Every summer Tuesday night in Edgartown, the On Time Ferry dances double-time as Islanders of all ages don their pastel pinks to listen to the Dock Dance Band raise the roof of historic Memorial Wharf.

Although summer is still months away, Edgartown is making plans to raise the wharf’s half-century old floor, too.

At their meeting on Tuesday, Edgartown selectmen signed off on an approximately $100,000 contract for design services to reinforce the steel beams that currently serve as the wharf’s base and lift the entire structure by about 18 inches. Although the contract for design services is only the first step of a multi-phase, multi-year, multi-million dollar project, it comes as two other historic buildings on the Edgartown harbor — the Edgartown Yacht Club and Vose family boathouse — undergo similar renovations and reflects a town-wide response to the threats of rising sea levels and perilous winter storms.

“It’s been a long time coming,” said selectman Margaret Serpa at the meeting on Tuesday.

Memorial Wharf’s colorful history dates back to the mid-19th century, when the primitive dock served as a stopping-off point for seabound whalers and belonged to the most lucrative merchant on the Edgartown harbor: oil salesman and chandler, Dr. Daniel Fisher. In 1889, the heirs of Dr. Fisher sold the dock to the New Haven Steamboat Company, and it serviced travelers to the Island from New Bedford until the last steamboat trip was made to Edgartown in 1934.

Pavilion was restored in 2017. — Mark Alan Lovewell

In 1938 the town undertook an effort to purchase the former steamboat dock, sensing its potential for development. The initiative was championed by sea captain Winthrop B. Norton, who doggedly pursued the issue until the town bought the property for $12,000. He then convinced voters at town meeting in 1950 to overwhelmingly support a project to make “extraordinary repairs” to the wharf, including the construction of a “much-disputed captain’s walk” on top of its roof, according to a 1950 Gazette article.

Today, that once-controversial captain’s walk offers one of the finest views on the Island, and has played host to countless weddings, first-kisses, post-dock dance romances, and pensive, peaceful moments overlooking Chappaquiddick and the Edgartown harbor.

“From the town’s standpoint, the dock is beyond price,” reads a 1963 Gazette story. “Without it, Edgartown might as well be landlocked. Transfer of property to the town must be considered one of the most important events of the whole quarter century.”

While the dock has undergone a few extensive renovations since its transfer to the town in the 1950s (one in the 1970s, another in the 1980s), years of overuse had caused it to fall into disrepair by the 21st century. In early 2016, Edgartown established the Memorial Wharf committee with the long-term goal of ensuring the wharf, including its underside, remained a sound and stable structure. After examining preliminary evaluations from Child’s Engineering — the same company that drafted the contract for design services — it was clear that the wharf’s pavilion was in desperate need of a makeover.

“It was nowhere near code,” said Edgartown procurement officer Juliet Mulinare, speaking to the Gazette by phone about the project. “It was just generally a hazard with the re-creation of Dock Dance and all the activity down at the wharf.”

In response to the report, the town earmarked $750,000 in Community Preservation Committee money to fund the initial steps of a three-phase, five-to-ten year project that would include a renovation of the pavilion, raising the wharf and reinforcing its steel beams, and ultimately a large-scale overhaul of the entire parking lot and Chappy Ferry landing.

With the pavilion renovation completed in July of 2017, including new stairs to the captain’s walk and stabilized railings, the town has about $380,000 in CPC funds remaining for the design of the project’s second phase. Ms. Mulinare said that while the contract for design services would cost less than $100,000, the entire project would be in the neighborhood of two to three million dollars.

“Broadly, the project is going to involve reinforcing the steel beams and in doing so, raising the wharf up to the extent that the steel maintains its integrity,” Ms. Mulinare said. “So there will be a step up to the wharf.”

Ms. Mulinare said that there have been discussions of raising the timber walkway on the outside of the wharf and converting the other walkway on its north side into an ADA accessible ramp. She estimated the town would have a warrant article ready for spring of 2020 to ask for the construction funds.

In the long-term, she said the plans to raise the entire parking lot and adjoining Chappy Ferry remain in the works, potentially a decade down the road.

As the Memorial Wharf project nears a start date, two similar ventures on the Edgartown harbor approach an end date. Barely 100 yards south, the Edgartown Yacht Club is finishing up their $7 million project to raise the historic, 1927 clubhouse 18 inches off the water. And just a bit further down the water, the 19th-century Vose family boathouse is back on its haunches after having them raised by a foot this winter.

While the eventual effects of sea-level rise remain unclear, Edgartown’s decision to act now in preserving three of its harbor’s most historic edifices would most likely stand well with its forefathers.

“Time slips away quickly,” Captain Norton said at Edgartown town meeting nearly 70 years ago. “And we can’t look into the future.”