Early this summer, the Carnegie opened its doors to the Vineyard public. Prior to June 23, 2018, the polished brick building on North Water Street in Edgartown sat vacant. And before that, it was the town library. So what is the Carnegie now? The Vineyard Trust, a group dedicated to preserving iconic Island landmarks, acquired the building in 2016. It was renovated and transformed to tell the rich history of those who came before us.
The space feels brand-new. There’s a quietness that echoes off the walls. People walk lightly, talk softly, read silently, and absorb an abundance of information that tells the Island’s story at large. Two large arched windows cast a natural light into the reading rooms on either side of the entrance. A woman sits in a leather chair and reads the newspaper. Enclosed shelves line the white walls, displaying old art, books, paintings, and objects that represent the Vineyard’s past. Dark mahogany detail adorns each room, leading to the next. There’s a gift shop filled with Island-made items like MV Sea Salt and Stefanie Wolf jewelry. Behind a reception desk, a large second-floor balcony wraps around the space below. An old canoe is mounted to the ceiling. Below, you can see the “Living Landmarks” exhibit, a permanent fixture for the preservation hub.
“It illustrates the historic development of Martha’s Vineyard,” Funi Burdick, executive director and CEO of the Vineyard Trust, said. “Restoring buildings and making them part of Island life.”
Burdick said her goal as a preservationist and historian is to help people recognize the power of place. “[Buildings] have the power to make a place feel real,” Burdick said. “They help tell a complete story.”
The Carnegie has become the Trust’s flagship landmark. It’s the starting point for historic walking tours, a venue for community events, book signings, readings, children’s activities, and outdoor concerts. But it’s also a brand-new venture for the Edgartown nonprofit, and they’re learning as they go.
“When you open a new building, the challenge is, Will people come? Will people like it?” Burdick said. “And if they don’t, you modify.”
The Carnegie is as much a place for summer visitors as it is for year-rounders. “As the season moves on, we’ll try different things and figure out what the community wants,” Burdick said.
Author talks and kids crafts were popular over the summer, and will continue into the fall. The Trust is also planning a “Be the Maker” activity for adults.
“We found that parents and grandparents would spend just as much time, if not more, on craft activities,” Burdick said. “So we’ll try hosting craft nights for adults.”
Andrew Carnegie donated funds to build this neoclassic structure in 1904. It served as the Edgartown library until 2016, when the library moved to its new location. Carnegie renovations began in 2017.
“Not only did we restore the building, but as a new director, I felt it was important to make the building feel unified,” Burdick said. That led to the decision to cut a hole in the second floor, allowing for a balcony-like view of the exhibits below. “Each room leads to a larger story,” Burdick said.
When determining what would fill the space, the Trust was meticulous. “We’re not a museum,” Burdick said. “We collect historic buildings, physical landmarks, and objects that we feel tell the right stories. We had to figure out what stories we wanted to tell, and which objects we would need.”
Whale bones, schooner models, and ship’s figureheads tell stories of wealth in the maritime and whaling industries. Another exhibit tells the story of the Island’s “First Families” — the Mayhews, Coffins, Vincents, Nortons, Osborns, and Allens. One tells the story of the Flying Horses Carousel, and another looks at the history of Dr. David Fisher, and his mansion on Main Street.
Burdick said it’s been a fascinating experience making each exhibit feel clear, informative, authentic, and modern. She said they won’t collect many more objects, but will continue to change exhibits to ensure the space doesn’t feel static.
“In many ways our work has just begun,” Burdick said. “Our goal is to constantly respond to community needs and interests, and create a viable living landmark. Our buildings are here for the living. We want them to be engaging properties viable to community life.”
The Carnegie will be open Wednesday through Sunday from 10 am to 5 pm until Sunday, Oct. 28. Then, it will be open Thursday through Saturday from 10 am to 5 pm through Sunday, Dec. 23. For more information, visit mvpreservation.org.