The following is excerpted from a talk David McCullough gave in 1995 at an event to support the Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation.

I think in some ways this beautiful place where we live is one of the most important places in the country, because if we can’t save what matters here, if we can’t keep Martha’s Vineyard from going down the drain, then there is not much hope for anywhere else. But, with the kind of determination and intelligence and wealth and good intentions that exist here, it can be done.

As many of you know, last year I was involved in a battle to stop the Disney company from building a theme park at Manassas. It would have overwhelmed the battlefield and the whole area. They were going to replace real history with something quite synthetic.

But because very few people, a handful of people, six or seven people in the beginning, decided they were going to fight the Disney Corporation, fight against preposterous odds, more and more joined the ranks until in the end over 60 organizations were in the fight. Against all the forecasts and all the money mounted against us, it came out the right way. We won.

I learned a lot from that experience. Above all, I learned that the worst thing that can happen is for people to say: “Well, it’s a done deal. Why get in the way of a locomotive coming down the track? Why try to stop something inevitable?”

Well, it isn’t. It is not inevitable at all. And we who can do something about our Island have the chance to make a very great difference.

Rosalee and I have lived here year-round since 1972. We have raised our children here, they have gone to school here, I have written nearly all my books here, and I broadcast American Experience introductions from our house here. This is home base. This is our place. And we care intensely about it. We care about it year-round. If I had to list what means the most to me, it would be the people — the wonderful Vineyard people who care about it as much as anyone, maybe more. In some ways they are caught in a bind about the economics of their livelihood. We have to understand that. I remember in times past, conservation meetings were held on weekday afternoons. What did that mean to anyone who had to work? It meant they were not of interest, not considered at all.

We have to join forces with other conservation groups. We have to join forces one town to another. We have to join forces, summer people, year-round people, and everyone who cares about the Island.

I am now working on a book about Thomas Jefferson and John Adams and their crisscrossing lives. Adams lived to be a very old man in Quincy. Ralph Waldo Emerson went out to visit John Adams one day, to see how he thought about things, and Adams said a very interesting thing. He said, “I would to God there were more ambition in the country, ambition of that laudable kind, to excel.”

Not to get rich, not to be famous, not to be powerful, but to excel.

I think that with the brainpower and motivation and the friendship that we have represented here tonight, we can excel in what we do to protect, and save, and pass on this treasure of Martha’s Vineyard.

On we go.