A grand Memorial Day picnic for all

Picnic on the grass, Tisbury Waterworks style - (from left) Tricia, Tim, and Felix Colon with four-legged pal, George. Photos by Alan Brigish

By Julian Wise - May 18, 2006

The Town of Tisbury opened its arms wide Monday to welcome the rest of the Vineyard community to the 2006 Tisbury Memorial Day Picnic. In a departure from previous years, the picnic has gone from a town affair to a festive Island-wide event. Families spread blankets out on the lawn by the old Tisbury Waterworks building and couples set folding chairs down while organizers prepared an enticing spread of hamburgers, hot dogs, steamed corn, lemonade, and ice cream. Ollie, a miniature horse, ambled among the picnic tables with small children on his back, and rowboats crisscrossed the pond's surface. The Flying Elbows performed their signature bluegrass music for the 25th consecutive year, adding a mellow, country feeling to the afternoon. Their songs were punctuated by the happy shouts and laughter of children running about.

Karen Burke, whose six-year-old daughter Maggie rode Ollie the pony along the lakeside, was a first-time visitor to the picnic. "This is such an amazing community event," Ms. Burke said. "It's one of the wonderful things about living on the Vineyard."

Adults had ample opportunities to relax while their children were kept busy with racing games, and hayrides on a flatbed cart towed by Max and Sonny Boy, two colossal Percheron horses from Fred Fisher's farm in West Tisbury.

Folks from across the Vineyard headed to the Tisbury Waterworks on Monday for an old-fashioned Memorial Day picnic under bright, sunny skies.

Nearby, a makeshift wire pen contained Frosty and Angel, mother and daughter miniature ponies. Part-time Tisbury resident John Barrow took a moment from admiring the equines to remark, "This picnic is a chance to get the town out, to set up a grill, see the animals, enjoy the music, and see a lot of your friends you haven't seen in a while. It seems bigger and better this year."

Brian and Jennifer Weiland arrived with their children Liam, six, and Avalon, four. They set down a blanket and spread out a lunch of sandwiches, salads, strawberries, and watermelon.

"Anytime you get a bunch of kids together with music, sunshine, and games, it's a good day," Mr. Weiland said. Half an hour later, he and Liam won first place in the three-legged race. After that, the Weilands climbed into one of the several rowboats available and paddled around the pond.

Lorraine Wells, chairperson of the committee to preserve the Tisbury Waterworks building, said the group had taken over the picnic's planning duties from previous dedicated stewards Dana Nunes and Isabelle West. "One of the aims of opening the picnic up to the entire Island was for other Vineyard folks to see the building," she explained.

(From right) Rick Bausman with his son, Hudson, and Jenn Farley, out for a row.

Ms. Wells reported that the committee has been submitting historic preservation grants to conserve the building and has received preliminary approval to designate the building a national historic site. Ms. Wells said the first steps toward saving the building will include stabilizing the deterioration of the structure and renovating it for use. There are no specific plans for use of the historic site if it can be preserved and restored, but ideas that have come up in brainstorming sessions include use as a conference center, museum, or wedding site.

Ms. Wells reeled off a list of facts about the old waterworks, such as its construction in 1887 by the original West Chop developers, and the mid-1970s effort to create a trout hatchery (trout still reside within the building).

After the picnic, Tisbury Selectman Denys Wortman, grilling up the last of the hot dogs that were donated by Cronig's Market, happily said the event went as well, if not better, than expected. "The weather was perfect, everyone had a great time, and I could not have been more pleased," said the enthusiastic selectman. "So many great volunteers helped out."

He believes the shift from town to Island-wide event is a positive development for the picnic. "It's a small community," he said. "It's Tisbury's gift to the Island."

Julian Wise is a frequent contributor to The Times, specializing in music, film, and the performing arts.