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Tisbury, Massachusetts
—  Town  —
Northern view of Holmes Hole, East Tisbury, 1841


Location in Dukes County in Massachusetts
Coordinates: 41°27′22″N 70°36′40″W / 41.45611°N 70.61111°W / 41.45611; -70.61111
Country United States
State Massachusetts
County Dukes
Settled 1660
Incorporated 1671
 - Type Open town meeting
 - Total 19.2 sq mi (49.6 km2)
 - Land 6.6 sq mi (17.0 km2)
 - Water 12.6 sq mi (32.6 km2)
Elevation 89 ft (27 m)
Population (2007)
 - Total 3,805
 - Density 576.5/sq mi (223.8/km2)
Time zone Eastern (UTC-5)
 - Summer (DST) Eastern (UTC-4)
ZIP code 02568
Area code(s) 508 / 774
FIPS code 25-69940
GNIS feature ID 0619443

Tisbury is a town located on Martha's Vineyard in Dukes County, Massachusetts, United States. The population was 3,755 at the 2000 census.

Vineyard Haven is the main village/town center of Tisbury. The two names are used interchangeably.[1] As can be seen in the history section below, the town of Tisbury was incorporated within the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 1671 and remains the legal name of the town to this day. However, the port and harbor have had varying names. Holmes Hole was one of the first names of the port within the Town of Tisbury. This name was later changed to Vineyard Haven, and the official post office name for the Town of Tisbury is Vineyard Haven. To residents of Martha's Vineyard, Vineyard Haven is by far the more common usage, although residents recognize Tisbury as the town's legal name.

Tisbury, better known as Vineyard Haven, is the main port of entrance to Martha's Vineyard. The island's first and primary ferry line is the Steamship Authority, which runs to and from Woods Hole, New Bedford, and Nantucket Island (in the Summer months from the Oak Bluffs terminal), all in Massachusetts. There are several other private ferry lines that serve Martha's Vineyard, with terminals in the towns of Oak Bluffs and Edgartown as well. Tisbury is the only operational port during most of the year. To get an idea of the embarkation in Summer of passengers, tourists primarily, and goods, see the early scene in the movie "Jaws" which shows the debarkation on "Amity Island" of a typical boatload in Summer at the Vineyard Haven Steamship Authority facility from the Steamship "Naushon." At the time of the filming of "Jaws" in 1975 this was the largest of the ferry's, running only in the Summer months for its high passenger capacity. It ceased service in about the late 1970s/early 1980s and has been replaced by more modern vessels.



After Martha's Vineyard's discovery by the English Maritime Explorer Bartholemew Gosnald, Tisbury was first settled in 1660 by James Allen, William Peabody and Lt. Josiah Standish (son of Captain Myles Standish) and was officially incorporated in 1671 by Francis Lovelace, Governor General of New York. The town, which originally included the lands of West Tisbury, was named for Tisbury, Wiltshire, England, the hometown of Martha's Vineyard Governor Mayhew. Citizens of the island, unhappy with the leadership of Governor Mayhew, petitioned William and Mary in 1673 for a change of leadership. It was then that the town, as well as the entire island, became a part of Massachusetts.[2]

The town has long thrived on the sea, and is also known for being the home of most of the year-round stores on the island, including Cumberland farms, the only store opened past 11:30 in the winter. Tisbury is now the home of the ferry docks for the island. The town was divided into its current boundaries in 1892. Like the rest of Martha's Vineyard, is a popular summer resort for the rich and famous. Famous residents of Tisbury have included: Art Buchwald, William Styron, Mike Wallace, Lillian Hellman, Carly Simon, Thornton Wilder, Dashiell Hammett, and Diane Sawyer.


According to the United States Census Bureau, the town has a total area of 19.2 square miles (49.6 km²), of which, 6.6 square miles (17.0 km²) of it is land and 12.6 square miles (32.6 km²) of it (65.76%) is water. The town ranks 329th out of the 351 communities in the Commonwealth in terms of land area, and is sixth out of the seven town of Dukes County (only Aquinnah is smaller). Tisbury is bordered by Vineyard Haven Harbor, Lagoon Pond and Oak Bluffs to the east, West Tisbury to the southwest, and Vineyard Haven to the northwest. The town also shares a common corner, along with West Tisbury and Oak Bluffs, with Edgartown. Localities of the town include Vineyard Haven, Makonikey, Pilot Hill, West Chop, and Lambert's Cove.

