A Stroll Around Edgartown
A good way to acclimate yourself to the pace and flavor of the Vineyard is to walk the streets of Edgartown. This walk starts at the Dr. Daniel Fisher House and meanders along for about a mile; depending on how long you linger at each stop, it should take about 2 to 3 hours.
If you're driving, park at the free lots at the edge of town (you'll see signs on the roads from Vineyard Haven and West Tisbury), and bike or take the shuttle bus (it costs only 50¢) to the Edgartown Visitor Center, on Church Street. Around the corner are three local landmarks: the Dr. Daniel Fisher House, Vincent House Museum, and Old Whaling Church.
The Dr. Daniel Fisher House, 99 Main St. (tel. 508/627-4440; www.mvpreservation.org), is a prime example of Edgartown's trademark Greek Revival opulence. A key player in the 19th-century whaling trade, Dr. Fisher amassed a fortune sufficient to found the Martha's Vineyard National Bank. Built in 1840, his prosperous and proud mansion boasts such classical elements as colonnaded porticos, as well as a delicate roof walk. The only way to view the interior (now headquarters for the Martha's Vineyard Preservation Trust) is with a guided Vineyard Historic Walking Tour (tel. 508/627-8619). This tour originates next door at the Vincent House Museum, off Main Street, between Planting Field Way and Church Street. The transplanted 1672 full Cape is considered the oldest surviving dwelling on the island. Plexiglass-covered cutaways permit a view of traditional building techniques, and three rooms have been refurbished to encapsulate the decorative styles of 3 centuries, from bare-bones colonial to elegant Federal. The tour also takes in the neighboring Old Whaling Church, 89 Main St., a magnificent 1843 Greek Revival edifice designed by local architect Frederick Baylies, Jr., and built as a whaling boat would have been, out of massive pine beams. With its 27-foot windows and 92-foot tower, this is a building that knows its place in the community (central). Maintained by the Preservation Trust and still supporting a Methodist parish, the building is now primarily used as a performance site.
Continuing down Main Street and turning right onto School Street, you'll pass another Baylies monument, the 1839 Baptist Church, which, having lost its spire, was converted into a private home with a rather grand, column-fronted facade. Two blocks farther, on your left is the Vineyard Museum, 59 School St. (tel. 508/627-4441; www.mvmuseum.org), a fascinating complex assembled by the Dukes County Historical Society. An absorbing display of island history, this cluster of buildings contains exhibits of early Native American crafts; an entire 1765 house; an extraordinary array of maritime art, from whalers' logs to WPA-era studies by Thomas Hart Benton; a carriage house to catch odds and ends; and the Gay Head Light Tower's decommissioned Fresnel lens.
Give yourself enough time to explore the museum's curiosities before heading south 1 block on Cooke Street. Cater-cornered across South Summer Street, you'll spot the first of Baylies's impressive endeavors, the 1828 Federated Church. One block left are the offices of the Vineyard Gazette, 34 S. Summer St. (tel. 508/627-4311; www.mvgazette.com). Operating out of a 1760 house, this exemplary small-town newspaper has been going strong since 1846; its 14,000 subscribers span the globe. If you are wandering by on a Thursday afternoon, you might catch a press run in progress.
Now head down Main Street toward the water, stopping in at any of the inviting shops along the way. Veer left on Dock Street to reach the Old Sculpin Gallery, 58 Dock St. (tel. 508/627-4881; late June to mid-Sept). The output of the Martha's Vineyard Art Association displayed here tends to be amateurish, but you might happen upon a find. The real draw is the stark old building itself, which started out as a granary (part of Dr. Fisher's vast holdings) and spent the better part of the 20th century as a boat-building shop. Keep an eye out for vintage beauties when you cross the street to survey the harbor from the deck at Town Wharf. It's from here that the tiny On-Time ferry makes its 5-minute crossing to Chappaquiddick Island, hauling three cars at a time and a great many more sightseers -- not that there's much to see on the other side. However, the island does offer great stretches of conservation land that will reward the hearty hiker or mountain biker.
Mere strollers might want to remain in town to admire the many formidable captains' homes lining North Water Street, some of which have been converted into inns. Each has a tale to tell. The 1750 Daggett House (no. 59), for instance, expanded upon a 1660 tavern, and the original beehive oven is flanked by a secret passageway. Formerly an inn, the Daggett House is now a private home. Nathaniel Hawthorne holed up at the Edgartown Inn (no. 56) for nearly a year in 1789 while writing Twice Told Tales -- and, it is rumored, romancing a local maiden who inspired The Scarlet Letter.
Winding Down -- After all that walking, you may need a refreshment. The Newes from America, at The Kelley House, 23 Kelley St. (just off N. Water St.; tel. 508/627-4397), is a classic old-world tavern with specialty beers and the best French onion soup on the island.