This was then

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

The Magnolia

Circuit Avenue, circa 1929.

Before Giordano’s brought Italian-American food to the foot of Circuit Avenue, the Magnolia Restaurant served steamed and broiled “live” lobsters and fish dinners to hungry Oak Bluffs diners during the 1920s and 30s. “We Serve Seafood” announced their signs (seen in other photographs) visible halfway to the harbor.

But have you ever wondered why an Italian restaurant has rooflines which evoke (sort of) traditional Japanese architecture? The building inherited its unlikely construction from its 19th-century owner – Macy’s, the Asian-themed souvenir shop which sold Chinese lanterns and goods as well as tennis shoes and postcards. Macy’s eventually became Dawson’s Lunch Room before the Magnolia opened, and in 1943 Wilfred Giordano Sr. bought the Magnolia from Walter Perkins in order to move his father’s restaurant here from the Pawnee House up the street.

Across Circuit Avenue, the Island Theatre opened in 1915 as the “Eagle Theatre” under the management of Vineyard Haven dry goods merchant Allen P. Eagleston. Although moving pictures had been popular here for well over a decade in a variety of venues, the Island is considered the Vineyard’s first modern movie theater.

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

Central House

Central House was once one of the grand summer boarding houses of the Campground — with 60 rooms, a large dining room, and an attached bakery, it was the largest commercial building on Camp Meeting Association property and one of the oldest hotels in Oak Bluffs. It was located on Montgomery Square, behind Circuit Avenue’s Arcade building.

President Ulysses S. Grant dined at Central House during his famous visit in 1874. The plain, unfinished-looking dining room had long tables seating rows of a dozen or more people in hard seats on either side. But it was also remembered for its excellent meals and friendly staff.

Renamed “Beatrice House” around the turn of the 20th century, Central House was finally razed in 1957, and the scrap wood used to build fish houses and other buildings at Menemsha Creek. The Everett House, visible on the left, was also razed. The lots were converted into a parking lot, which remains today.

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

Holmes Smith Grocery

The Holmes Smith grocery store, photographed here about 1905, occupied the building on the corner of Main and North Water streets in Edgartown, where the Edgartown Paper Store is today.

Holmes Smith, the bearded gentleman visible on the left, was one of nine children of Capt. Holmes W. Smith Sr. of Edgartown, co-founder of the New Bedford and Martha’s Vineyard Steamboat Company and captain of Edgartown’s first locally-owned paddlewheel steamer, the Naushon. While Holmes Jr. had a brief maritime career in the 1850s as a whaler, he quickly found his calling as an Edgartown merchant. He maintained his grocery store in Edgartown for more than 40 years. Albion Waight, one of the clerks visible on the right, later became an Edgartown carpenter.

A close examination of the photo reveals many familiar (if not necessarily local) grocery items — coconut, peanuts and bananas — as well as some familiar logos and brand names like Campbell’s soup, Quaker oats, Heinz condiments, and Rumford baking powder.

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

Wheelmen at the Casino

Gathering on an Island once known more for whalemen than bicyclists, the Massachusetts division of the League of American Wheelmen (LAW) mug with their bikes outside the Casino in Cottage City. Each summer during the 1880s and 1890s some 500 bicycle enthusiasts from all over New England gathered here for road racing and coasting contests. “Cottage City has over 40 miles of concrete pavement,” remarked the New York Times in 1894, “and thus affords better wheeling than any city in the country except Washington.” On the back of this photograph is inscribed the phrase “Hickory Hall” — a reference to an Oak Bluffs bicycle establishment run in the early 1890s by Richmond Stoehr, better known by his trick bike riding stage name “Dick Alden,” who may have been the local organizer of this event.

Built originally as a roller skating rink on the corner of Sea View and Oak Bluffs avenues (about where the bank is today), this massive building was retrofitted with a stage and scenery in 1886 and renamed “the Casino” — effectively creating a convention hall worthy of every organization from the LAW to the “Pleasure Seekers’ Social Engagement Club.” On July 4, 1887, 1,500 people (or by some newspaper reports, 5,000 people) gathered at the Casino to hear international religious superstar Rev. Dr. DeWitt Talmage of Brooklyn give his oration, while “profuse decorations of flags, banners, and Chinese lanterns swayed in the breeze.”

