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5 Books Based in Martha's Vineyard

Posted on February 23, 2023
A view of Oak Bluffs, in Martha's Vineyard
Photography | Oleg Albinsky

If you haven't had the pleasure to visit Martha's Vineyard, you’ve been missing out. Located just off the coast of Massachusetts, this small island is a true treasure (I mean, just look at the photo above).

From its sandy beaches and delightful towns, there's something for everyone on Martha's Vineyard. But this island is so much more than just another vacation spot. It's a true gem, bursting with natural beauty, charming neighborhoods and captivating narratives. 

An incredible way to discover the rich history and culture of Martha’s Vineyard is through the power of story. Thomas Dresser, the well-loved Vineyard historian, has written 15 books about Martha’s Vineyard (and counting!).

Read on to explore 5 of our favorite (though how can you choose, really?) Thomas Dresser books based in Martha’s Vineyard:

1. Ghosts of Martha’s Vineyard

Thomas Dresser's book: Ghosts of Martha's Vineyard
Ghosts of Martha's Vineyard | Thomas Dresser

Full of paranormal activity and mysterious occurrences, we’ve found the book for you. 

Martha's Vineyard isn’t just a popular vacation spot, it's also home to a number of haunted houses, inns, and even a county jail! In Ghosts of Martha's Vineyard, you'll discover the strange and inexplicable events on the island. 

Let’s look at the ghost of Helen, for example, the whaling captain's widow, who haunts the Newes from America, a pub in Edgartown.  Wine glasses fly across the room, lights flicker, smoldering fireplace embers seem to stir on their own at the end of the night when Helen's presence is around (we know, spooky). If there’s one thing we can guarantee, this book is filled with eerie and captivating tales that explain local moments in history on the island. 

Ghosts of Edgartown, Martha’s Vineyard Tour 

If you want to take your ghost hunting to the next level, explore Built Story’s Ghosts of Edgartown tour in Martha's Vineyard, curated by Thomas Dresser himself. If you read Ghosts of Martha’s Vineyard prior to your tour, you may be prepared (or spooked) to find some of what’s discussed along the way. 

2. Martha’s Vineyard in World War II

Book by Thomas Dresser: Martha's Vineyard in World War II
Martha's Vineyard in World War II | Thomas Dresser, Herb Foster & Jay Schofield

During World War II, Martha's Vineyard played an important part of the war effort. 

As an east coast island, plane spotters scanned the skies for German warplanes and the Navy built an airport to train pilots for the Pacific theater. Bunkers in Gay Head and Cuttyhunk served as lookout points for German submarines, and Coast Guard men patrolled the South Shore on the lookout for spies. 

All of this activity transformed Martha's Vineyard during the war, creating an entirely different atmosphere from the tourist-centered economy of today. Explore the island during this era in Thomas Dresser, Herb Foster and Jay Schofield's book, Martha's Vineyard in World War II

World War II Tour of Martha’s Vineyard Tour 

Come on a tour of Martha's Vineyard's World War II history

Dedicated to Herb Foster, one of the authors, this tour guides you across the island, to select sites and stories shared in their book Foster was a World War II veteran and shared compelling narratives of the role the Vineyard played.  

3. African Americans of Martha’s Vineyard

Book by Thomas Dresser: African American's on Martha's Vineyard
African Americans on Martha's Vineyard | Thomas Dresser

In 2009, when President Obama vacationed on Martha's Vineyard, Dresser was inspired to write a history of the island's African American community. 

In African Americans of Martha's Vineyard, Dresser shares captivating stories from the 19th and 20th centuries, including the narrative of Shearer Cottage in the Highlands, and Olive Tomlinson's account of her journey to the March on Washington in 1963. 

A must-read, this book details the rich and impactful history of African Americans on Martha's Vineyard. From slavery through abolition and the Civil Rights Movement, African Americans of Martha's Vineyard tells the story of this community's struggles and triumphs. 

African American History Tour of Oak Bluffs

After reading African Americans of Martha’s Vineyard, join us for a tour that explores the history of African Americans in Oak Bluffs. This three-mile route covers sixteen points of interest, including 19th and 20th-century sites where the community lived and worked. 

Key historic locations and wonderful stories greet you throughout the self-guided excursion. 

4. The Rise of Tourism on Martha’s Vineyard 

Book by Thomas Dresser: The Rise of Tourism on Martha's Vineyard
The Rise of Tourism on Martha's Vineyard | Thomas Dresser

In The Rise of Tourism on Martha's Vineyard, we trace the history of tourists visiting the island from the mid-19th century to the present day. Once a simple whaling and fishing community, the book shares the story of the influx of Methodists to Wesleyan Grove and the development of the first planned resort community in the country. 

We also delve into the amusement park atmosphere in Oak Bluffs at the end of the century, and the rise of black tourism on the island. From Shearer Cottage to Dorothy West, we explore the sites and stories that have attracted visitors to Martha's Vineyard for almost 200 years. 

Dresser’s comprehensive and fascinating look at the history of tourism on Martha's Vineyard is a must-read for anyone preparing for their stay.

Wesleyan Grove: A Brief History of the Martha’s Vineyard Camp Meeting Association

Explore Built Story’s Wesleyan Grove tour of the island's famed Gingerbread Cottages, now a popular attraction for visitors to the island. Today, around 330 cottages remain on the property.  Discover the eventful history of the Camp Meeting Association!

5. Hidden History of Martha’s Vineyard 

Thomas Dresser book: Hidden History of Martha's Vineyard
Hidden History of Martha's Vineyard | Thomas Dresser

Get ready to dive into a wealth of facts and stories with Dresser’s book, A Hidden History of Martha's Vineyard

Expertly woven tales of intriguing and lesser-known Island topics greet you--the Underground Railroad, island names, shipwrecks, unusual buildings, and  graveyards. 

You'll learn about the experiences, mysteries and events associated with these stories, and discover sides of the Vineyard you’ve probably never seen or heard of. If you're a fan of history and enjoy uncovering the unknown, this book is for you. 

The Vineyard's Railroad History Tour

As you learn about the hidden history in Martha’s Vineyard, dive deeper into the island's history with The Vineyard’s Railroad History tour! 

Experience the original route of this historic train, running through Oak Bluffs, Edgartown and Katama. Integrated into this self-guided tour are videos created by Dresser himself, which bring the stories of the railroad to life. 

Books Based in Martha's Vineyard

These 5 books based in Martha's Vineyard offer a wide range of perspectives on the island's history, culture, and people. 

From the haunting tales of Ghosts of Martha's Vineyard to the unique history explored in A Hidden History of Martha's Vineyard, these books offer something for all interests. 

A full listing of Thomas Dresser’s books can be found here.

Whether you want to learn more about the island's role in World War II, the rise of tourism, or African American history, these narratives provide a rich and engaging look at Martha's Vineyard.

You'll experience the island in a whole new way.✨

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