater fishing and duck hunting, choosing to stay in old farmhouses and rustic camps. Decades later, the farms gave way to large mansions and Martha’s Vineyard became an exclusive paradise for illustrious personalities. If in the past Ulysses S. Grant and Richard Nixon chose to enjoy their holidays on the island, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama have done so more recently.

However, Martha’s Vineyard is not a traditional summer resort limited to the American upper class. Many cultural and political icons of our time have established second homes here, including Spike Lee, David Letterman, Carly Simon, James Taylor, Mike Nichols and the Kennedy family. One of the island’s most appreciated privileges is the quiet and discreet environment that allows celebrities to vacation there with a certain degree of privacy. After all, this land has never ceased to be a traditional fishing community with a population of only 15,000 residents.

Martha's Vineyard

Martha’s Vineyard is particularly known for its majestic seascapes and beautiful countryside. Its visitors— especially attracted by a cultural tradition in which everything revolves around the sea— come to enjoy boating, fishing and swimming in the cool waters of its pristine beaches. Other outdoor activities are also very popular, particularly cycling or strolling through beautifully preserved natural landscapes. The area near Chilmark stands out for its vast and rolling pastures, and the Aquinnah region boasts picturesque views of winding country roads leading to dramatic clay cliffs.

The spectacular sunsets of Menemsha or Chappaquiddick invite visitors, looking for a quiet evening, to end a relaxing day. The urban areas are also highly recommended. Among them, the city of Oak Bluff with its colorful houses straight out of a fairytale, and the historic Edgartown, where visitors can take a night walk to its imposing lighthouse under a starlit sky or visit the charming waterfront, lined by noble Victorian mansions.

If you visit Martha’s Vineyard in winter, you will find a different—although equally compelling—view of the island. It really does not matter the time of year you choose to visit. What is important is the opportunity to discover an enchanting place that has kept the most entrenched cultural traditions of the east coast of the United States.  ■


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