Martha's Vineyard Museum
Martha's Vineyard, the largest island in the chain of Elizabeth Islands, is located about 7 miles south of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, in the United States of America. With a land area of approximately 88 square miles (232 square km) it is the 3rd largest island and the largest true island (not connected to the mainland by bridge or tunnel) off the Atlantic coast of the U.S.
Formed during the last ice age, Martha's Vineyard's northern hills were deposited as a glacial moraine during a period of glacial standstill. The soutern end of the island is an outwash plain, formed by sediments deposited as the glacier melted.
Originally inhabited by the Wampanoag, the island was known as Noepe (meaning "land amid the streams") in their language. There were approximately 3,000 Wampanoag living here in 1642, when Thomas Mayhew began the first English settlement at Great Harbor (Edgartown). By 1764, the Wampanoag population had dropped to 313. The Wampanoag were the first Vineyard whalemen to hunt and catch whales from the island's shores. Despite the encroachment of development, the Wampanoag have maintained their unique identity on the island and are a nationally recognized tribe.
The island has two natural harbors, Edgartown and Vineyard Haven, know to the seafaring class of the time as "Holmes Hole". Located on what was a very busy waterway, Martha's Vineyard has a strong maritime history. Edgartown was once the homeport to 50 whale ships. The census of 1850 lists more that half of Vineyard males over 18 as mariners. During the 18th and 19th centuries Martha's Vineyard was the 5th busiest whaling port in the northeast U.S.
In the mid- to late 19th century, as the whaling industry was waning, Martha's Vineyard was becoming known as a resort community. Today its population is approximately 15,000 year round, swelling to 75,000 in the summer.