This was then: Professor Gough

Photos of long-ago Martha’s Vineyard.

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Wheelmen pose in front of a turn-of-the-century Oak Bluffs bike shop, where the Martha’s Vineyard Savings Bank stands today. Photo courtesy of Chris Baer

Wheelmen pose in front of a turn-of-the-century Oak Bluffs bike shop, where the Martha’s Vineyard Savings Bank stands today. The signs read “Repairing & Vulcanizing, Renting and Riding Instruction” and “Prof. Chas. F. Gough, Instructor In Our Improved ‘Belt Method’ Bicycle Riding.” (A prominently posted flyer reads something about — a prohibition against? — “Biking through Arcade.”)

Professor Gough — presumably the African-American man on the far right — was the son of a former slave from Baltimore and a Vineyard-born mother of Dominican descent. Gough, who also sometimes spelled his surname “Goff,” was one of the Island’s first linemen, stringing wires from pole to pole during the off-season. He had an interracial marriage, highly unusual for the time; his white wife Flora was an English immigrant.

Bicycling on the Vineyard reached a height of popularity in the 1890s. A New York Herald columnist reported in 1893, “Circling cyclists have crowded Cottage City concrete until the carriages or freight conveyance have been nearly forced to the beach sand.”

Chris Baer teaches photography and graphic design at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. He’s been collecting vintage photographs for many years.