When in West Tisbury…

A brief history, what’s around, and why we love it.

The annual Ag Fair will be held at Ag Hall in West Tisbury. —Gabrielle Mannino

West Tisbury has the most agricultural feel of all six Island towns — fitting that it hosts the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Fair every year. From rolling farmlands to woody thickets to its small town center, the up-Island town has something for everyone, and we’d like to celebrate that.

A brief history

As the first mega-subdivision in Island history, Thomas Mayhew gave permission (in 1668) to Miles Standish’s son and some buddies to go up-Island from Great Harbor (Edgartown) and purchase whatever land they could from the Wampanoag owners of the area known then as Takemmy. The acres they eventually purchased became the town of Tisbury over the next few years. Tisbury originally included all of the land that is now the town of Vineyard Haven and some parts of what is now Chilmark. By 1694 Chilmark had officially split off, but it took 200 more years for the population of the original town center at West Tisbury to become tired of playing second fiddle to the harbor town and finally demand that Vineyard Haven go its own way.

Because the original purchasers were more interested in farmland than another harbor, the original town was based near the flat and fertile lands around Tisbury Great Pond. Thoreau memorably pointed out that on Cape Cod and the Islands, mere trickles that were hardly noticed on the mainland were utilized and given dignified names. There were grist and wool processing mills on the “rivers” that run down from the moraine to Tisbury Great Pond. Today West Tisbury remains the most agricultural town on the Island.

The Ag Fair

The annual Ag Fair, one of the traditional highlights of a busy Martha’s Vineyard summer, takes place at the Agricultural Hall in West Tisbury, having moved there from the Grange Hall in the mid-1990s. The Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society sponsors the fair, and it is still focused on agriculture and livestock. This is truly a country fair, and feels like a step back in time. Fair goers in 2019 won’t want to miss the ox pull, skillet toss, oyster shucking competition, sack races, and draft horse pull, as well as delicious local eats, rides for the kids, and live music. The Ag Hall itself will be filled with entries for everything from baking to sewing to knitting to pickling and much, much more.  

What’s around

West Tisbury feels more like a farmer’s paradise than a shopper’s paradise, but these days there are more options than ever before. The town boasts favorite Island restaurants, such as State Road, 7a, and Woods at Lambert’s Cove Inn. It’s home to Alley’s General Store, which opened the same year as the Ag Fair began in 1858. The West Tisbury library is considered one of the finest libraries on earth, especially if you ask the locals. Howes House is home to the Up-Island Council on Aging, and the white clapboard First Congregational Church of West Tisbury keeps the summer folks happy with their Strawberry, Blueberry, and Peach Festivals. The Vineyard Artisans Festivals and the Farmers Market fill the old fair site, the Grange Hall, all summer and into the off-season. The town is home to a number of landscaping and nursery businesses, not to mention its share of rolling hills and sandy beaches. Seth’s Pond, Lambert’s Cove Beach, Cedar Tree Neck, Polly Hill Arboretum and more gems are places to slow down and savor the natural beauty of this town.

While you’re at the Ag Fair, why not consider all that West Tisbury has to offer, and enjoy a hike or a swim along with cotton candy and one of the best root beer floats you’ll ever taste! 

(Information compiled from vineyardvisitor.com)