A Walking Tour of Edgartown
Although Edgartown was first settled in 1642, the vast majority of buildings in the historic district date from 1830 to 1845 — popularly known as the golden era of whaling. The building boom which took place during that time, the direct result of rapidly amassed fortunes, was not dissimilar to the Island's present real estate expansion.
This walking tour provides an introduction to the distinguished Federal and Greek Revival homes built during that era, as well as some erected much earlier, the oldest of which dates to 1672. Enjoy your stroll and come back again. You'll discover something new — however old it might be — each time you return.
1 — Visitor Center
29 Church Street. The Visitors Center provides maps and brochures for tourists and is also the place to hop a bus for other Island towns and South Beach. Open May 1 to November 1.
2 — Dr. Daniel Fisher House
99 Main Street. Dr. Daniel Fisher was one of Edgartown’s most successful whaling entrepreneurs. When he built his Federal-style house in 1840 he owned what is now the town wharf as well as a whale oil refinery, a candle factory, a bakery, and gristmill. He also supplied whale oil to all of the nation’s lighthouses and founded the Martha’s Vineyard National Bank. The house is crowned with a cupola from which Dr. Fisher could view his many enterprises. Tours of the property are available through the Vincent House.
3 — The Vincent House
Located behind the Fisher House, this is the oldest unaltered house on the Vineyard. Built in the 1670s and occupied by descendants of the original Vincent family for 250 years, it was originally located on Edgartown Great Pond and moved to its present location in 1977. It is now a museum designed to highlight 300 years of Island life. For information regarding tours, please call 508-627-8720.
4 — Old Whaling Church
89 Main Street. Built in 1843 at the height of the whaling industry, the six-columned Greek Revival church was designed by Frederick Baylies, Jr., who also designed the Baptist and Federated churches. This Methodist church is now also used as a town meeting place and a performing arts center. Of note: the 92-foot clock tower, which can be seen far out at sea, and the 1869 Simmons Fisher organ. Tours are available through the Vincent House Museum.
5 — Baptist Church
20 School Street. The 1839 structure housed the Baptist congregation until it merged in 1925 with the Congregational Church to form the Federated Church. This was the second church designed by Frederick Baylies, Jr. Its tower is gone, the victim of rot. The church became a private residence in 1979.
6 — Joseph Norton House
37 Cooke Street. A farmhouse built in the 1720s in Ocean Heights and moved to this location in 1822, it has hand-hewn beams, hand-split laths and handmade nails, hinges and latches. A rear addition and dormer windows were added in 1909. This is still a private residence.
7 — Martha’s Vineyard Museum
59 School Street. With over 30,000 items in its collections, the museum offers visitors a thoughtful look at the Island’s history. Portraits, furniture, fishing and whaling tools and folk art are on display. The library houses books, photographs, maps, ship logs, diaries, genealogy, and an oral history center. A restored 1856 fire engine and the 1854 Fresnel lens that once belonged to the Gay Head lighthouse are also on the grounds. Open June 1-13 Mon to Sat, 10am to 4pm. Beginning June 14, open Mon to Sat, 10am to 5pm.
8 — Federated Church
47 S. Summer Street. Erected in 1828, the Federated Church is a traditional New England meetinghouse still in use by the Island’s oldest congregation (established in 1642) and was the first church to be constructed by Frederick Baylies, Jr. in Edgartown. The front of the church faces Main Street because there were few, if any, buildings between the church and Main Street at that time. Of note: a chandelier which originally burned whale oil, an 1895 Hook and Hastings organ and the old box pews.
9 — Vineyard Gazette
34 S. Summer Street. Built in 1760 by Benjamin Smith, the house is now home to the Vineyard Gazette, the Island’s oldest newspaper. After building the house, Smith later became a captain in the Island militia during the Revolutionary War. Stop in and see our island-made newspaper being printed.
10 — Captain Valentine Pease House
80 S. Water Street. Captain Valentine Pease, master of The Acushnet, the whaler on which the author Herman Melville sailed in 1841, built the private residence between 1822 and 1836. Captain Pease is reputed to have been the prototype for Captain Ahab in Melville’s Moby Dick.
11 — The Pagoda Tree
9 S. Water Street. Captain Thomas Milton, who first came to the Vineyard in the early 1800s, brought this tree from the Orient when it was a seedling. Planted about 1833, it is the oldest of its kind on the continent. Commonly called the Flame Tree in China, its horticultural name is Sophora Japonica. It shades the home Captain Milton built in 1840, now part of the Harborside Inn.
12 — Town Wharf
Here is where you take the On Time ferry to Chappaquiddick. The wharf’s upper platform offers a great place to sit and view the harbor activities.
13 — Old Sculpin Gallery
58 Dock Street. This building was constructed in 1890 on the site of Daniel Fisher’s whale oil refinery. It first served as a feed mill, was then converted into a boat shop, and now houses an art gallery.
14 — St. Andrew’s Church
34 N. Summer Street. The stained glass windows in this 1899 church were made and signed by Louis C. Tiffany. The pulpit is the bow of a dory from the schooner Northern Lights, for many years the largest ship in Edgartown harbor.
15 — Edgartown Public Library
On North Water Street, overlooking the Chappaquiddick ferry line, is the Edgartown Public Library. The entrance to the library is the original 1904 building, a gift to the town from steel magnate Andrew Carnegie; the land for the library was given by Caroline Osborn Warren, whose portrait hangs in the entry. Inside, in addition to books, DVDs and music materials, are public computers for anyone to use (including visitors) – and the entire library has free wireless access. The walls are hung with art given to Edgartown in 1934 by Charles Simpson, a biscuit manufacturing magnate who grew up around the corner on Simpson’s Lane. The library also has an important amenity downstairs: public restrooms.