Skip Navigation
This table is used for column layout.

CodeRED Emergency Notification Signup
Contact the County
Search Our Site

How to Get Here
Town Seal
An Ancient Heritage
A Modern Lifestyle
Page NavigationPage NavigationPage NavigationPage Navigation
About Dukes CountyDukes County Home Page
Vineyard Haven (Tisbury)
VINEYARD HAVEN is the most active year-round community, partly because it is the only year-round ferry port on Martha's Vineyard. Most Vineyard Haven shops and restaurants remain open in the winter, unlike those in Oak Bluffs and Edgartown which rely more heavily on summer tourist trade.

The vibrant business community supplies the island's extensive building trade, and the time-honored boatbuilding industry thrives.

Tisbury was incorporated as a town in 1671. It was named for the parish in England where Thomas Mayhew Sr. was born. Originally it was much larger, but in 1892 part of Tisbury became the separate Town of West Tisbury.
Oak Bluffs
OAK BLUFFS, adjacent to Tisbury on Vineyard Sound, is renowned for its gingerbread, “carpenter Gothic” cottages. Appropriately, the town was incorporated in 1880 as Cottage City, then renamed Oak Bluffs in 1907 in recognition of its increasingly year-round character.

The genesis of the town was a Methodist camp that today is a collection of colorful cottages centered on a park with a soaring Tabernacle, a forum for religious and artistic events. Like Vineyard Haven, Oak Bluffs is a shopper's mecca. It is a favorite destination for families because of the range of attractions, including beaches, parks, a hip harborfront scene, and a bustling downtown.

Although ferry service mostly ceases in the off-season, summer brings the mostly lively ferry service on the island, with boats connecting Oak Bluffs with Falmouth, Hyannis, Nantucket, New Bedford, and Rhode Island.
“Stately” describes EDGARTOWN, the county seat since 1642 and a town since 1671. It is the site of the County Courthouse, which is adjacent to the Old Whaling Church with its six massive columns. The preferred hometown of 19th century whaling captains, Edgartown maintains a maritime flavor and world-class yachting scene. The common Greek revival houses and white picket fences impart a storybook atmosphere, balanced by the upscale shops and restaurants in the town center.

Although it has no ferry service to the mainland, Edgartown boasts more overnight accommodations than any of the other island towns. Conversely, its tourist industry hibernates deeply in the off-season.

Edgartown was named for Edgar, son of James II, who bore the title Duke of Cambridge.
West Tisbury
WEST TISBURY, the first of the up-island towns, provides a gradual transition from the hustle of down-island to the bucolic tranquility of up-island. Although primarily rural, it still offers a variety of retail businesses along State Road.

West Tisbury hosts the annual Martha's Vineyard Agricultural Society Fair, and also draws crowds every summer-season weekend to the Farmers Market and Artisans Fair held at the historic Grange Hall.

Originally, West Tisbury was part of Tisbury. It incorporated as a separate town in 1892. Today it includes the communities of North Tisbury and Christiantown.
Hilly CHILMARK boasts the island's highest elevation. The ancient stone fences, undulating landscape, and soaring ocean views suggest Ireland. The town provides some of the best hiking and photography on the island.

Chilmark was named for a town near Thomas Mayhew Sr.'s birthplace in England. It was established in 1671 along with Tisbury and Edgartown. It became a farming community, and by 1850 had 96 farms.

The Chilmark village of Menemsha is an authentic New England fishing village with several small shops and eating places. The town center, near Beetlebung Corner, offers a modern library, a general store, and a chocolate factory.
AQUINNAH, also known by its former name Gay Head, is the site of the most dramatic natural phenomenon on Martha's Vineyard - the Gay Head Cliffs. A must-see for every visitor, the mile-long cliffs of multi-colored clay are a geological wonder. The public beach where the cliffs and ocean meet is awe inspiring.

Aquinnah is the home of the Wampanoag Indian Tribe, which coexists with recent settlers and renters seeking the solitude of the Island's remote western end.

One of the America's first lighthouses was erected atop the cliffs in 1799, where the majestic Gay Head Light now stands
A town by definition, geographically GOSNOLD consists of the nine Elizabeth Islands stretching from Woods Hole, Mass., in a southerly direction, roughly parallel to the western side of Martha's Vineyard Island. Gosnold separates Vineyard Sound from Buzzards Bay. Although homes are scattered across the island chain, Gosnold's tiny population is concentrated on the southernmost island of Cuttyhunk.

Gosnold was once part of the Town of Chilmark, but won its independence from Chilmark, becoming a town of its own in 1863. That independent spirit prevails to this day among the less than 50 people who live year-round on Gosnold.

