Wednesday, October 9, 2013

In My Footsteps: The First Martha's Vineyard Trip

            First let me start by saying, yes I am a lifelong Cape Codder.  My family dates back to Deacon John Doane who helped settle the town of Eastham in 1644.  I am proud of my long history on this peninsula. Now, that being said, I will admit that I had never once been to either island of Martha’s Vineyard or Nantucket, until now.
            I had decided that with all of the trips I had taken across New England it was about time that I visit a spot so close by but which seemed so far away.  By ferry Martha’s Vineyard is only a forty-five minute ride, the island is easily visible from the shores of Woods Hole, Falmouth, and Mashpee.
Ocean Park in Oak Bluffs
            The 100-square-mile Vineyard is purported to be named after the daughter of English explorer Bartholomew Gosnold who died in infancy.  He first sailed to the island in 1602.  There is a very long and rich history there and I wanted to make sure that I saw as much of it as I could upon arrival.  The ferry docked at Oak Bluffs and I found my first place to visit stretched out before me along the shore. 
            Ocean Park, situated right along Seaview Avenue, is seven acres of wide open space surrounded by beautiful homes.  Near the center of the park is a bandstand gazebo and it is the site of the annual Fourth of July fireworks in Oak Bluffs.  I enjoyed the man-made pond with a small fountain as it was inhabited by man geese which did not mind posing for pictures.  It would have been easy on a warm early-autumn day to sit back and enjoy more time at Ocean Park but I knew I only had a set number of hours on The Vineyard and needed to keep moving.
            Since bringing a car over on the ferry is a little pricy ($137 Round-Trip for a small car), I decided to rent a bicycle for the day.  Before I went I had chosen Anderson’s Bikes due to its low prices and the fact that they had been around since 1971 with the same family running it.  I was not disappointed with the hybrid street bike from Fuji I rented.  It reminded me of a spin class bike, a great ride.  Since it was technically my first time on the island I let the woman there give me her
East Chop Light
whole speech about what to see around the area.  I even got a map just like a real tourist.
            Once equipped with a bike I used the gps on my phone to set out to my next destination.  As many of you know I am a huge fan of lighthouses, love them, so it was only natural that my first trip to Martha’s Vineyard would include as many lighthouses as time would allow.  First up was East Chop Lighthouse.
            Located on East Chop Drive in Oak Bluffs the lighthouse was not difficult to find.  The ride out to it was spectacular as being on a bike made it possible to really soak in the atmosphere of the small island town.  East Chop Light sits inside a picket fence on a small plot of land overlooking the ocean, passing ferries and Cape Cod in the distance.  It was deserted when I arrived and it allowed me the chance to take many photos and also simply enjoy laying eyes on this landmark for the first time.  The current East Chop Light is the third built on the site with the original being built in 1869. The current tower was erected in 1878.  The view is amazing and worth spending some time there.
            Of course I had to follow up East Chop Light with the corresponding West Chop Light over in Vineyard Haven.  The ride there was just as much fun as the lighthouse itself.  The route leads you down along Vineyard Haven Harbor.  This is the port where the ferries come in year-round, the port in Oak Bluffs is only seasonal.  There are many beautiful little side roads along the shore, some of which I saw up close when I could not hear my gps and became temporarily lost.
            There are a
West Chop Light
few differences between East and West Chop Light, the main one being that West Chop is on Coast Guard property and thus not able to be seen too closely.  The original West Chop Light was built in 1817, and the current tower, like East Chop, is the third built on the site. The current lighthouse was erected in 1891.  Despite being fifty-feet behind a picket fence it is still worth the ride to see this lighthouse, the ride out itself is just as good as I mentioned.    
            After seeing East and West Chop I decided the only way to continue on The Vineyard was to hop on the Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road bike trail and ride down to see Edgartown Lighthouse on the harbor.  When traveling on a bicycle you notice how hilly The Vineyard is away from the shore, it was a bit of a chore but great exercise getting down to Edgartown. 
            Many spots in Edgartown were featured in the movie Jaws and the entire town is beautiful with a special feel to it as soon as you arrive.  One particular spot
Old Whaling Church, Main St. Edgartown
that captures that feel is the ground of the Vincent House Museum.  The house itself is the oldest residence on the island, built in 1672.  The house is believed to have been built by William Vincent who was one of the early settlers of Edgartown’s Great Harbor area.  The Martha’s Vineyard Historical Preservation Society gained the house in 1977 and moved it from Great Pond in Edgartown to its current location.  It shares the ground with a pair of other historical sites that add to the special feel of this area.
            The Old Whaling Church was designed by Frederick Baylies and built by whaling captains in 1843.  It is an impressive site towering above Main Street with its beautiful columns. It has now been transformed into a performing arts center and is very popular for weddings.  The church coupled with the narrow street, quaint homes, and white picket fences made me want to simply sit on a bench and watch the world go by.  It seems like much of Martha’s Vineyard has that same sort of feel to it.   
            Not far from this stretch of historical sites is Edgartown Lighthouse.  By the time I had gotten to this point my legs were very tired but there was no way I wasn’t going to walk out to where the lighthouse was on the water.  It is within sight of Chappaquiddick with the ferries making the very short trip back and forth.  Ironically the original Edgartown Lighthouse was destroyed in the Hurricane of 1938 and when it came time for it to be replaced it was Rear Range Lighthouse from Ipswich, Massachusetts that was loaded on a barge and brought down to the harbor entrance
Edgartown Light
.  That fact made the experience even more special and unique. 
Though the amazing Harbor View Hotel is nearby it felt as though Edgartown Lighthouse was in its own world; the lapping ocean waves drown out all sounds but for a few stray boat horns.  I sat on the steps of the lighthouse to enjoy the atmosphere for a while.  My first trip to Martha’s Vineyard had been a huge success and would not be my last for sure.
My ride back to Oak Bluffs took place along the Edgartown-Oak Bluffs Road bike path.  Much of this ride gives you spectacular views of the surrounding water along the Joseph Sylvia State Beach.  It was a fantastic end to a trip that was a long time coming.  I passed by Ocean Park near sunset, coming full circle from where I had begun my day.  Now I can say yes I have been to Martha’s Vineyard, and plan on going back as soon as I possibly can.  I am sure I don’t have to suggest that all of you do the same.  Have fun and happy traveling!

My first book, In My Footsteps: A Cape Cod Travel Guide, is now available at, Barnes&, and, soon to be in stores everywhere!  Follow me on Twitter!

Directions: East Chop Lighthouse:  From the ferry port go straight on Lake Avenue, take the 1st right onto East Chop Drive, follow it 1.1 miles to lighthouse on the right.
                    West Chop Lighthouse:  From the ferry go straight on Lake Avenue, continue onto New York Avenue, follow it for a mile, take a slight left onto Temahigan Avenue, follow it .3 miles, take a slight right onto Eastville Avenue.  Continue straight onto Beach Road, follow it 1.4 miles, turn right onto Main Street, follow it 2 miles to lighthouse on right.
                    Edgartown Lighthouse:  From the ferry go left onto Seaview Avenue, follow it 1.1 miles, continue onto Beach Road, follow it 2.8 miles, keep right to stay on Beach Road, follow 1.1 more miles.  Continue onto Upper Main Street, continue onto Main Street, follow this .3 miles, turn right onto N Water Street, follow .4 miles, lighthouse is on right.

References:  Steamship Authority
            Anderson's Bike Rentals
            Martha's Vineyard Chamber of Commerce

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