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Chilmark

With so many things to do in downtown Edgartown, it can be tough to justify straying very far from North Water Street, especially on a shorter visit. Still, if you’re a veteran of these parts or just looking for a change of scenery, a trip up-island is well worth your time. When we say up-island, we mean the western part of Martha’s Vineyard: West Tisbury, Chilmark, Menemsha, and Aquinnah. Confused yet? The phrase “up-island” dates back to our whaling days, when latitude and longitude were crucial for navigation. The further up-island you go, the higher your coordinate of longitude.

 

Gayhead Light Atop The Aquinnah Cliffs

Getting Up-Island from Edgartown

We’ll admit that heading up-island takes a bit more planning and travel time than a stroll to Edgartown Lighthouse, but, trust us — the extra effort pays off. These smaller towns run at a slower pace, with natural scenery as their main focal point. For a quick ride out of town, your best bet is to check out the Vineyard Transit Authority bus schedule — day passes are inexpensive, and buses run regularly from town to town all day during the summer. For total freedom at a higher price, you can charter your own Stagecoach Taxi for your person tour-de-island. Guests can always stop by the front desk for personalized help planning a day up-island.

 

There’s a lot of ground to cover over in those parts, but we consider these up-island attractions essential:

 

West Tisbury

A perfect stop on the way to or from the island’s western tip, West Tisbury’s limits reach the shore both north and south of downtown, covering a huge swath of central-western Martha’s Vineyard. With the people here scattered few and far between, this hamlet provides the perfect opportunity for a meandering stroll through nature.  Just outside the village lies the 70-acre Polly Hill Arboretum, where tree species from around the world thrive amidst beautiful stone walls and meadowlands. Split your outdoor time between the Arboretum and the Field Gallery, whose whimsical sculptures live in harmony with a green landscape.menemsha beach light guard stand

 

Menemsha

For hundreds of years, the island’s freshest catches have been arriving daily from the tiny fishing village of Menemsha. Larsen’s Fish Market menu has all the classics cooked to order from clam chowder and lobster to stuffed scallops. Visit for lunch or stop by mid-afternoon to avoid the evening rush that accompanies Menemsha’s famous sunsets. A walk around this sand-swept town promises rewards in the form of lesser-known storefronts, ocean views, and solitude.

 

Chilmark

Chilmark chocolates sign on Martha's VineyardJust southeast of Menemsha, Chilmark is the place to stock up on farm-fresh up-island produce and treats. Chilmark Chocolates make a sweet gift (if you can resist eating them yourself), and the Chilmark General Store serves up top-notch breakfast sandwiches and gourmet pizza with seating on their covered porch. Expect a fair amount of company at both places — they’ve earned the fuss.

 

Aquinnah

Home to the famed Gay Head Lighthouse, Aquinnah marks the westernmost tip of Martha’s Vineyard. You’ve probably seen photos of this historic beacon atop copper-colored clay bluffs, but a camera just can’t do it justice. The shoreline changes constantly with the tides—so much so that the lighthouse has actually been moved back from its more precarious original location.

Plan a Visit to the Martha’s Vineyard Food and Wine Festival
Where to Get the Best Pizza on Martha’s Vineyard Near Edgartown
Explore Memorable Things to Do & See in West Tisbury
Spend a Day at the Manuel F. Correllus State Forest
See the Next Big Thing at a Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival
A Guide on How to Get to Martha’s Vineyard
A Look at the History of Our Edgartown Hotel
Celebrate the Season | A Guide to Christmas in Edgartown

This week is the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. I believe the act has opened doors for all of us since its inception in 1990; not only the disabled.  Even on a small island such as Martha’s Vineyard, our community is becoming “richer” as more doors are opening for everyone.  The mainstreaming of the disabled into our society is a gift, as our children not only learn acceptance of differences, but develop compassion, comfort and appreciation for those of varying abilities.

 

Martha’s Vineyard has a reputation with some as being an “elitist” playground of the rich.  I believe this is an unearned criticism by folks that have never been here or just don’t know it well.   What I see is a diverse community and a variety of people coming to the island throughout the year to enjoy all that this beautiful resort has to offer.  Visitors and “Islanders” of all different ages, abilities, and income levels share this space and (for the most part) manage to get along; and yes, appreciate each other’s differences.

 

Camp Jabberwocky Bus-resized-600

 

In writing about disabilities and acceptance, I have to mention one of the most well-loved summer institutions on Martha’s Vineyard — Camp Jabberwocky.  If you have seen a 4thof July parade on the Island, you will be familiar with them.   The enthusiasm and joy for life of the campers and volunteer staff is an inspiration!   Camp Jabberwocky is the oldest running sleepover camp for people with disabilities in the United States.  Started 55 years ago as a Cerebral Palsy Camp, Camp Jabberwocky now welcomes 100 children and adults of varying disabilities to Martha’s Vineyard every summer. And the Vineyard community looks forward to welcoming them!  Another loved “institution” that is active in the disabled community is Chilmark Chocolates.  They have an amazingly delicious product and employ many disabled adults year round.  If you have never sampled their product, you really should!

 

As an interesting aside, embracing people with disabilities is a long standing tradition on Martha’s Vineyard.  During the late 17th to early 20th centuries, the majority of the inhabitants of Chilmark (“up-island” on Martha’s Vineyard) all knew sign language because of the large number of community members that were hearing impaired.  According to historical accounts, the hearing impaired members were not seen as disabled because everyone knew sign language and could therefore communicate with each other.   Martha’s Vineyard Sign Language later merged with some others to become what is now American Sign Language.

 

As a hotel operator for the past 25 years, I have lived through some of the operational challenges to businesses since the ADA was first rolled out.  Trying to figure out how to retro fit old buildings with ramps and widen doorways to accommodate wheelchairs was just the beginning…  Did you ever wonder how to get a wheelchair onto the beach?  Several of our beaches now have board walkways to make them accessible to wheelchairs.  Small communities with older buildings and narrow streets will continue to have accessibility challenges as needed improvements persist; but much progress has been made in the past 20 years, which has benefited all of us.  I hope in the next 20 years all of our communities will evolve into what Chilmark used to be; and no one will be seen as disabled!  Do you have a memory of the ADA creation or the way it has affected you or your time on Martha’s Vineyard?

 

Plan a Visit to the Martha’s Vineyard Food and Wine Festival
Where to Get the Best Pizza on Martha’s Vineyard Near Edgartown
Explore Memorable Things to Do & See in West Tisbury
Spend a Day at the Manuel F. Correllus State Forest
See the Next Big Thing at a Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival
A Guide on How to Get to Martha’s Vineyard
A Look at the History of Our Edgartown Hotel
Celebrate the Season | A Guide to Christmas in Edgartown