By the 1830s, Edgartown had become the most affluent town in Martha’s Vineyard thanks to the rise of the local whaling industry. Whaling in particular fueled much of coastal New England’s nascent economy in the early 19th century, as small, private schooners frequently ventured out into the Atlantic on a regular basis. Yet, the trade as both an economic and cultural force had largely died out around the time of the American Civil War. Fishing communities like Edgartown began to suffer, as countless sea captains found themselves out of a job. Despite the hardships, some on Martha’s Vineyard began to identify new ways to generate business. Tourism happened to be one of them.
North of town, a group of investors bought a waterfront site to develop the town’s first true resort, the Harbor View Hotel. It originally opened 1891 and was extremely successful for two years until the Panic of 1893, which severely harmed local tourism on Martha’s Vineyard. The hotel went bankrupt that year and sat empty for three years after. It was purchased by the original manager of the hotel and opened back up in 1896, with rooms costing roughly $3 a night. The owner in 1910, doubled the hotel in size to give it the look it has today. The resort was rented out by Steven Spielberg in 1975 for the cast and crew of the iconic film Jaws which was filmed on the island.