The Clintons love it; the Obamas love it; we love it! Martha’s Vineyard is a “must-see” when you are anywhere near Cape Cod, and that’s exactly what Bill and I did last Thursday. You can only get there via ferry so we took the 9:00 a.m. boat from Hyannis – and our bicycles – ready to explore the island for a full day.
Martha’s Vineyard was discovered by Englishman Bartholomew Gosnold, who named the island after his daughter, coupling her name with “vineyard” because the island at that time – 1602 – was covered in wild grapes. For over 150 years, farming and fishing were the mainstays of the settlers, but as time went on, whaling became paramount and the island became the location for annual revivalist meetings. Gradually people’s religious visits became more recreational, and Martha’s Vineyard solidified its reputation as one of the most popular resorts in New England. Today the year-round population of 15,000 lives in six towns within the 100 square-mile island and the population increases to 75,000 each summer!
We wanted to visit Martha’s Vineyard before the extra 60,000 visitors arrived, and fortunately the day of our trip was perfect. The sun was shining; the sky was blue; and the temperature was in the mid-60’s. These conditions were especially ideal for biking, which is how we chose to see the island.
After a very smooth hour-long ride, the ferry docked in Oak Bluffs which is the site of the original Martha’s Vineyard Camp Meeting Association. It is here in 1835 where the Methodists held their summer revivals, and by 1875, more than 30,000 were attending. People began to build gingerbread cottages, each trying to outdo their neighbor with regard to design and colorful paint. Today, more than 1,000 such cottages still exist, and as Bill and I rode around the area, residents were indeed painting as they appeared to be opening the cottages for the summer. Just look at some of these creations – for a moment we thought we were home in Cape May!
Oak Bluffs is also the home to the Flying Horses Carousel, the oldest continuously operating carousel in the country. Unfortunately, the merry-go-round is only open on weekends in the early season, but we did peek in the window to get a glimpse of the hand-carved horses. For $2.50 you can still take a ride on it today!
After exploring the downtown area of Oak Bluffs we pedaled six miles to Edgartown, which has been the county seat of Martha’s Vineyard since 1642. Here we saw the most beautiful captain’s houses which makes the community almost museum-like. With an elegant shopping area and a bustling harbor, Edgartown feels like something out of the past for sure. We had lunch at the Wharf Pub, where we each enjoyed a delicious fish sandwich and although we did not partake of dessert, we located a donut shop we had read about where well into the night after the donut shop has closed, donuts continue to be made and sold out the back door to nightly revelers – thus the name!
Our next destination was Chappaquiddick, another island accessible only by ferry from Edgartown. There is a three-car ferry – yes, only 3 cars at a time – that travels back and forth all day and night, taking residents and visitors to the infamous island where Teddy Kennedy drove off a wooden bridge with Mary Jo Kopechne. Kopechne died and Kennedy did not.
While we were on the ferry waiting for it to depart for the 1 minute 16 second trip, a woman in a car rolled down her window and exclaimed, “What a glorious day to bike Chappy!” She was delightful and gave us directions to East Beach where supposedly we could see “the bridge.” “Chappy” is beautiful but almost scary in that it is extremely desolate, with no town center, and a mixture of very spread-out magnificent and modest homesteads. We commented that if you were looking to be “off the grid” Chappaquiddick is the place to go – Ted Kennedy was no fool!
After biking the entire island, we jumped back on the Chappy Ferry and headed back to Edgartown. We were reserved on the 6:10 p.m. ferry to return to Hyannis, so we pedaled back to Oak Bluffs. We settled in Dockside , the area on the harbor where the ferries come and go, and enjoyed a drink on the water before leaving the beauty of Martha’s Vineyard. As our new friend on the ferry had said, it was indeed, a glorious day!