Cuttyhunk is serviced by a ferry from New Bedford and by several small boats from Menemsha, primarily the catamaran sailboat “Arabella.” Cuttyhunk has a cozy harbor. The little island attracts boaters and others seeking simplicity and solitude.
Dukes County: Where History,                                      
Natural Beauty and Recreation Meet

The County of Dukes County consists of 11 islands off the southeast coast of Massachusetts, within sight of Cape Cod. More than 99 percent of the County’s population lives on the largest island, Martha’s Vineyard, an international tourist destination and vacation-home resort.
The Vineyard’s year-round population of 15,000 soars to more than 100,000 in the summer season, not counting the boatloads of12092004_40939_0.png “day trippers.” Miles of free public beaches and other recreational opportunities, coupled with exciting night life and exquisite natural beauty, give the Island its world-class reputation. The many celebrity homeowners and visitors are evidence that the “rich and famous” consider Martha’s Vineyard a premier playground.
Dukes County also embraces the Elizabeth Islands, lying several miles west of the Vineyard across the waters of Vineyard Sound. They are named Nonamesset, Uncatena, Weepecket, Gull, Naushon, Pasque, Nashawena, Penekise and Cuttyhunk. Noman’s Land, an uninhabited isle off the southwest end of Martha’s Vineyard, completes Dukes County’s land inventory.

Seven towns, each with its own government and distinctive personality, punctuate the county. On Martha’sVineyard, covering 100 square miles, the three “down-island” towns of Tisbury, Oak Bluffs and Edgartownare more densely populated. The “up-island” towns of West Tisbury, Chilmark and Aquinnah are comparatively rural. The Town of Gosnold embraces the entire Elizabeth Island chain, with the settlement itself situated on the outermost island of Cuttyhunk. Gosnold has a year-round population of less than 100 hardy souls.
Balancing the County’s playful nature is its long history and ubiquitous air of antiquity. Artifacts suggest that the land now called Dukes County has been inhabited continuously for more than 10,000 years. The earliest record of European exploration was made by Italian explorer Giovanni de Verrazzano, who sailed past in 1524 and named the largest island Louisa. The islands were “officially” discovered in 1602 by English explorer Bartholomew Gosnold, who arrived on the sailing ship Concord to “a place most pleasant.”

12102004_115811_7.pngBy some accounts, Gosnold conferred the name “Martha’s Vineyard” in honor of his mother-in-law and infant daughter -- both named Martha, as the story goes. At least one historian disputed that version. Charles Edward Banks, M.D., who wrote the three-volume “The History of Martha’s Vineyard” in about 1911, argued that no one in Gosnold’s extended family bore the name Martha. Banks said the island was known both as “Martin’s Vineyard” and “Marthaes Vineyard”  until about 1700, when the former name died out. He speculates that Gosnold might have named the island for his shipmate, Capt. John Martin, but Banks does not pose a theory on the origin of “Martha’s” Vineyard.

Gosnold also named Cape Cod.

He did not find Martha’s Vineyard uninhabited.  The Wampanoag Indians on the island are believed to have numbered at least 3,000. Today, more than 400 years later, the Wampanoag population holds steady at 3,000, although only about 350 tribal members live on Martha’s Vineyard. The Wampanoag Tribe gained federal recognition in 1987.

In 1641, Englishman Thomas Mayhew Sr. bought the islands that now constitute Dukes County -- plus the island of Nantucket -- from William Alexander, the Earl of Sterling. To resolve a conflicting ownership claim, he also paid off Sir Ferdinando Gorges, thereby acquiring a clear title. Mayhew’s son, Thomas Jr., arrived on Martha’s Vineyard in 1642 with about 40 English families, and his father followed four years later. They established Martha’s Vineyard’s first settlement and called it Great Harbor, now Edgartown. Thomas Mayhew Jr., a missionary, worked to Christianize the Wampanoags. After he was lost at sea in 1657, his father pursued that objective.

Many of the following names of the early English settlers are still common on the Island: Allen, Athearn, Bassett, Butler, Cottle, Daggett, Hillman, Look, Luce, Manter, Merry, Norton, Pease, Smith, Tilton, Vinson and Weeks.

12092004_42345_2.pngDukes County was incorporated in 1683 as a province of the Colony of New York. It included the island of Nantucket. In 1691, a mere eight years later, Dukes County was transferred to Massachusetts Bay Colony. The County was officially incorporated in 1695, without Nantucket.  Because the statute created a county “by the name of Dukes County,” the redundancy “County of Dukes County” survives to this day as the formal name.

Whaling, fishing, farming and trading became the four major industries of Dukes County. In the 1800s, people of Portuguese and African descent came in numbers, enhancing the County’s cultural diversity. Perhaps as a legacy of the early Mahew missionaries, a Methodist camp took root in Cottage City, now called Oak Bluffs.  The camp survives to this day as a center of religious and cultural activities.

Tourism is now the County’s main industry.

More than 300 years after Dukes County was created, county government continues to be the uniting force of  the County’s towns and islands. The Home Rule Charter, enacted in 1992, added to the county’s historic duties relative to the courts, the Register of Deeds, and the office of the sheriff. The charter empowered the county to develop modern, innovative programs addressing regional needs that cannot be met easily by the individual towns.

The County of Dukes County is indebted to the Martha’s Vineyard Historical Society for making available its research facilities, historical books and displays. For more information about the Historical Society, visit 

Page NavigationPage NavigationPage NavigationPage Navigation
About Dukes CountyDukes County Home Page
The County of Dukes County PO Box 190, Edgartown, MA 02539
Phone: 508.696.3840    Fax: 508.696.3841
   Hours Vary by Department
Virtual Towns & Schools Website