Whaling captains might feel at home today if they ventured along North Water street in Edgartown.

The street has a new look that is decidedly old. Utility poles, transformers and overhead wires are gone. And the street is lined with historic reproduction lanterns that glow softly at night.

S. Bailey Norton, a resident of the street and point man in the $3 million public-private project to bury the utilities, said this week he is extremely pleased. The project took six years to complete.

“At first I thought we could do it in a couple of years,” Mr. Norton said. “But as we went on it was one thing after another. The three key players in the effort were NSTAR, Verizon and Comcast. It took a lot of coordinating.”

But the project involved more than electric, telephone and cable. Beneath the street lie water mains, sewer lines and catch basins.

“[Edgartown highway department superintendent] Stuart F. Fuller and his staff coordinated all the work below,” Mr. Norton said.

Two years ago the street, which is lined with old whaling captains’ homes and commands sweeping views across the Edgartown harbor, was a mudhole that more closely resembled a town street of yesteryear.

The cost of the project was mostly paid for through private donations, many of them from North Water street residents. Mr. Norton reported some $2.6 million was raised privately; the town added $235,000 from its Community Preservation Act fund.

Along the way there were numerous complications, including a problem with a potential NSTAR tariff that was later resolved.

But now that the project is done, Mr. Norton says all the headaches were worth it.

“North Water street is one of the nicest streets in New England. So many people walk this route every day, particularly in the summer. Most everyone wants to look at the harbor and see the lighthouse. There is a tremendous amount of foot traffic,” he said.

And he believes the handsome new streetscape stands as a visual message for other streets in Edgartown and beyond.

“This could be a model. We have all learned so much from this project, and perhaps the next time, it will be done faster,” Mr. Norton said.

Selectman Arthur Smadbeck agreed and praised Mr. Norton for his leadership.

“My hat is off to Bailey and all those who worked with him. Without that initiative, without the support of the donors that helped, the project would never have happened. It was an extraordinary thing to watch, see in action, see a private and public partnership,” he said.

Town harbor master Charlie Blair agreed: “It is unbelievable. Originally, I was one of the critics. The street is absolutely stunning,” he said.

On Wednesday afternoon crews installed the new street lanterns that are light-pollution friendly. Instead of shining upwards into the night sky, they shine downward. The lanterns were donated by the Harbor View Hotel.

Mr. Norton said his group still needs to raise $250,000 to finish the job.


Tax deductible contributions can be sent to the Martha’s Vineyard Preservation Trust, Post Office Box 5277, Edgartown, MA 02539. A notation on the check must state that the money is for the Restoration of Historic North Water Street.