Spring is a great time to explore the Menemsha Hills & The Brickyard, an important part of the history of Martha’s Vineyard, located on North Road in Chilmark . Both properties, totaling 230 acres, are managed by the Trustees of Reservations.
The seaside fishing village of Menemsha gained national notoriety as the backdrop for the fictional “Amity Island” in the shooting of Stephen Speilberg’s film Jaws in 1985. This certainly boosted the tourist economy for what was historically a fishing village for many generations.
But many don’t know the secret hidden in the red clay cliffs; back in the 1600’s Menemsha was once home to a vibrant brickyard, helping to pave many city streets of the new formed colony. Following the trails of the Brickyard and Menemsha Hills will take you back in time.
Hiking Menemsha Hills & The Brickyard
Menemsha Hills features a number of trails with spectacular views of Vineyard Sound, Gay Head Light, and the Elizabeth Islands. The rugged landscape varies, meandering between wetlands, woodlands, coastal plains, bluffs, and hilltops.
Visitors can enjoy a climb to the second highest point on the island; at 308 feet high, Prospect Hill provides scenic views of the island and ocean. Hikers have a number of trail options including the 1.6-mile Brickyard Trail, 1 mile Harris Loop, 1.5-mile Nashwahkamuk Loop, and 0.9-mile Beach Trail. Many include scenic overlooks, blueberries, and large boulders or erratic, relics of the island’s glacial history.
History of The Brickyard
Connected to the Menemsha Hills property by a short path, The Brickyard gives visitors insight into the industrial past of the island’s north shore. While the days of loud and dirty industry have left Martha’s Vineyard, evidence of days past remains.
The 45-foot-tall chimney of crumbling red brick stands starkly contrasting to the blues of the Sound, and lush greens of the land as a reminder of the Vineyard’s industrial heyday, in which it played a role in building downtown Boston..
The chimney, stone walls, and other artifacts are remnants of a brickworks site, which ran on the island from the 1640’s to the late 19th century. The operation involved mining the red island clay and was powered using island trees (until they were hard to come by) and the waters of Roaring Brook.
Bricks from the Vineyard Paving the Way
Nathaniel Harris, a Boston banker purchased the operation in 1869, employing over 70 islanders. In its prime, the brickworks produced up to 800,000 bricks per year.
Once completed the bricks were loaded onto schooners in Vineyard Sound and sent to build growing cities like Boston, New York, and Newport. Railways soon usurped schooners for delivering goods, and The Brickyard ceased operations. The property remained in the Harris family until it was bequeathed to the Trustees who took over both the Menemsha Hills and The Brickyard properties in 2014.
Many of the scars of industry have healed and grown over, though the large brick chimney remains for now, though due to instability visitors are advised to keep their distance. The site provides a fascinating glimpse into the island’s history and is a great walk in any season. The trail is uneven in places so you will need to watch your footing. Also be advised the trail back up is a pretty steep climb and can be strenuous.
Take advantage of the beautiful Spring weather to explore other trails of the Trustees or other favorite hikes on Martha’s Vineyard or join one of the many guided walks with Martha’s Vineyard Land Banks Commission.
The Trustees host monthly events at The Farm and other of outdoor events on their properties located around the Vineyard. You will find these upcoming events and others posted on our Martha’s Vineyard Event Calendar.