An Island Tradition

Map of Martha's VineyardMartha’s Vineyard (Native Wampanoag: Noepe, or “land amid streams”) is an 87.4 square-mile island located off the southeast coast of Massachusetts, about a 45-minute ferry ride from Woods Hole. Often called “The Vineyard,” or “Da Vinny” by Curt and his friends, the island has six towns and is home to roughly 16,000 hardy, year-round residents who brave quiet, windswept winters for the beauty and glory of warm summer days, sweet spring months, and bright, crisp falls. About 100,000 visitors and seasonal homeowners grace the island each year.

A Salty Tradition: The Vineyard’s History with Locally-Made Sea Salt

Martha’s Vineyard Sea Salt may be the Island’s only operating sea salt operation today but that wasn’t always the case.

Before the invention of modern-day refrigeration, salt was essential to life on Martha’s Vineyard — and throughout the colonies. Salt preserved food, made it more palatable, and was used to tan hides and pack fish for trading — all important to the Vineyard’s economy. Before the Revolutionary War, salt was imported from the West Indies to the Americas, but the war cut off the supply chain, forcing colonial residents to produce their own. According to the “Dukes County Intelligencer,” the first known salt works on the Vineyard was up and running by 1778. By 1807, salt manufacturing was the island’s second largest industry. Salt production declined on island after the War of 1812 and it appears that the Vineyard’s last operating salt works had stopped production by 1850.

Martha’s Vineyard Sea Salt is the first operating salt works in nearly 200 years.

For more information on the history of salt production on the Cape and the Islands, see “Spiritsail: A Journal of the History of Falmouth and Vicinity,” Vol. 21, No. 1. Winter, 2007.

Island Facts from Wikipedia

  • Land Area: 87.4 square mils
  • Towns: Oak Bluffs, Tisbury, West Tisbury, Edgartown, Chilmark, Aquinnah
  • County: Dukes
  • Founded by: Bartholomew Gosnold, est. 1602
  • Named for: No one knows for sure the identity of the Vineyard’s namesake. Some suppose that since Gosnold’s mother-in-law and his second child, who died in infancy, were both named Martha, Gosnold named the Island after his daughter. But in its early days, the island was also known as Martin’s Vineyard (perhaps after the captain of Gosnold’s ship, John Martin) and many islanders called it by this name through the 18th century.


  • The Vineyard was home to one of the earliest known deaf communities in the United States. Consequently, a special sign language, Martha’s Vineyard Sign Language (MVSL), developed on the island.
  • In 1974, Steven Spielberg filmed the movie Jaws on Martha’s Vineyard, most notably in the fishing village of Menemsha. The film featured many island locals in prominent roles and as extras. Later, scenes from Jaws 2 and Jaws: The Revenge were filmed on the island as well.
  • The Vineyard has played host to many of America’s presidents. Most recently, Barack Obama and his family have visited for summer vacations, but before him came presidents John Adams (reportedly), Ulysses S. Grant (he stayed in Oak Bluffs), Chester Arthur (he went fishing in September), Calvin Coolidge (who made a speech at the Tabernacle on Illumination Night), Franklin D. Roosevelt never actually visited but his wife Eleanor did (twice), John F. Kennedy (an avid sailor), Richard Nixon (he ate clams oreganato and swordfish at the Edgartown Yacht Club), and Bill Clinton (he was fond of a stop at Mad Martha’s for ice cream).