What’s in a name “Nobnocket” – a Martha’s Vineyard story (including a James Taylor bit)

Nobnocket Logo

For almost 5000 years before Europeans set their Gucci-clad feet on Martha’s Vineyard, it was home to the Wampanoags (earlier called the Pokanokets), a Native American sub-tribe belonging to the large Algonquin tribe of north-east America. The Wampanoags called the island Noepe, which simply means “dry land amidst waters” – a perfect description for the island and one that resulted in exactly zero confused tourists turning up at the shore asking for directions to the vineyard because they’re gasping for a fruity Pinot Noir.

The Wampanoags split the island into nine territories that were each controlled by a local sachem (chief), who in turn reported to the regional great sachem. Time for a piece of trivia – it was a Wampanoag great sachem, Massasoit (aka Ousamequin), who sat down with members of his tribe and the Pilgrims for the infamous first Thanksgiving feast in 1621 in Plymouth.

The island territories included Aquinnah, Takemmy  (West Tisbury),  Nunnepoag (Edgartown), Ogkeshkuppe (Oak Bluffs), Sengekontacket, Nashawahkamuk (Chilmark), Chappaquiddick and Nobnocket (Vineyard Haven and West Chop).

So the simplest answer to the question we get often asked, “from where did the inn’s name Nobnocket come?” is that it was the original name for Vineyard Haven before the pesky English came along and starting renaming towns after kings, queens, aunties, children or favorite football teams.
But Nobnocket had an interesting voyage of other colorful associations on Martha’s Vineyard before becoming the moniker of our Martha’s Vineyard Boutique Hotel.

In 1902 the Nobnocket Club was incorporated in Vineyard Haven. This was a gentlemen’s club located on the beach front on Vineyard Haven harbor, close to where the Steamship Authority wharf sits today. The club existed for roughly 20 years and boasted its own orchestra, fine dining facilities, billiards room, card room and stylish accommodations for overnight stays (so in a way the forerunner of the Nobnocket Inn!). It was also behind the annual Nobnocket Regatta that took place for many years from Vineyard Haven. One of the early regattas included a vessel sailed by an Allen Whiting (possibly a relative of the famed West Tisbury artist of the same name?).  After the club was closed the Nobnocket name went into hibernation and wasn’t revived until the 1970’s when it rose again thanks to a certain musician called James Taylor.

James Taylor built the Nobnocket Garage in Vineyard Haven on State Road,a 1/2 mile from the inn, for a friend John Parkinson as a car repair shop. Unfortunately the business only survived a couple of years and James then opened the building up to local artists, craftspeople and artisans to work on and show their work. Island artists such as Kib Bramhall, Doug Kent and Travis Tuck appeared and worked there. A precurser to today’s Workshop Gallery in Vineyard Haven. The Arts Workers Guild moved into the building and also provided accommodation for local artists and so again the Nobnocket voyage crosses path with the world of innkeeping! The fondly remembered Vineyard Haven Greek restaurant, Helios, for a time shared the Nobnocket space with the Arts Guild.
In the late 70’s a developer tried to purchase the garage to have it demolished in order to build a mall complex in its place. This was robustly fought off by the local community and eventually the developer withdrew his grand plans.

That brings us to 2015 when the name Nobnocket was once again given life on the island with the launch of our Martha’s Vineyard inn. It was always important to us that we find a name with a rich local history. One that connected with the original custodians of the islands, the Wampanoags, the town of Vineyard Haven and the music & arts that is so integral to the soul of Martha’s Vineyard. We’re proud that, in keeping with our eco-credentials, when christening our inn we were able to recycle a name of such local heritage.

Oh and you can now also grab a sensational smoothie from Tisberry Frozen Yogurt in Vineyard Haven called “Nobnocket Nectar”. It comes packed with apple, cucumber, ginger, spinach and carrot juice. Awesome!

We thank the Wampanoags for our wonderful sounding name and we’re happy to continue the name’s journey.

Here is a rundown of other notable Wampanoag names:

Glossary of Wampanoag Names on Martha’s Vineyard
Wampanoag – People of the first light (or easterners)
Noepe – Dry land amidst waters
Nobnocket – Dry place
Menemsha – Place of observation
Squibnocket – Place of the red cliff
Aquinnah – Land under the hill
Sengekontacket – At the bursting forth of the tidal stream
Tashmoo (from Kehtashimet) – Place of the great spring
Takemmy – Where she/he strikes it
Ogkeshkuppe – Wet thicket
Nashawahkamuk – Between the land
Winnetukqet – Place of good river
Chappaquiddick – Place of separate island
Waskosim – New rock
Sakunket – Place of skunk
Quansoo – Long fish
Katama – Crab fishing place
Yewsbesocket – iPhone charger

Safe travels,