Cape Cod Museums: Martha’s Vineyard Museum
By: Matt Romeo
The Martha’s Vineyard Museum, originally known as the Dukes County Historical Society, was founded in 1922. The museum boasts an impressive campus located on a former Marine Hospital in Vineyard that consists of the main museum,
building, a café, the Fresnel Lens Pavilion, and a vehicles and vessels barn. In addition to its main campus, the museum owns the Thomas Cooke House in Edgartown and holds long-term leases on East Chop and Edgar Town Light Houses. In addition to its indoor and outdoor exhibits, the museum has recently expanded to online exhibits.
Martha’s Vineyard Museum is situated in a beautiful location overlooking Lagoon Pond and Vineyard Sound in Tisbury. The museum’s address is 151 Lagoon Pond Rd, Vineyard Haven, MA 02568 for those traveling from a long distance. There is plenty of parking available for those traveling by car and even a bike rack for those who need it.
The museum is open from 10 AM to 4 PM Tuesday through Sunday and the last admission is at 3:30. You can walk around the outdoor exhibits for free, but entry into the inside of the museum will cost $12. The museum has several discount partners so make sure to check the website to see if you qualify for a discount.
The museum has a combination of permanent exhibits and rotating exhibits inside. The rotational exhibits often feature local artwork or unique displays that detail the local history. Additionally, there are seven permanent exhibits.
A brief animated video meant to give you an overview of the island’s history before you go through the rest of the museum.
One Island, Many Stories
This exhibit focuses on presenting visitors with an overall history of Martha’s Vineyard. The main feature is an interactive map in the center of the exhibit with sights and sounds from the island’s history scattered along the edges. The goal is to promote the connectedness of the island and its history.
Flashes of Brilliance
This two-story exhibit chronicles the history of lighthouses on the island. The crown jewel of the exhibit (and the museum) is Fresnel Lens that was installed in the local Gay Head Lighthouse from 1854 to 1952.
The Challenge of the Sea
The Challenge of the Sea focuses on the challenges of shipping, navigation, and difficult sea conditions in Martha’s Vineyard. There is also an explanation of the optical qualities of the Fresnel Lens here.
A special learning area that is built specifically for kids. Everything in the area is meant to be touched and interacted with. It’s essentially a learning playground.
On This Site
A special exhibit covering the history of the land that the museum sits on. It mostly chronicles the history of the Marine Hospital but covers other fun snippets in the history of the land as well.
Jewel Box Exhibit
This is a rotating exhibit that features an item or story that doesn’t fit into other areas of the museum.
In addition to the paid indoor museum exhibits, Martha’s Vineyard offers a few free outdoor exhibits.
Since Martha’s Vineyard is on an island, naturally, its history involves boats. This is where some of the larger historical vessels are stored.
This is a unique piece created by local artist Tim Laursen. The sculpture is meant to inform its viewers about solar energy, while also doubling as a piece of art. The bird at the top of the sculpture flaps its wings while being powered by the sun.
This is the only floating exhibit in the museum. It’s a restored 1923 fishing built by Manuel Swartz Roberts.
In addition to the exhibits listed above, there are several other activities to participate in. One of the most noticeable is a kid’s scavenger hunt that is designed to keep kids engaged while walking around the property.
Martha’s Vineyard also leases the Edgartown and East Chop lighthouses which are located off of the museum’s property. Additionally, they own the Thomas Cooke House, which will have its garden open in the summer of 2021 and the actual house open to the public in the summer of 2022. The Thomas Cooke House is located in Edgartown.
The Martha’s Vineyard Museum is a wonderful way to spend a sunny summer day. Make sure to check out one of the several fantastic exhibits next time that you are in the area.
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