From the western shore of Tisbury to Falmouth, the town is 3-1/3 miles from the Mainland, the closest point on the Vineyard. Most of central Tisbury is low-lying and near sea level,with elevations rising up to 100 feet or so. West Chop is the northernmost point on the Vineyard, tipped by the West Chop Light. The town is also home to Lake Tashmoo, just south of the tip of West Chop.


As of the census[3] of 2000, there were 3,755 people, 1,646 households, and 902 families residing in the town. The population density was 572.4 people per square mile (221.0/km²). There were 2,720 housing units at an average density of 414.7/sq mi (160.1/km²). The racial makeup of the town was 90.04% White, 2.96% African American, 1.36% Native American, 0.32% Asian, 0.05% Pacific Islander, 1.33% from other races, and 3.94% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 1.04% of the population.

A large percentage of the white population is of Portugese descent, and a great number of "Native Islanders" (born on the island) within the community are of mixed ethnicity such as Portugese, Native American (Wampanoag Indian), and African American families who've been there for generations, primarily tied to maritime ventures of fishing, whaling, and the fitting out of whaleships.

There were 1,646 households out of which 25.5% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 40.9% were married couples living together, 10.3% had a female householder with no husband present, and 45.2% were non-families. 36.7% of all households were made up of individuals and 13.5% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.21 and the average family size was 2.92.

In the town the population was spread out with 21.5% under the age of 18, 5.5% from 18 to 24, 28.6% from 25 to 44, 26.5% from 45 to 64, and 17.9% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 42 years. For every 100 females there were 88.0 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 83.7 males.

The median income for a household in the town was $37,041, and the median income for a family was $53,051. Males had a median income of $38,452 versus $29,034 for females. The per capita income for the town was $26,783. About 7.7% of families and 12.2% of the population were below the poverty line, including 22.9% of those under age 18 and 6.7% of those age 65 or over.

In terms of population, Tisbury ranks 267th in the Commonwealth and second only to Edgartown in Dukes County in terms of year-round population. The town ranks 167th state-wide in terms of population density, below the mean but above the median. It is the most densely populated town in Dukes County.

It should be noted that there is a substantial dichotomy between the wealth of the year-round residents, which is generally below the Massachusetts median, and that of the summer residents, who tend to be quite wealthy.


The Lighthouse of Tisbury (West Chop Light) in 1891

On the national level, Tisbury is a part of Massachusetts's 10th congressional district, and is currently represented by Bill Delahunt. Massachusetts is currently represented in the United States Senate by senior Senator John Kerry and interim junior senator Paul Kirk.[4]

On the state level, Tisbury is represented in the Massachusetts House of Representatives as a part of the Barnstable, Dukes and Nantucket district, which includes all of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket, as well as a portion of Falmouth. The town is represented in the Massachusetts Senate as a portion of the Cape and Islands district, which includes all of Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket and most of Barnstable County (with the exception of Bourne, Sandwich, Falmouth and a portion of Barnstable).[5]. All of Dukes County is patrolled by the Fifth (Oak Bluffs) Barracks of Troop D of the Massachusetts State Police.[6]

Tisbury is governed on the local level by the open town meeting form of government, and is led by an executive secretary and a board of selectmen. The town has its own police and fire departments, both located within Vineyard Haven, just blocks from the steamship authority piers. The post office is also nearby. The Vineyard Haven Public Library is located just north of the heart of Vineyard Haven, and is a part of the Cape Libraries Automated Materials Sharing (CLAMS) network.

Tisbury is the only town with a major port of entry on the island that is a "Dry" town, where though alcohol cannot be sold or purchased, the town and its eating establishments welcome a policy of "BYOB" to encourage dining there.


Tisbury is served by Martha's Vineyard Public Schools. Tisbury Elementary School is the only public school located in the town, and serves approximately 310 students from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade. Martha's Vineyard Regional High School, located in Oak Bluffs, serves the entire island's high school needs. MVRHS's teams are nicknamed the Vineyarders, and their colors are violet and white. The school has a longstanding rivalry with Nantucket High School, with both competing for the Island Cup on an annual basis.

Tisbury is also the home of the Vineyard Montessori School, which serves students from pre-kindergarten through third grade.


  1. ^ "Martha's Vineyard Villages & Towns". Martha's Vineyard Online. Retrieved 2008-10-14.  
  2. ^ A History of the Town of Tisbury
  3. ^ "American FactFinder". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2008-01-31.  
  4. ^ "Kirk to be interim senator".  
  5. ^ Index of Legislative Representatives by City and Town
  6. ^ Station D-5, SP Oak Bluffs

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