History and Exploration of the Aquinnah Cultural Center
By: Matt Romeo
The Aquinnah Cultural Center is a historic family homestead located in the Aquinnah Circle Cultural District that celebrates the cultural history of the original inhabitants of Aquinnah, the Wampanoag tribe. The center is located near the Gay Head Cliffs and is a must-see for anyone visiting the Martha’s Vineyard area.
The Aquinnah Cultural Center is located in a historic Wampanoag homestead and is open from 11AM to 4PM on Wednesday through Friday and also by appointment. The center is located at 35 Aquinnah Circle, Aquinnah.
The center is dedicated towards preserving the history and promoting the continued exploration of the Wampanoag people. The cultural center houses a museum as well as a shop. In addition to running the museum and shop year-round, the center hosts an artisan’s festival annually and puts on several events throughout the year.
Aquinnah Circle Cultural District
The Aquinnah Cultural Center is part of the larger Aquinnah Circle Cultural district, which is also geared towards sharing the cultural heritage of the Wampanoag Tribe of Aquinnah. The cultural district is located on the Gay Head Cliffs, which offer stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean and its stunning beaches.
In addition to the Aquinnah Cultural Center, the Aquinnah Circle Cultural District houses Wampanoag family-owned shops that sell handmade clothing, jewelry, and décor. You can also find a bite to eat at one of the many eateries offering fresh seafood or organic ice cream.
If the Aquinnah Cultural Center is not open during your visit, you can visit the Heritage Kiosk, which will give you a sense of the spirit of the Wampanoag people through brief stories.
Gay Head Lighthouse
The most renowned building located in the Aquinnah Circle Cultural District is the Gay Head Lighthouse. The original wooden lighthouse was built in 1796 due to the islands’ involvement in the whaling industry and is presently the only working lighthouse in all of Martha’s Vineyard. The light house has been moved several times due to erosion of the cliffs and the beautiful redbrick version of the lighthouse that you see today was constructed in 1856.
Charles W. Vanderhoop, Sr., a member of the Wampanoag tribe who built the house where the Aquinnah Cultural Center is located today, was the first member of the Wampanoag tribe to become a keeper of the light house. His direct descendent, Charles W.Vanderhoop, Jr., was known for giving lighthouse tours to children living on the island and therefore making the lighthouse and the Aquinnah Circle Cultural District a popular tourist destination.
The lighthouse is only a short walk away from the Aquinnah Cultural Center and is well worth the visit due to its fascinating history and incomparable views.
Gay Head Cliffs & Moshup Beach
The steep drop below the Gay Head Lighthouse is known as the Gay Head Cliffs. The beautiful red layers of clay that make up the cliff are known to house fossils of whales, horses, and camels. The clay from this cliff is also what was used to construct the Gay Head Lighthouse.
Far below the Gay Head Lighthouse is the popular destination of Moshup Beach. The Aquinnah Headlands Preserve, a trail that starts just next to the Aquinnah Cultural Center, will take you down to the beach. The trail is slopes gently and is constructed of hard-packed dirt making it easy for almost anyone to use. Be forewarned, while Moshup beach is not legally a nude beach, most people recognize it as clothing optional.