New Martha’s Vineyard Museum emerges from the undergrowth

The museum sits on a hill with a commanding view of Lagoon Pond to the northeast. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

Like the old-time ballplayers dissolving out of the cornstalks in the film Field of Dreams, an old building (constructed in 1895) has suddenly emerged out of the woods in Vineyard Haven. The former U.S. Marine Hospital on the bluff above Lagoon Pond Road once dominated the Vineyard Haven skyline, clearly visible from the harbor. But fifty years of unchecked growth had hidden the building and its handsome terraces to such an extent that it couldn’t be easily seen, and many didn’t know exactly where it was.

David Nathans, executive director of the Martha’s Vineyard Museum, told The Times in a telephone interview that preliminary landscaping outside the building is almost completed. The trees have been removed and a preliminary archaeological survey made. The root systems of the removed trees were left to hold the banks of the terraces until grass or other ground cover can take hold. The front lawn has been leveled and will be sodded this week. The lawn, with its spectacular views, will be used for the Museum’s annual fundraising party on June 30 (tickets are still available).

The first step of the Museum’s master plan for the site has been completed: the building has been purchased with no mortgage. The second step will be to plan for moving elements of the Museum’s collection to Vineyard Haven. Mr. Nathan assured The Times that there are no plans to close the Thomas Cooke House in Edgartown, which will eventually operate as a seasonal museum. The move will involve additions and modifications to the old Marine Hospital, as well as archaeological digs whenever any ground will be disturbed. Mr. Nathan is hopeful that evidence of pre-contact Wampanoags will be found, as those peoples are an important part of the Museum’s mission.

After the planning stage, the third step will be to raise money for restoration and modifications. The Museum will not borrow money for the project; not until the money is in hand will the construction begin and the move to Vineyard Haven take place. Mr. Nathan estimates that construction will take 20 months to two years after the funds are raised, but the planning has to come first. “You can’t ask people for money until you know what you’re going to use it for,” Mr. Nathan said. Depending on how the fundraising goes, the eventual opening of the new Museum might be three to five years away, Mr.Nathan said.

Like a billboard overlooking Beach Road, the newly visible building and terraces have already raised interest in the new Museum. The fundraiser on June 30 may introduce more.