Vineyard Haven is the main village/town center of Tisbury. The two names are used interchangeably. As can be seen in the history section below, the town of Tisbury was incorporated within the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 1671 and remains the legal name of the town to this day. However, the port and harbor have had varying names. Holmes Hole was one of the first names of the port within the Town of Tisbury. This name was later changed to Vineyard Haven, and the official post office name for the Town of Tisbury is Vineyard Haven. To residents of Martha's Vineyard, Vineyard Haven is by far the more common usage, although residents recognize Tisbury as the town's legal name.
Tisbury, better known as Vineyard Haven, is the main port of entrance to Martha's Vineyard. The island's first and primary ferry line is the Steamship Authority, which runs to and from Woods Hole, New Bedford, and Nantucket Island (in the summer months from the Oak Bluffs terminal), all in Massachusetts. There are several other private ferry lines that serve Martha's Vineyard, with terminals in the towns of Oak Bluffs and Edgartown as well. Tisbury is the only operational port during most of the year. To get an idea of the embarkation in summer of passengers, tourists primarily, and goods, see the early scene in the movie "Jaws" which shows the debarkation on "Amity Island" of a typical boatload in summer at the Vineyard Haven Steamship Authority facility from the steamship Naushon. At the time of the filming of "Jaws" in 1975 this was the largest of the ferries, running only in the summer months for its high passenger capacity. It ceased service in 1987 and has been replaced by more modern vessels.
After Martha's Vineyard's discovery by the English Maritime Explorer Bartholemew Gosnald, Tisbury was first settled in 1660 by James Allen, William Peabody and Lt. Josiah Standish (son of Captain Myles Standish) and was officially incorporated in 1671 by Francis Lovelace, Governor General of New York. The town, which originally included the lands of West Tisbury, was named for Tisbury, Wiltshire, England, the hometown of Martha's Vineyard Governor Mayhew. Citizens of the island, unhappy with the leadership of Governor Mayhew, petitioned William and Mary in 1673 for a change of leadership. It was then that the town, as well as the entire island, became a part of Massachusetts.
The town has long thrived on the sea, and is also known for being the home of most of the year-round stores on the island, including Cumberland farms, the only store opened past 11:30 in the winter. Tisbury is now the home of the ferry docks for the island. The town was divided into its current boundaries in 1892. Like the rest of Martha's Vineyard, is a popular summer resort for the rich and famous. Famous residents of Tisbury have included: Art Buchwald, William Styron, Mike Wallace, Lillian Hellman, Carly Simon, Thornton Wilder, Dashiell Hammett, Katharine Cornell, and Diane Sawyer.