This Was Then: Vineyard Haven Brass Band

Tradesmen, clerks, fishermen, and teenagers making music

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The Vineyard Haven Brass Band poses at the top of Circuit Avenue, circa 1900. —Courtesy Chris Baer

The 16-piece Vineyard Haven Brass Band stands at the corner of Circuit and Kennebec Avenues, Oak Bluffs, in front of what is today the Third World Trading Co. building, about 1900. From left: Sherman Swift (snare drum), unidentified member (cornet), Peleg Norton (mellophone), Joe Merry (alto horn), Alton Tuckerman (baritone), George Gifford (trombone), Fred Norton (clarinet), Harry Weeks (valve trombone), “Cirbia” Foster (cymbals), Art Swift (cornet), Frank Smith (cornet), Fred Peakes (cornet), Timothy Shugrue (bass drum), Roy Lair (clarinet), Clifton Clough (drum carrier), and Carl Lair (bass).

These young men (some teenagers, all but perhaps one under 40) were carrying on what was already an old Tisbury tradition of community musicmaking, and were a familiar sight at parades, carnivals, and even baseball games. (“The Vineyard Haven boys were confident of victory,” wrote the Boston Globe after one 1901 game at Waban Park. “They brought with them a brass band and enlivened the route to the park with cakewalk music, but returned playing dirges.”)

 

  • Sherman Swift (1885-1940) was a just a teenager in this photo, the son of grocer William Swift, who put the final “S” in “SBS.” Sherman eventually left the Island to become a writer and newspaperman.
  • Joe Merry (1873-1940) was a groceryman and West Chop postmaster, as well as the first overnight telephone operator on the Island.
  • Alton Tuckerman (1876-1968) was a tinsmith who had a sheet metal shop on Main Street, Vineyard Haven. One of the longest-playing town band members, he later played bass for the Nobnocket Club’s orchestra, together with Fred Peakes. (Stan Lair of Vineyard Haven recalled, “He could play just about any instrument you gave him, from a piccolo right down to a bass horn, including a trombone or anything, saxophone.”)
  • George Gifford (1867-1956) ran a popular general store — Gifford’s Store — in West Tisbury for several decades. He was also West Tisbury’s first town clerk after the split from Tisbury.
  • Fred Norton (1879-1948) was an Island fisherman and day laborer.
  • Harry Weeks (1873-1947) was a Vineyard house carpenter and caretaker.
  • “Cirbia” Foster was presumably Charles Foster (1857-1922) of Grove Avenue, fisherman and fish dealer.
  • Art Swift (1875-1963) ran a fish market on Union Wharf, and had a trucking business.
  • Frank Smith (1882-1939) was a Post Office clerk. He later left the Island for a career with the phone company.
  • Fred Peakes (1883-1958) was a Vineyard Haven plumber.
  • Timothy Shugrue (1862-1907) was among the longest-playing band members, and the night watchman and lamplighter in Vineyard Haven. Sent to the state orphanage after his arrest for burglary at the age of 8, he came to the Island as a young teenager to work at Crocker’s harness factory.
  • Brothers Leroy Lair (1869-1955) and Carlton Lair (1874-1945) also came to work as teenagers at the harness factory. At the time this photo was taken, Roy had his own harness shop, and Carl worked as a fishmarket clerk.
  • Drum carrier Clifton Clough (1888-1963) was the youngest in this lineup, and may not have even entered his teens by this photo. He soon left the Island and pursued a career in fire extinguisher and sprinkler systems.

 

The building in the background became, around the time this photo was taken, the Cavert Tea Room. Sisters Cora, Ellen, and Mae Cavert of Brooklyn, N.Y., ran a summertime art store and tea shop here. Cora was an embroiderer, and Ellen was a textile designer. In the 1920s they moved their operation to South Road, Chilmark, where the sisters opened a tea room and antique shop known as the Blue Barque.