Real Estate > Community Profiles > Edgartown
Tourism cuts both ways for Edgartown

By Thomas Grillo, Globe Correspondent, 11/16/2002

    More information on Edgartown from's Your Town section.

Incorporated: 1671
Area: 27 squaremiles
Tax rate: $3.68
Median home price: $485,000
Government: Town Meeting, selectmen, town administrator
Schools: one elementary, plus Martha's Vineyard Regional School District
Transportation: Ferry service to Hyannis, New Bedford, Woods Hole, Chappaquiddick; Martha's Vineyard Regional Transit Authority buses; air connections via Martha's Vineyard Airport

EDGARTOWN -- This island community depends on tourism, but people are worried about its impact.

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"Tourists come here to get away from traffic jams and overcrowding, but they've brought gridlock to Edgartown and the rest of Martha's Vineyard," says Richard Reston, editor of the Vineyard Gazette.

To ease the congestion -- on the roads as well as in the aisles of the A&P -- some businesses are getting creative. The Winnetu Inn & Resort on South Beach, for example, encourages visitors to leave their cars on Cape Dod and take the ferry to Edgartown, where they are picked up by the hotel's van. Upon check-in, guests discover their rooms' refrigerators are stocked with food.

While residents sometimes complain that the island's population swells in summer, from about 11,000 to more than 125,000, they realize that without them, most merchants would be out of business.

"We used to be a fishing and farming town, but now it's tourism that makes our world go round. Without it we wouldn't have anything," says Charles Blair, the harbormaster.

It's easy to see why tourists flock to the Vineyard. Edgartown is dotted with stately Greek Revival homes that were built by whaling captains. These renowned homes have been carefully preserved in a historic district. Main Street offers views of one the East Coast's best yachting harbors and beaches. For people who prefer the woods, Felix Neck, a 200-acre Massachusetts Audubon Society preserve with trails, is not far from the town center.

Many visitors end up buying homes on the island, which has helpted to drive prices up and fuel a crisis in the availability of affordable housing.

LINK, a real estate service, lists 71 single-family homes for sale. Of that number, 27 are priced over $1 million; three are listed for less than $400,000.

The lack of affordable housing has made it difficult for schools to attract teachers and for businesses to fill summer jobs. Efforts are underway to create more housing, including dorms for summer workers. In addition, businesses now rent homes to house their staffs.

As in many other Massachusetts communities, the children of longtime residents often can't afford to buy a house in Edgartown, or elsewhere on the island.

"The problem is magnified here because we can't move to the suburbs; we have defined borders of a shoreline," Reston says.

Thomas Grillo can be reached at

This story ran in the Boston Globe on 11/16/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company
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