Edgartown Harbor was the first colonial community on Martha's Vineyard. Today, its beautiful beaches, New England atmosphere, and seaside location make Edgartown Harbor a popular destination throughout the year.
Edgartown Harbor has a relatively milder climate than mainland Massachusetts. Winters are warmer, and summers are cooler. Sunshine is common, although unexpected fog and rains are not unusual, even in the summer. Although the seasons are short, spring and fall are particularly beautiful times to visit. Snows can fall as late as April in Edgartown Harbor.
The 150-acre Caroline Tuthill Preserve, located about just over two kilometers (1.5 miles) from Edgartown Harbor, holds a variety of habitats that include oak and pine forest, salt marsh, open meadow, and wooded wetlands. The landscape was formed by the Late Wisconsin glacier, and many features reflect that origin. It also contains the Garrett Family Train, a self-guided nature walk that traverses the forest, offers wonderful views of the salt marshes, and presents a wide variety of birds.
Located in Edgartown Harbor's historic district, the Martha's Vineyard Historical Society Museum exhibits maritime artifacts, historic objects, and genealogical collections describing the lives of people who have lived in the area for thousands of years. Among the permanent exhibits are the Thomas Cooke House, the Fresnel Lens, a replica of a whaler's Tryworks, the Carriage Shed, the Wampanoag Gallery, the floating exhibit Vanity, and The Gale Huntington Research Library.
Open from June through October from Monday through Saturday (10am to 5pm), the Thomas Cooke House was built in the first half of the 1700s where it stands today. Thomas Cooke was a lawyer and Customs Officer. The home contains furnishings common for that era in ten rooms open to the public. Each room is devoted to a specific part of the history of Martha's Vineyard.
The Fresnel Lens was acquired in the mid-1800s for the Gay Head Lighthouse. Operating from 1856 until it was gifted to the Museum in 1952, the lens was the first light at Gay Head. It was a "spider" lamp with several wicks.
Tryworks were used on whaling ships for boiling blubber down to oil that was used for lighting and heat. In the early 18th Century, whalemen extracted the oil at their home port or at the shore. Tryworks made it possible for the process to be carried out onboard, lengthening the duration of voyages, sometimes to years, in search of whales.
The larger pieces of this Edgartown Harbor Museum's collection are in the Carriage Shed. The exhibit includes small fishing and whaling vessels, a Hawaiian canoe, a hearse, surfboards, and the headlamp from Martha's Vineyard's locomotive, the Active.
The Wampanoag Gallery tells the archaeological story of Martha's Vineyard history from the Ice Age through the present. The Vanity is the Museum's only floating exhibit. This 6.7-meter (22-foot) 1923 Catboat was built in Edgartown Harbor and has been restored to its original condition.
Open to the public on Tuesday and Thursday from 1pm until 4pm, the Gale Huntington Research Library houses reference materials and archives that include maps, manuscripts, books, oral history recordings, genealogical records, photographs, and transcripts ranging from the time of the first English settlers to the present. Researchers can make appointments to visit the Library outside its regular hours.
Outdoor lovers will enjoy a trip by ferry to Chappaquiddick Island's 200-acre Wasque Reservation. Actually, it is located at the south end of Katama Bay where the island connects to Martha's Vineyard Island. Visitors to this Edgartown Harbor Reservation will enjoy fishing, lounging on the huge beach or swimming (in strong currents), and walking through the beautiful natural setting. There is a shaded picnic grove with breathtaking views, and the beach has a parking lot and restrooms.