Twelve years ago while driving down Vineyard Haven’s Skiff Avenue, I saw her. The little shack on the Lagoon, standing like a lone centurion, a rustic shed with a life and history weathered into her sides and peeling paint. Her double-wide window sills painted green and looking out over the peaceful waters while another single window watches Skiff. Her clapboard sides blend in with her door. The door has a porthole and rope handle which makes one think she has sailed on the high seas, a voyageur. But she has been standing there for nearly 90 years.
We bought a house near her, up the road, and my kids and I fell for her like a new friend, watching out for her, concerned for her soundness during rough weather and happy to see her each morning as we set about our day.
In those early days we sat on her dock (when it was strong) and watched dancing clams rise and merrily swirl back to the seabed. All around her the picturesque beauty of the Lagoon, full of sea creatures and natural serenity.
Over the years I came to see her as an historic landmark, a subject for the artist, a useful little storage for the scallopers, a working girl, and a local icon. In spring someone changed out the flower box under her single window with daffodils, and a scallop shell wreath hung on her door come December. The way she wore the snow on her slanted roof, or the glisten of calm waters that shone around her, gave her character, a classic Vineyard shabby-chic rustic look, and her pretty upkeep showed us she was loved.
And then we noticed her sliding decay; the waters flooding through her, the shingles falling away, her foundations splintering and rotting. The woman who owned her, Mrs. Bangs, the woman who I now know was the lady who took care of her with flowers and wreaths, passed away three years ago.
It seemed the shack was doomed to pass with the last caretaker.
Last month I saw a man at her door, bent in the summer heat, hammering and cutting, de-nailing and sawing. His name is Paul Bangs, the caretaker’s son, a fit man of about 60 with a busy air about him. I felt he could spare no time to talk, but when I expressed my interest and fondness in the shack, his story unfolded.
“Yes, I’m saving the shack,” he said, hammering a corner of the new wooden foundation. As he went about his work he told her story. He recalled her worst day and night, and the damage done during the perfect storm of Oct. 19, 1991.
“Stiripped her both sides,” he said, pointing his hammer to her siding.
He retrieved a copy of a New Bedford Standard article dated back to 1938 from his Ford Ranger pickup. It was a beautiful article about a man named Anton Svenson, who lived at the Marine Hospital due to injuries sustained at sea, and who then dedicated his life to building model-size replicas of the clippers, whalers, and windjammers that he would never again sail. A large man with big workman’s calloused hands, and yet he had the accuracy and patience to build these ships, modeled from sketches and memory.
The shack’s uses were first documented in this article as a little working studio for building model ships, then becoming the hardier shellfish shack. It passed from Anton and his model ship–building to Sam Newcombe, a fisherman who used it for scallop shucking and storing his gear. He shipped his three bushels he caught each day to New York.
Neighbor Bob Pratt was the next owner. He was a house painter and never did much with it. Then Stuart Bangs bought her in the early ’50s, and she was used by his son Paul for baiting codfish tub trawls.
With her decline, there has been a growing voice of concern from the community to Mr. Bangs. In true Vineyard fashion, with the concern came the help. Paul has received volunteer assistance from Rick Brown, the builder of the beautiful red houseboat we see moored at the marina near her. Rick will replace her windows. The Ingrams of Island Color Center have offered to create the replica paint at a Save-the-Shack discount.
Maggie St. Denis, Paul’s wife, has taken on the role of decorator for the makeover, and will be the flower tender and caregiver. Much thought and effort is going into restoring her. A carpenter called Justin (just-in-time) will oversee the woodwork and replace her siding.
Paul hopes to see her fully restored, well before the end of fall.
So with a loving overhaul and a new infusion of life, she has a good chance of outliving us all to watch over our beloved Lagoon.