59 School Street, Box 1310, Edgartown MA 02539 - 508.627.4441
Martha's Vineyard Museum MV Museum
A New Life and Vision for the Museum's Edgartown Campus

Cooke House Gardens – a Defining Moment in Our History and Future. For so many years, this land, this house and this property have been part of the Martha’s Vineyard Museum in Edgartown, but really they have belonged to all of us. This property looks and feels the way it does today because the past shaped it, and what these grounds become will affect our own lives and those of our children. As the Museum prepares to move to its new all-Island campus at the former Marine Hospital in Vineyard Haven, we as a town and a neighborhood can seize an opportunity that will never come again: to create our first historic, dynamic community green space – our first “town common” – in the very heart of the village. This is our chance to ensure that this property will always be an important part of the Museum’s mission on the Vineyard, that it will remain open and belong to everyone forever.


Cooke House – of Unique Historic Significance. Edgartown’s singular history truly begins at the Cooke House, the oldest original structure on its original location on what history often calls the first street in all of Edgartown. It’s the place where colonial settlement, early commerce, the founding religion, Island justice and our whaling enterprise all began, setting the course for the Edgartown we know and cherish today. It has also long been the heart of the Martha’s Vineyard Museum – not just its original home for all our artifacts, but the treasured heart of our entire collection.

Marine Hospital Party

At the corner of Cooke and School streets, the Museum’s Edgartown campus consists of more than 39,000 square feet at the center of the residential Historic District. Constructed in 1740, the Cooke House is located on the property where Edgartown's founding colonial family, the Mayhews, settled in the 1640s, and laid out what many regard as the town’s first street. On it lay an early Congregational meeting house, first custom house and courthouse. Never moved nor altered, the Cooke House stands much as it was in 1740. In addition to the Cooke House, the museum property includes the Pease House (administration), library, lighthouse building, carriage shed and gatehouse.


The big idea

The campus could conceivably be subdivided into three parcels, two lots of which would be sold for sums dedicated to the new Island-wide museum in Vineyard Haven. (See Appendix for survey.) The Museum will always retain the third lot with the 1740 Cooke House on its 12,500 square foot parcel (Lot 3). Until recently, the museum assumed it would sell both the administrative Pease House parcel (Lot 1), which includes 11,500 square feet, as well as the Middle Lot (Lot 2), which encompasses over 15,000 square feet and today includes the library, lighthouse building and carriage shed.

But the Museum is not in the business of thinking small (nor of developing real estate), and we started to ask ourselves bold questions.

Yes, we must sell the Pease House. But what if we could forever save and share the substantial middle lot between the Pease and Cooke houses for the use of future generations of Edgartown residents and visitors alike? What if instead of another new house and associated buildings in the heart of the historic district, the middle lot could instead be transformed into a public commons called Cooke House Gardens, a place that conserved the property’s historical significance and its natural beauty?

Once the current motley collection of sheds and structures on the middle parcel are removed, we see the landscape around the historic Cooke House transformed into a series of spaces that can take visitors on an historic journey through the oldest part of the town or allow them to simply sit and enjoy a Vineyard afternoon amidst gardens, water features, fountains and flowers.

Beginning at the Cooke House itself, visitors will be able to stroll along Cooke Street, the backbone and gateway to historic Edgartown; or wander through outdoor educational spaces that integrate history, culture, nature and art; or meander into a contemplative series of historically appropriate gardens with areas for poetry reading or simply quiet enjoyment. Design of spaces and programming will actively involve the community and other non-profit collaborators.

Gaines Sketch

Today, as the museum makes a vitally needed move into a larger home in the historic Marine Hospital in Vineyard Haven, we have the chance to preserve our town history and create the Cooke House Gardens. With your help, we can leave a gift that will forever dramatize, protect and magnify the character of this historic town. Cooke House Gardens will, for all time, preserve the public use and enjoyment of our centrally located and historic property on School Street while conserving and sharing this New England “common green” in the heart of historic Edgartown.

But first we must together save the property. Then we can transform it into a place where families and individuals, Vineyarders and visitors will want to explore, enjoy and discover the wonders of Edgartown’s past, present and future.




For the Town

The great days of whaling, the commercial advantages of a large deep-water harbor, the contentions of religious faith and religious renewal, the fitful evolution into one of the most beautiful and best known village resorts on the eastern seaboard – these eras and epochs have all animated the unique history of Edgartown. Now comes the chance to establish, in the geographic and historic center of the village, a public space where villagers can gather and enjoy the company of one another in a traditional New England sense. And also learn about the origins of the town they love.

The Cooke House Gardens establishes an opportunity to create a fitting, beautiful “green commons” for those who inhabit or visit the town today. Rather than increase the density of houses in the historic district, the Cooke House Gardens will create a permanent sanctuary on land where the first colonial family settled, bounded by its first commercial street. These helped to set the village on its course toward the life we enjoy here today. This peaceful haven will keep the land open and beautiful, adding immeasurably to neighborhood and town life.


