Aquinnah town officials and Island affordable housing leaders gathered Friday on a cold hilltop to break ground on a new affordable housing project.

The project will include two three-bedroom homes at 801 State Road, which will occupy about an acre of land. The rest of the six-acre lot will be set aside as conservation land.

The lot was sold to the town at a below market price, by Helen Mays, whose grandfather Russell Smalley once owned the land. The small development will be known as Smalley’s Knoll.

Before shovels went into the ground, Island Housing Trust project manager and Aquinnah affordable housing committee member Derrill Bazzy read a letter from Ms. Mays.

“It makes me happy to know that my family has helped to make it possible for two families to have an affordable home in Aquinnah, especially during the season of giving,” she said. “This news is the highlight of my year.”

Selectman Juli Vanderhoop noted the passing of the winter solstice, minutes before the ground breaking ceremony.

“How special this Aquinnah place is, our community,” Ms. Vanderhoop said. “It is so important, for those of us who understand that history that runs beneath the land, to develop in the proper way, and with our passion, allow these small but great things to happen.”

The project is financed by two anonymous donors, and Aquinnah Community Preservation Act funds.

Contractors said they would have the two homes ready for move-in by next September.