Elevated Views

From Earlier Gazette Editions:


Martha’s Vineyard has two sorts of hills, those that are real hills with impressive height, and those that merely happen to be somewhat elevated above the general locale. As to height, Peaked Hill with its 311 feet tops all others and Prospect Hill with its 302 feet has the loftiest appearance because of its location close to Vineyard Sound.

Indian Hill, though not so high, is situated roughly midway of the northern shore of the Vineyard and offers a summit from which one may see the salt water almost but not quite all the way around the Island. Chappaquiddick has Sampson’s Hill from which pilots used to look out to observe the approach of inbound vessels, and from which Tuckernuck, outpost of Nantucket, may be seen on a clear day with the naked eye.

Prof. N.S. Shaler, writer of the Island’s geology, noted that because of the contrast between the level of the sea and the uprising hills of the north shore, the latter took on an aspect of grandeur which their height alone would have denied them, which they could not have in a different region.

Tower Hill at Edgartown is one of the hills that hardly justified the name. Strangers who are directed to Tower Hill more often than not look in vain for an eminence that answers the description; the locality is more bluff than hill, and the quality of towering exists not in the land itself but comes down from some man-made structure once standing there. Mill Hill is the site these days of a water tower, not a mill. But it is an honest hill.

Manter’s Hill in Vineyard Haven was once a landmark attracting attention from, say, the beach below. But it is not an eminence and now it is of a piece with the other high land along which Main street runs. Mount Aldworth, a hill by good right, was given this name through the mistaken belief that it was so called by Martin Pring, an early explorer. Later research was to show that Pring did not visit Vineyard Haven harbor and bestowed the christening of Mount Aldworth elsewhere.

Red Coat Hill is an expressive name now dropped from common use. It was applied to the high land reached by the state road west of Tashmoo — a long uphill climb and slope, but without any particular peak or summit. Tradition says that British troops made the ascent and descent too during the Revolution and that one of them left some relics, including perhaps a red coat.


It is unlikely that anyone has ever counted the hills of Martha’s Vineyard. This might make an interesting subject for a doctoral thesis sometime, and we envy the fieldwork, though not the paperwork, of the earnest doctoral candidate who undertakes it. The Vineyard hills are of varying altitudes but all are about the right height for climbing — and as for sitting, there isn’t the top of one of them that cannot be commended.

There is a north shore range, so to speak, that rises, say, at Lambert’s Cove and proceeds, in a sense, to Chilmark and the panoramic climax of Prospect Hill. As Professor Shaler pointed out long ago, the Vineyard lacks any impressive elevation in an absolute sense, but relatively, as they rise so near and so impulsively above the level of the sea, our hills have the dignity and quality of mountains. They have grandeur, especially on a day of serene colors and crystal air.

Indian Hill has long been famous, so famous that there are two of them, one in Christiantown, site of the Dancing Field, and one a bit farther to the westward and more accessible, which has an almost forgotten Indian burying ground enshrined among wildflowers and native grasses on a sunny slope.

Adorned with cedar spires, huckleberry patches that flame red in the fall, crisp mosses and lichened boulders, the north shore hills represent the stone age of the Vineyard. Men weren’t here at the time, but nature attended to the stone work, outdoing the Druids at certain localities.

No longer are these eminences of the Vineyard as neglected as once they were. For all-year purposes a glade or a valley or mere knoll is still better for a house, but in summer aspirations may run higher. They say you can even see the stars and the moon better from a summit, and that you may sleep more soundly above the exasperations of the plain.


The discovery by representatives of the U.S. Geological Survey that one hill on the Island is higher than the present maps show comes as another of those interesting developments with which life here is enriched. What are fixed facts anyway. The stars are not constant in the heavens and our hills turn out to have their vagrant phrases. Perhaps there are no fixed facts. There is nothing but a truce. We are in the hands of a fluid science, and there is always the chance that landmarks such as hills are doing something on the side to make monkeys out of science. We daresay, however, that no matter how much higher our hills turn out on new maps, the view will still be the same.


Compiled by Cynthia Meisner