When you mention Martha’s Vineyard, I immediately think of the Kennedy Family, luxurious estates and waterside picturesque views. While I’ve spent a great deal of time in the NYC summer playground of the Hamptons, Marthas Vineyard was a place I’d yet to see, and was eager to explore.
This summer, I was fortunate to make this trip and stumble on The Harbor View Hotel at 131 North Water Street in Edgartown; voted “Best Hotel, General Excellence” by Martha’s Vineyard Magazine.
The experience was divine and the history of the property intriguing, earning this property a nod to learning more, during my week-long stay.
The fishing industry has been good to New England (hello clam chowder?) and back in the 18th to mid-19th century, Whale Hunting and processing is credited with building the economy of Cape Cod, Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard. Back then, sea captains’ homes were lavish, and today, the town’s wealth is seen in the sea captains’ mansions along North and South Water streets, facing the harbor. This historic wealth is also evident in Main Street’s Old Whaling Church, a Greek Revival structure with immense columns.
During the whaling “hey day” of the 1700’s, Martha’s Vineyard Colonists and Native American Wampanoags profited handsomely from the off-shore whaling business. American settlers profited from whale oil that provided fuel (often for lighthouses), spermaceti, which was used to make candles, and whale bones, which formed the ivory source for jewelry and other items.
The Wampanoags, used all parts of the whale, including its meat, oil, and bones and the tribe often stipulated rights to offshore whaling and beached whales whenever they sold land to the whites. Of interest, even today, the Wampanoags retain the rights to claim any beached whales in Edgartown.
By the 1760s, the whale population in the island waters was depleted and small boats that once were acceptable for whale hunting, were ill equipped to sail far enough to capture whales . The solution was to use large ships that were equipped to venture further to hunt whales as far away as the Pacific. Edgartown, with its natural and protected deep harbor, and Vineyard Haven became important whaling ports, though they never handled the volume of ships that docked in Nantucket. Edgartown held the title of, “Whaling Capital” of the island.
Edgartown’s 1840 Fisher House, built in 1840, restored in 1992 and located at 99 Main Street is open for tours. This was the home of Dr. Daniel Fisher, who built factories in the town to process whales. He was, at one time, the primary supplier of whale oil throughout the region.
Herman Melville, one of the whaling industry’s greatest chroniclers, shipped into Edgartown on a whaler named The Acushnet. In his 1851 novel, ‘Moby-Dick’ or ‘The White Whale’, an Aquinnah Wampanoag character named Tashtego is described as the most skillful of harpooners.
Most good things come to an end and in the 19th century, the whaling industry collapsed, thus wreaking economic havoc on Edgartown. In 1891 Edgartown began to redefine itself as a summer resort community and The Harbor View Hotel led the way. On 23rd July 1891, the shingle-style Harbor View Hotel celebrated its grand opening, inviting four hundred islanders to mingle with the hotel guests.
The view from the broad hotel porch was spectacular; the entire property was illuminating from the lanterns hung in the veranda and the fancily decorated parlors. In 1893, Depression hit the island of Matha’s Vineyard. The nation was beginning a financial downturn. Several buildings, including two hotels in the Cottage City area, burned to the ground. In 1895 a manager was hired for The Harbor View and after two years in the position, he bought out the owners of the hotel. Within a decade, he had doubled the Harbor View’s size. He added tennis courts and turned the hotel into a profitable venture. Over the next 125 years, the hotel expanded, went in and out of solvency, and changed hands many times.
‘Harbor View: The Hotel That Saved a Town’, published by Vineyard Stories, explores the hotel’s role in Island history, and memorializes the many people and groups that have contributed to its survival. According to the Vineyard Gazette, First Winthrop Corporation purchased the property in 1989, through a foreclosure auction for $13 million and most recently in 2006, Nantucket-based Scout Real Estate Capital acquired the Harbor View Hotel and began a multi-year restoration program. While the property price remains undisclosed, Town Assessors valued it at $34 million.
Due to the historic nature of the property, most rooms are different from each other. Some rooms located in the main building offer a spectacular view of the water including the Edgartown Lighthouse and Chappaquiddick Island. A number of these rooms have private porches.
Choose from one-bedroom suites either with a water view or other lovely views of the hotel grounds. One-bedroom suites like ours are located throughout the property and feature either a king or queen sized bed. Some suites have an additional full-size sofa bed in the living room, and others have an efficiency kitchen (microwave, cubic refrigerator, a coffee maker and sink).
On-site, you will also find an outdoor heated pool, cabana rentals, dining, a fitness center, private parking and golf facilities nearby.
Things to Do
The hotel is located within walking distance to Edgartown Harbor Village Historic District, which houses approximately 500 buildings covering about 150 acres.
Parking is not easy in Edgartown making the walking distance an invaluable amenity.
The only on-site dining I experience was at Henry’s Bar; a gastro-pub with grazing menu of Vineyard Small Plates.
We enjoyed a mix of small bites and salads sourced from local farms and fishermen including ‘The Local Calamari’, ‘The Lobster Tacos’ and ‘The Greek’.
The kids enjoyed chicken fingers, French fries and veggie sides.
Also on-site at the hotel is the Lighthouse Grill with a focus on fish, steak and chop entrees.
The Seafood Shanty
If you are looking for dining off-site, The Seafood Shanty has a great lunch menu with delicious oysters.
It’s even wilder at night and you can take a “selfie” photo with mascot Ray Shanty…
Off-site, L’etoile is an excellent option for an evening out.
Go! Maybe I’ll see you there next Summer!
Angela Ranieri joins us as Contributing Editor with an extensive background in Fashion, Beauty and Digital Media. She has worked with PRADA USA Corp., Jurlique, Amore Pacific and the New York Daily News in management capacities including Marketing, Client Relations, Employee Relations and Training Management. She has authored and published the column, “Ask Angela,” featured on the Amore Pacific USA website. Her beauty advice has been featured in Shape and Fitness Magazines and CBS News.
She is a graduate of Syracuse University with a Bachelor of Science in Communications and Writing. Angela also has an MBA in Marketing and Entrepreneurship from Northeastern University. While at Northeastern, her Market Research on the Electric Car was published for University use.
Angela is currently creator of Circuit Cosmetics, a Brand Ambassador for luxury beauty line, Patchology, an On Air Guest for QVC and blogger for www.thelaughinmommy.blogspot.com.
In her spare time you can find Angela running, spinning, practicing yoga or getting beautified. She resides on the Upper West Side of Manhattan with her Husband, Son, and Chihuahuas.