For the Museum

The official mission of the Martha’s Vineyard Museum’s is to inspire all people to discover, explore, and strengthen their connections to this Island and its diverse heritage. In other words, the museum is not about passive collection and curatorship, but rather engagement and involvement. We believe that understanding and exploring our shared yet varied histories leads to a more meaningful connection to community, to each other. The Urban Parks Institute notes that “Successful parks and gardens are catalysts in transforming and enriching our communities. A park and its surrounding area provide residents with a venue for participation in and attachment to their communities. Not only can they provide a place to understand and relate to nature, but they can also be a place for social and cultural exchange.” The proposed Cooke House Gardens, therefore, exemplifies the Museum’s new mission, making the institution an agent of community-building and positive interchange, honoring its original home for the past 95 years literally on the backbone of Edgartown’s history.


For Everyone – the Cooke House and Its Gardens: a New Life

Imagine a dramatized and dynamic history of Edgartown nestled amidst period gardens and fountains, with a natural stage-like learning and performing area for classes, talks, poetry, art and plenty of room for contemplative sitting or reading – open to the public to enjoy. Forever.    
Imagine children trying on period costumes and handling old tools and artifacts. Or visitors delving into Edgartown’s past on a lane where commerce and religious life first intersected on the Vineyard – all with hands-on activities, exciting programs and interactive experiences. (No weddings permitted.)

Building on the museum’s proven track record, imagine educational programs that integrate history, culture, horticulture, agriculture, nature and art in fun and compelling media. Picture children with special needs or sensory disadvantages (particularly audible and visual) finding out they can access and connect with the town’s past, present and future.

Imagine having a place where people can start a town-wide tour of Edgartown’s historic landmarks or engage in a virtual journey back into Edgartown’s past, back even before the time of colonial settlement and moving forward through all the great events in village life, up to an including today.

Imagine helping us create that space in the middle of your town, a portal of discovery. Community and non-profit collaboration will be sought for all planning and design processes.


Envisioned Garden Activities and Uses

Program Uses


use of the property and financial options

As part of the ongoing move to the historic Marine Hospital campus, the MV Museum has established a fundraising goal of $4.5M in proceeds from the Edgartown property, based on current market value of selling two lots: Pease House (Lot 1 of 11,500 sq. ft.) and Middle Lot (Lot 2 of 15,100 sq. ft.). The Museum will not sell the Cooke House lot (Lot 3). (Lot survey is in Appendix.) Currently, the Museum has a buyer for the Pease House lot (Lot 1) at a sale price of $2M. This leaves a balance to be raised of $2.5M to cover the required $4.5M committed to the Vineyard Haven capital project.

By mid-October of this year, the Museum must decide which course it will follow:

  • Option A – sell the Middle Lot (Lot 2) for the balance of $2.5M, or
  • Option B – raise the equivalent $2.5M to permanently preserve the Middle Lot as a public garden and commons and raise an additional $2.5M as a fund to remain forever in Edgartown, transforming the property into a community garden and historic commons.

The Museum will maintain the property to the highest standards and provide educational, historic and environmental programming for the community, families and visitors. (See Uses of Funds below.)



Cooke House Gardens, an approximately 28,000 square foot public garden and commons in the heart of historic Edgartown, is a $5 million project. The following funds would be dedicated solely for the use on the Cooke House property and not anywhere else on the Island.



$2.5 million to permanently protect and preserve the 28,000 square foot property
          i.e., Legally extinguish all rights and ability to ever develop the 28,000 square feet
$2.5 million for the capital, landscaping and program needs of Cooke House Gardens
         (See detailed budget of Uses of Funds below)
= $5.0 million: Total needed to raise (4 year payment installments possible)


Landscaping, hardscaping and physical property                                             $    250,000
Contractor estimates include demolition, grading,
restroom, handicapped parking space, walkways,
fountain(s), fencing, hardscaping, landscaping, plantings.

Physical improvements to exterior of Cooke House itself                             $     285,000
Endowment: Property and garden maintenance                                             $  1,285,000
                     Note: Endowments are invested assuming a 4% return
                     3.5% yearly draw = $45,000/year.  Detail of use as follows:
                     + Property manager (overseeing people and property
                        management on site) @ $20,000/four months per year
                     + Landscape management service contract @ $25,000/year
Endowment: Programming (education, history, nature staffing)                  $   680,000
                     3.5% yearly draw=$23,750/year. Detail of uses as follows:
                     + Manager of Cooke House educational, historic,
                        environmental programming @ $20,000/four months per year
                     + Incidental expenses @ $3,750/year 
Total overall uses and needs of Cooke House Gardens                                  $ 2,500,000    


The Time Is Now! The Museum is committed to moving this forward aggressively. We have approached the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank and several Island non-profits to work with us, but none has the capacity nor purview to take on this project. This must come from those who care directly about the history, culture, education and greening of Edgartown. The Museum can and will lead the charge.

Together, we can create natural and human community in the heart of our historic town. We need your help now to raise the $5 million to make this vision a reality.



Current Museum Campus, Proposed Division of Lots 2 & 3:
(Pease House, Lot 1, to the right, is not shown and will be sold.)

Lot Division


Landscape Architect’s Thumbnail Sketch, Future (Lots 2 & 3):
(Sketch concept drawing for discussion purposes, ie not final. Community input is mandatory.)

Landscape Sketch

how can you help?


Make a gift towards the project. Give online here (please put Cooke House Gardens in the comments section), or complete a pledge form, and return it to the Museum.

Please spread the word, and share this idea with your friends. If you'd like the above information as a single document, download the case statement.