Old Whaling Church
Designed by Fredrick Baylies, Jr., the Old Whaling Church was built by skilled shipwrights for Edgartown’s Methodist whaling captains and is regarded as one of the finest examples of Greek Revival architecture in New England.
Built in the days when Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket and New Bedford were known around the world for the success of the fishing and whaling fleets that called these ports home, the Old Whaling Church in Edgartown is an extraordinary testament to the wealth that could come from seafaring. The Old Whaling Church was not only funded by mariners and those dedicated to seafaring trades, it was quite literally built by them, too. Baylies hired a crew of local carpenters who were equally as skilled in building churches as they were in constructing ships.
The Greek Revival style became fashionable in Europe as early as the 1780s when it was popularized after British architect James Stuart visited Greece and published architectural manuals inspired by ancient structures he saw on his travels. In America, the Greek Revival style dominated both domestic and other forms of architecture from 1820 to 1855. The façade of the Old Whaling Church mimics an ancient temple front with six massive tapered Doric columns supporting a cantilevered entablature with a triangular pediment. The whole structure is crowned with a Gothic Revival clock tower which has crenellations, rounded arches, engaged pilasters, dentil cornice moldings and four spires capped with gilded acanthus leaf finials.
The interior of the Old Whaling Church is notable for its elegantly curved ceiling, which is supported from the attic through extensive and complex trusses that are fashioned out of massive timbers – an impressive feat of nineteenth century engineering and craftsmanship. Of particular note in the main hall are the original whale oil lamps that once illuminated the interior.
Originally painted by Swiss artist Carl Wendte, who worked with architect Fredrick Baylies, Jr. in Western Massachusetts, Cape Cod and Nantucket, the interior murals replicate unfurled acanthus leaves, curved vines and leaves, and stylized rosettes. The rear interior wall stops every visitor in his or her tracks for there a full scale trompe l’oeil mural transforms the flat surface into a heavily carved arch leading viewers into a what appears to be a light-filled antechamber. These clever murals were recently reproduced by island artist Margot Datz using months of careful research and a rare photograph from 1865 as a guide.
The Trust acquired the Church from the Methodist congregation in 1980 and now uses the building for community events, special celebrations, and performances throughout the year.
The Old Whaling Church is the most sought-after wedding ceremony venue on Martha’s Vineyard. Its magnificent colonnaded entrance has a commanding presence on Main Street in Edgartown. Centrally located in this charming village, the Church is within an easy stroll of in-town accommodations.
The breath-taking trompe l’oiel mural that graces all four walls of the main sanctuary is an architectural masterpiece. The massive windows that allow the space to be washed with natural light are a photographer’s dream!
The Old Whaling Church is outfitted with an elegant and historic Fisher-Simmons tracker pipe organ and a Steinway “C” concert grand piano, both of which may be used during your ceremony. Visit our list of preferred musicians for referrals.
You may choose your own officiant: minister, rabbi, justice of the peace, judge or town clerk. We have suggestions on our list of preferred vendors, or your own officiant can be licensed for one day to perform the ceremony.
From the processional down the wide-plank center aisle to the final group photo on the granite front steps, the Old Whaling Church will fulfill the wedding day dreams of every princess bride!
The Old Whaling Church, revered by performers for its brilliant acoustics, is Edgartown’s premier performing arts venue. Centrally located on Main Street and in close proximity to the village’s public transit hub, it is a magnet for a walk-in audience.
This historic landmark is well known island-wide for jazz and folk concerts, lectures and panel discussions. It is the home of the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber Music Society with its annual summer series of concerts as well as Harvard’s Hutchins Center with its annual panel discussion hosted by Professor Henry Louis Gates.
We offer a space rental, allowing event producers to do their own promotions and tickets sales. Our experienced Technical Director and his staff will work with you to evaluate your event’s technical requirements. A member of our tech staff is assigned to each event. They will operate the stage lights and house sound system, which is best suited to acoustic music performances and lectures or panel discussions.
If your event requires a higher level of technical support, we can refer you to experienced sound engineers with high quality rental equipment right here on the Island.
The lower (street) level Baylies Room is a reception hall that is a perfect complement to the performance hall for book signings, pre-concert “meet and greet” with artists and post-event receptions.
For a venue with unique character and a great location, look no further than the Old Whaling Church.
Connect with this landmark
The Old Whaling Church is included as part of the architectural walking tour in Edgartown, which begins at The Carnegie and is available to rent for weddings, performances, presentations or other special events.