Things You Might Not Know About Martha’s Vineyard

Martha’s Vineyard is an island just south of Cape Cod. The indigenous Wampanoag Indians called it Noepe, which meant “land amid the streams.” British explorer Bartholomew Gosnold crossed the Atlantic in 1602 and landed at a place he called Cape Cod because of the fish in the vicinity. He would name the nearby island Martha’s Vineyard after his daughter.

One of the earliest known deaf communities in the United States inhabited the island in the late 1600s. Residents developed Martha’s Vineyard Sign Language, a predecessor of the modern American Sign Language.

In 1641, the island was purchased by colonial businessman Thomas Mayhew. The first settlement was founded at Edgartown within a year. The Mayhew family held manors and offices for life until the American Revolution put an end to hereditary pretensions.

The island is home to the Flying Horses Carousel, which was built in 1876. It is the nation’s oldest platform carousel, and has been designated a national landmark by the US Department of the Interior. It originally operated at Coney Island, N.Y., until the Martha’s Vineyard Preservation Trust brought it to the island in 1986, hoping to save it from dismantling. You can find it in Oak Bluffs.

Looking for a dose of fuzzy cuteness? At Island Alpaca, visitors can visit the herd daily, and learn about the lives and breeding of these unique creatures. Here, both children and families will begin to understand the benefits alpacas and llamas bring to the farming industry, and will even offer consultation to those thinking of raising one.

Built in the mid-1800s by members of a Methodist community, the Oak Bluffs “gingerbread houses’’ remain a popular island attraction thanks to their colorful and quaint appearance. The small cottages are brightly painted and each bears its own name and dainty décor, and at night the neighborhood lights up into an illuminated wonderland.

The largest houses in town were originally owned by captains, and some of the finest are still occupied by their descendants. Several captains’ houses can be found on Music Street, given its name after a number of its families purchased pianos with new whaling money.

Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster “Jaws” was shot in Edgartown (among other Vineyard locales) in the 1970s. Visitors can book a Jaws walking tour highlighting the movie sites.

About Ann Luongo

Ann Luongo has been writing for Cape Cod and South Shore publications for over 15 years.
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