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The history of The Carnegie in Edgartown

“Living Landmarks” chronicles Martha’s Vineyard’s storied past—from the first European families to the days of whaling and the rise of resort communities—told through the lens of the Vineyard Trust’s properties, including The Carnegie.

In some respects, The Carnegie and Vineyard Trust experienced a twin rebirth between the years of 2016 and 2017. Funi Burdick, executive director and CEO, became involved in the planning phase beginning in October of 2016, then officially stepped into her position in January 2017. “I arrived just as we were reimagining The Carnegie,” she says. “It was very exciting to be at the heart of this project.” In her first year, the organization also abbreviated its name. Founded in 1975, the Martha’s Vineyard Preservation Trust owned and maintained 20 historic properties in the island community, but its name seemed to limit possibilities. Burdick explains: “Preservation is one major work of the organization, but we also do much more than simply preserve the landmarks that we own. We reimagine them in efforts to cultivate community, to create living history.” Thus, the rebranding of Vineyard Trust and The Carnegie occurred nearly simultaneously. 

One of the functions of The Carnegie is to provide a space to unify Vineyard Trust properties. Burdick’s previous occupation was executive director and CEO of the Canterbury Shaker Village, a National Historic Landmark located just north of Concord, NH. This was a different type of landmark because its community is essentially contained. The properties of Vineyard Trust, however, are diverse in both design and geographic setting. They range from the Flying Horses Carousel in Oak Bluffs to the Edwina B. catboat to Alley’s General Store in West Tisbury to the Old Whaling Church in Edgartown. “One challenge in overseeing Vineyard Trust properties is that each has been acquired for different reasons and purposes. Each landmark is one with individual importance,” Burdick says. As she and the board of trustees worked to reenvision The Carnegie, the plan culminated in the idea to create the “Living Landmarks” exhibit, which serves, Burdick says, “as an opportunity to cohesively tell the story of the Trust’s mission and to mirror it by telling some of the history of the island.” 

The renovation of The Carnegie began in earnest in January of 2017, and the process included a number of different focal points, including the building’s exterior, interior and landscape, all of which would need to serve the cultural goals of Vineyard Trust. In the process, the work would echo Andrew Carnegie’s call for giving back to the community. Burdick says: “We needed to retrofit it so that it could become exhibit space, and we needed to collect artifacts. This was the reverse of how I usually work because, in this case, we had the building, but we lacked the smaller pieces. I needed to meet people on the island, to collect pieces that would best tell the story. The board was extremely valuable in the process, as many members are themselves collectors with real interest in subjects such as whaling and scrimshaw.” Gerret Conover, president of Conover Restorations and Vineyard Trust board member, agreed to come on as builder, and architect Patrick Ahearn, FAIA, also chairman of Vineyard Trust, provided the renovation design on a pro bono basis, as he has with a number of other Trust properties. “I believe in giving back to the community that I work in,” says Ahearn. 

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