Settling into History

Cape Cod Life  /  May 2021 /

Writer: Sarah Tietje-Mietz

Settling into History


Cape Cod Life  /  May 2021 /

Writer: Sarah Tietje-Mietz

WeNeedaVacation.com makes renting a mariner’s mansion a reality.

For many, the past year has been filled with more staycations and virtual cocktail parties than exotic vacations or adventures. National and global travel has been curtailed, but short-term rentals have seen an influx of business for families seeking in-state escapes from the confines of their homes. WeNeedaVacation.com (WNAV), the Cape and Islands’ premier rental company, has thousands of vacation rentals to peruse ranging from the coziest cottage to the grandest estates. 

A standout in WNAV’s catalog is the Captain Morse House, an impressive vestige of the Vineyard’s whaling industry. For an island vacation of the New England variety, this Edgartown rental encompasses the storied maritime history of Martha’s Vineyard with modern amenities and expansive accommodations for the perfect escape for you and your mates.  

Commanding the corner of Morse and Water Streets, the crisp white clapboard structure clocks in at almost 9,000 square feet. This stately manor, built in 1845, incorporates elegant elements fashionable to the early Greek Revival style. The building is named for Captain John Osborn Morse, a prosperous sailor and sea captain whose financial success is reflected in this grandiose home. The east facade hosts two tiers of Doric columns gracing the full-width porches that engulf the first and second floors. These provide the perfect haven for curling up with a cup of coffee while the echoes of the island’s history float in on the salt air from the harbor below. 

Guests step back in time through the understated-yet-handsome entry porch on Morse Street, flanked by slender, fluted columns. A carved wooden eagle watches from the frieze above the door. Antique furnishings and decor in colors reflecting the ocean hues and summer sunsets capture the essence of the home’s past. A collection of period and maritime artwork adorn the walls, while an assortment of decorative carpets accent the honey-gold of the old wood floors throughout the home. A spiral staircase serpentines up to the second floor from the East Wing’s front hall, evoking the drama of a bygone era. It enchants those who experience the home, and for Captain Morse House owner Platt Johnson, it is a beloved architectural detail.

Johnson’s parents purchased the property in the mid-1950s, and over the years renovated and updated the home. His father installed two new kitchens to create the separate rental zones, the proceeds from which helped finance the maintenance and upkeep of the grand property. Johnson’s mother, a buyer for the Federated Department Stores, had an intuitive eye for design and was responsible for the styling of the home’s interior. Johnson himself continues to enhance and update the property, most recently installing MERV 13 air filters and in-duct UV lights to the three HVAC ventilation systems. 

Other contemporary updates and modern amenities see to the creature comforts of the clientele. Boasting a dozen bedrooms and seven baths, the home has the capacity to accommodate up to 25 guests. If your crew is on the smaller size, the home can be rented by the wing-either the East or the West-each with six bedrooms, a handful of bathrooms, private kitchen, living and dining rooms, and access to the lush backyard and patio space. Bedrooms are appointed with a range of bed sizes, from king to twin, each with high-quality mattresses and linens ensuring guests drift off to sleep in total comfort. The second floor queen bedroom of the East Wing has elevator access from the first floor living room.

The living rooms are equipped with HD televisions and access to cable and streaming services—as well as a variety of games and puzzles—if stormy weather leaves guests stranded inside. If the vacation cannot be fully free from work, high-speed Internet and Wifi throughout the home make logging on for emails a breeze. The home’s kitchens offer all the tools necessary for creating gourmet meals at home, along with a Bull brand grill and rotisserie right outside for those quintessential summer cookouts. The home and grounds provide a handsome backdrop for weddings, reunions, birthdays, cocktail parties, or any event that seeks to add a touch of history and casual elegance to the experience, available to those renting the home.

Moving offsite, guests can walk the same path Captain Morse took to the Harbor to see his ships, a mere 200 feet down Morse Street. Head just two blocks east to reach Lighthouse Beach and the Edgartown Lighthouse, which, in its second iteration, has illuminated the waters for generations of sailors. A quick trek southwest from the house along Water Street -and a jog up Main Street—takes you to the heart of Edgartown. An array of shops, eateries, and galleries line the streets, interspersed with historic churches, museums, and cemeteries. The town of Edgartown fronts the calm, warmer waters of Nantucket Sound to the north as well as the beautiful, open Atlantic Ocean off popular South Beach to the south. Wherever your wanderings, each street in Edgartown offers a gallery-like experience of stunning homes and scenic views, each more impressive than the next. 

For Johnson, his stewardship of the Captain Morse House keeps in the tradition his father started by making the home available to rent, and he plans to continue celebrating the home in this way, saying “renting the house allows us to continue to own, improve, and also share it with people so they can make their own wonderful memories.” 

Helping make this tradition possible is WeNeedaVacation.com (WNAV), a local and highly esteemed company facilitating vacation rentals like the Captain Morse House across the Cape and Islands. For over two decades, Joan and Jeff Talmadge have made the rental process a breeze—for homeowners and vacationers alike. WNAV’s success has roots in a humble beginning. The couple started the web-based vacation rental company when they bought a vacation home in Orleans and wanted to rent it out. Jeff had worked in software development and saw the future of rental transactions taking place on the Internet. In 1997, Jeff built out the website while Joan fielded phone calls from realtors, property owners, and potential customers from their kitchen table. 

Joan jokes that at the time many people were not regularly using the Internet, let alone thinking about it as the place to search and secure house rentals. Now, web and app-based rental services are commonplace, but WeNeedAVacation.com was on the first wave of internet-based vacation rental services. The company has since expanded beyond Joan and Jeff to a team of 10, and from facilitating renting just their own home to over 4,000 properties. Throughout this impressive growth, they have maintained the personal touch for owners and renters alike. 

“We do take great pride in that because in this era of the Internet, so much of that personal nature is lost,” Joan says. “We have to keep up with modern times and technology, and we certainly do that, but we also feel strongly about maintaining the personal side as well.”

For the Talmadges, this business model has resulted in many repeat customers, and the success of this has been experienced first-hand. They still rent the same home that started the company in the 90s, and have seen it become a multi-generational retreat for one family, with the annual pilgrimage forming memories and traditions across three generations.  

WNAV is as invested in the people they serve as they are in the places they rent. In the wake of the pandemic, the team at WNAV hosted a contest dedicated to those who stepped up for their community in the face of COVID-19. Titled “Who Needs a Vacation,” this contest solicited nominations from the public through the WNAV Facebook pages. The grand prize was $1,500 to spend on any vacation rental on the WNAV site, and a gift basket filled with $400 worth of treasure from local businesses. 

The response was incredibly positive and created the difficult and humbling process of narrowing down the finalists and selecting the winner. The selected contest champion was a disabled Gulf-war veteran who went above and beyond to ensure the people she serves at the veteran’s association have their needs of housing, food, medical services, and emotional support met throughout the pandemic. 

The positive response radiated out to WNAV’s network of homeowners and a handful stepped up, and without solicitation, offered vacations at their properties for the three runners-up. WNAV has offered giveaways and contests before, but for Joan, this one was especially meaningful and emotional. 

“I just am so thankful for people who have done so much. I feel there’s been so much loss and hurt,” Joan says. “We’ve had other contests before, but this was the most moving because we were rewarding someone who had sacrificed a great deal.”

Whether it is getting away with friends and family, immersing oneself in local history, or giving a getaway to those who give so much of themselves, there is no undervaluing how important and meaningful a quality vacation can be. 

Learn more at weneedavacation.com!

Sarah Tietje-Mietz