The Martha’s Vineyard Preservation Trust announced this week that it will buy and preserve the Norton property on the Edgartown harbor that includes the Osborn building, the oldest structure on the Edgartown waterfront.

Mark Lovewell

The trust will buy the Dock street property owned by the Norton family which includes two buildings and a dock adjacent to Memorial Wharf. The boathouse was built after the 1944 hurricane. The Osborn building is much older and dates to the 1830s.

The buildings sit near two iron 19th-century capstans and a nest of anchors just off Dock street.

Chris Scott, executive director of preservation trust, said the board of directors voted last Friday to sign a purchase and sale agreement with S. Bailey Norton Jr. and his brother Floyd C. Norton, both of Edgartown, and their sister Drusilla Parks, formerly of Edgartown and now of Florida. The property was previously owned by their father Samuel B. Norton, a sailor and yachtsman who captained the Manxman, the largest cruising yawl in the world. The purchase price is $750,000; a closing is set for Friday, Dec. 5.

Mark Lovewell

Floyd Norton, 79, of Edgartown, a former Chappy ferry captain and fisherman, said this week he has childhood memories of sitting on the dock and fishing for scup. A photograph of his father hangs on the wall of the boathouse. The Nortons were among the first settlers of Edgartown in the 1640s.

“It really is for the benefit of everybody that we are doing this,” Floyd Norton said. “We thought of a park so the public could use it; this is the next best thing, maybe a better thing.”

His brother Bailey Norton agreed. “They [the preservation trust] have demonstrated through the years how they can care for their properties, so everyone can enjoy. They have demonstrated an ability to raise the funds required to maintain their buildings in top notch condition,” he said.

The trust, whose mission is to buy and preserve old buildings for working use, owns properties around the Vineyard, including the Flying Horses in Oak Bluffs, Alley’s General Store in West Tisbury, Union Chapel in Oak Bluffs, the Old Whaling Church and Dr. Daniel Fisher House in Edgartown and the Old Sculpin Gallery, the former boat building shed of Manuel Swartz Roberts that sits an easy chip shot across Dock street from the Norton boathouse.

Mark Lovewell

The purchase of the Norton property will include artifacts such as a whaler’s harpoon and historic photographs and illustrations that hang on the boathouse walls. One photograph was taken in 1910 of the Mertie B. Crowley, a six-masted schooner awash in the riptides at Wasque.

Mr. Scott said this marks the first time the preservation trust will make a purchase where no work needs to be done. “The buildings are shipshape,” he said, adding:

“The collection of photographs inside is part and parcel of the historical significance that goes with the place. Visitors will find it a tremendous experience coming in here. To me this is the maritime version of the Vincent House [a pre-colonial house owned by the trust in downtown Edgartown]. When you think that Edgartown harbor used to have many captain’s boathouses and fish shacks — in their day, there were dozens perhaps hundreds of them around the working waterfront.”

He said the price is below market value for the property; the trust plans to call the boathouse the Norton Boathouse. The building replaced an earlier boathouse that was destroyed in the 1944 hurricane. Part of the floor of the building is over water. A dock fronts the building.

The Osborn building, which sits on the Dock street side of the boathouse, is used as a ship store by the Martha’s Vineyard Shipyard.

Bailey Norton, 88, said this week that the building was originally a counting house for the whaling trade, located on Osborn Wharf, where the Edgartown Yacht Club is located today. The building was later moved. Many buildings in the area were either swept away or severely damaged in the 1944 hurricane.

Mr. Scott said the trust will keep the long-term lease with the Martha’s Vineyard Shipyard.

Shipyard president Phil Hale praised the purchase.

“I think this is great. It is terrific,” he said, adding: “I think this is a gift to the community on the part of the Nortons.”

Bailey Norton said his sister Drusilla ran an antique and collectible store in the building in the late 1970s.

The Norton family story is anchored in the waterfront. In fact the Anchors, today the home of the Edgartown Council on Aging, was the family home.

Though mostly a yachtsman, Samuel B. Norton was also a commercial fisherman. As a young man, he went bay scalloping at a time when catboats filled the harbor. He was president for many years of the Edgartown Fishermen’s Association. He came up with the burlap bag as a way to transport bay scallops before someone later came up with the bushel basket. For a time he also was president of the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce. He died in January 1960 at the age of 61.

Floyd and Bailey Norton recalled the time when Manuel Swartz Roberts got caught in Woods Hole one night after the ferry had stopped running; the boat builder didn’t want to spend the night on the Cape, so he called Samuel Norton on the phone.

“My father volunteered to go to Woods Hole in his own boat to pick him up and bring him back,” Floyd Norton said. He recalled that night the fog was as thick as pea soup. “You couldn’t see Chappy. Let me remind you, that was in the day before radar, before Loran and there was no GPS,” he said.

“To this day, I don’t know how my father did it, get to Woods Hole and back,” Mr. Norton said.

Bailey Norton concluded: “He [Manuel] had never slept a night off the Vineyard, and at his age he wasn’t about to start.

“We have a lot of good memories of Dad.”