With all of us spending less time indoors and more time outdoors this summer, suddenly a town park seems particularly inviting. Whether you’re looking for a place to picnic, room to stretch your legs or maybe just a bench with a view, Oak Bluffs has got your park. To that end, we asked Skip Finley, author of Historic Tales of Oak Bluffs and the former Oak Bluffs town columnist for the Vineyard Gazette, to tell us a little about a few of his favorites. (You can download the complete list of Oak Bluffs recreational spots on Skip's website.)


Ocean Park: The Big One

Ocean Park is over 7 acres of well-cared for lawn, seating, and views. Jeanna Shepard

When you think of park with a capital P, Ocean Park is it. At about 7.5 acres, the iconic park is the largest and loveliest of the original nine parks of the Cottage City Historic District that included Hartford, Waban, Penacook, Niantic, Hiawatha, Naushon, Nashawena and Petaluma. Thanks to the town’s founders — the Oak Bluffs Land and Wharf Company – the parks comprise 25 acres, a third of the original town’s total area.

The six men of the Oak Bluffs Land and Wharf Company, who built the town between 1866 and 1874, had a middle-class seaside resort in mind. They hired Robert Morris Copeland, a Boston cemetery designer and landscape architect, to draw up the plans for the town. The result was that Oak Bluffs became the first planned community in the nation — the second being Riverside, Illinois, designed in 1869 by Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted, the designer of New York’s Central Park.

In a move viewed as prescient today, the company encouraged Copeland to include a large number of parks in his design. Copeland was coincidentally a supporter of women’s rights and an avid abolitionist whose attempt to develop a training site for a black regiment during the Civil War ended his military career. Copeland recognized that women’s issues and slavery were human issues. Thanks to his creative designs, Oak Bluffs has 452 well-maintained streets connecting 47 past and present neighborhoods and recreational spots for the public with a golf course, five islands, nine beaches, 17 ponds and an extraordinary 55 named parks.

Today, Ocean Park welcomes visitors with its graceful lawn, colorful plantings and welcoming benches. The open, sloping seaside park, carefully maintained by Crossland Landscape, features a bandstand and pond and is bordered by historic homes built in the same era as the park itself.

One of the most photographed sites on Martha’s Vineyard, Ocean Park annually hosts the Oak Bluffs Firemen’s Civic Association Fireworks attended by upwards of 10,000 enchanted onlookers. This year, Covid-19 has canceled the fireworks, but the large open space that Ocean Park offers may be even more valuable than ever to Islanders and tourists alike who are (hopefully) socially distancing.


Back to Nature: Pecoy Point Preserve

A short boardwalk leads pack to the small parking area at Pecoy Point. Jeanna Shepard

One of my favorite peaceful places is the 17-acre Pecoy Point Preserve that lines Sengekontacket Pond south of the Farm Neck Golf Club golf course. I include it as one of Oak Bluffs’ parks although technically it is owned by the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank Commission, which maintains it. Where Ocean Park is notable for its sheer splendor, Pecoy Point offers a bucket list of features.

Located at the end of a dirt road about three-quarters of a mile from the pavement of County Road, Pecoy Point is not only visually stunning but also religiously and historically important. It features two glacial erratics (large boulders), one of which is known as Pulpit Rock (hence the road’s name — Pulpit Rock Way), which may be the first place an indigenous person was proselytized in America when, in 1648, Thomas Mayhew Jr. is said to have converted the native man Hiacoomes to Christianity.

At the end of Pulpit Rock Way you will see a boulder and plaque designating the Martha’s Vineyard African American Heritage Trail’s monument to John Saunders, the escaped slave who brought Methodism to the Island in 1787 – four years after Massachusetts outlawed slavery. Saunders also preached on Pulpit Rock.

A deeper look into the history of Pecoy Point reveals that it once was home to a farm and orchard (a few fruit trees remain) and more importantly was once a Wampanoag village. Pecoy, or ‘Poh-qua’ in Algonquin, generally translates into “where we get shellfish.”

Near the point of the preserve is an old stone chimney, rumored to have been part of a school, and a diminutive parking lot for four or five vehicles to deliver and drop off kayaks on the pond. The preserve is filled with native grasslands surrounded by salt and brackish wetlands, and visitors have fished, hiked, biked and even skied the preserve for recreation.

From the pond front there is a return path back to the main parking area. The path takes you over a wooden bridge through marshlands and past a small pond frequented by birds of all types. The Pecoy Point Preserve, with so much to see and do, is a peaceful place of solitude, steeped with antiquity, welcoming all – a few at a time.


A Park, a Bench and a Picnic

Naushon was just one of many parks created in the original town plan for Oak Bluffs. Jeanna Shepard

Looking for a place to picnic or enjoy take-out food al fresco? There’s a park for that. If I were planning to pick up lunch or dinner from one of Oak Bluffs’ eclectic range of restaurants on Circuit Avenue (or nearby), I’d grab a bench on Chapel Hill, at the south end of Kennebec avenue alongside Union Chapel. One block further, between Pequot and Massasoit avenue, is Hartford Park (and its benches!) that was once home to the Consecrated Tree – the proud juniper that was felled by a recent storm after close to 180 years of reverence by residents of the Martha’s Vineyard Campground.

A block or two further on Circuit avenue is Hiawatha Park whose marked benches commemorate African American women on the Heritage Trail who made their homes available to guests. The first, Aunt Georgia’s House, is now known as the Tivoli Inn and is across the street. You'll want to stop at Naushon Park (above) if you've got kids.

At the western edge of Oak Bluffs, a basket-and-blanket picnic on the hill at Sunset Lake may offer one of the better public views of the Oak Bluffs Harbor.

As a gentle reminder about enjoying meals outdoors — think of eating in a park like eating at the beach and remember to carry in/carry out all of your packaging and utensils.

Skip Finley is the author of Historic Tales of Oak Bluffs and Whaling Captains of Color and wrote the Oak Bluffs town column for the Vineyard Gazette for six years. Visit skipfinley.com for more information about the books and to download a complete list of recreational spots in Oak Bluffs.