The Casino burned down in September 1892, together with the Sea View Hotel and a number of other neighboring buildings. “A southwest wind is all that saved the town” reported the papers. The LAW still exists today as the League of American Bicyclists.

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

Capawock

The Capawock Theater, Main Street, Vineyard Haven, circa 1919. This 320-seat theater was built in 1913 on property owned by the SBS grocery store next door. Not to be confused with the popular Capawock Hall on Spring street (a popular turn-of-the-century concert venue), the new Capawock Theatre was built specifically for “small entertainments and lectures.” One of the earliest managers of the Capawock Theatre was Michael J. Keegan of Oak Bluffs, who ran the theatre during the 1920s and 1930s. Keegan was an Irishman, born in Dublin, who came to Martha’s Vineyard to take a job plastering the newly-built Harbor View Hotel in Edgartown. In 1915 he bought the Pastime Theatre in Oak Bluffs, and then renovated the Odd Fellows Hall and renamed it the Strand. Finally, he leased the Capawock Theatre. In 1932 Alfred Hall of Edgartown bought the Capawock and hired Keegan to continue on as manager, and today the theater is owned and operated by Hall’s son, Buzzy. “Back to God’s Country” was a silent Canadian-made melodrama and Arctic adventure starring Nell Shipman. The most financially successful silent film ever made in Canada, it is often credited for having the first nude scene in a major feature film.

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

Norton’s Livery

Stable boy Willie Davis stands in front of Norton’s Livery Stable — now occupied by the Bunch of Grapes bookstore — circa 1905. The building was built just after the great 1883 fire by brothers Bayes and Leavitt Norton. The Norton brothers advertised excursions to the Vineyard Roller Skating Rink (sixty cents, including admission and skates), and delivered steamer passengers from the West Chop Wharf to Cottage City on their party wagons “Star” and “Moorlight” (ten cents fare). Their company delivered the mail to Cottage City, and were hired to move houses. The stables housed the town’s fire department for a period, and about the time this photo was taken the company was charged with transporting children to and from the Tisbury School. With the arrival of automobiles on the Island, the business slowly transformed from a horse livery into a car rental agency and riding school, and eventually into a taxi stand and shuttle bus service.

Ultimately employed as a chauffeur, Davis lived with his mother, Clara, a former slave from Maryland, in a little house adjacent to what is now the Steamship Authority’s parking lot. It was later moved to Look Street. He married a young Jamaican woman who had moved to town to work as a domestic servant, but he died shortly afterward at the untimely age of 36.

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

The Active

The engine “Active” begins its nine-mile journey to deliver visitors to the Mattakeeset Lodge and to clambakes at South Beach.

In August 1881, a writer for the New York Herald made the following observations from the window of his room at Seaview House:

“They have a railroad here which runs from Oak Bluffs wharf to Katama. The locomotive, all alone in its glory, makes a tremendous amount of noise, wasting a great deal of steam as it snorts and puffs, giving one the notion of a large sea lion anxious to get back to its native element. Here, where all is peace and good will, this turbulent little engine seems entirely out of keeping with the quietness which prevails. In total contrast to the racket created by little Active, the numerous steamboats which touch at the Sea View wharf or Baptist’s Landing often come and go without sound of bell or whistle. Usually the first intimation you have of the arrival of a steamer is a sudden influx of newcomers as they go surging up the avenue toward the city of cottages. Probably the steamers avoid bell and whistle in sheer disgust at the terrible din made by the little railroad demon which, as I write, is drowning every other sound as it shrieks and roars under my window.”

This narrow gauge railroad operated from 1874 until 1895.

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

The 1880s was the decade of tricycling, but as this unidentified Cottage City tricycler demonstrates, these were not childrens’ toys. A tricycling craze, started in England, had summer visitors to the Island completely in its grips for more than a decade, as bicycle and tricycle races became part of Cottage City’s annual “carnival of athletic sports” in the weeks leading up to the final illumination. At least one tricycle rental shop — sometimes referred to as the “tricycle stable” — was located prominently on Circuit Avenue.

One newspaper reporter observed in July 1885, “The number of bicycles and tricycles which have been brought to the Vineyard this season is simply enormous. Several hundred machines are already in use on the Island, and more are arriving by every boat. Nearly every young fellow in town has brought his wheel with him, and tricycling is fast coming into favour with the ladies. The roads here, being entirely of concrete, furnish excellent opportunities for the use of the machines, and the riders of the silent steeds fully appreciate this fact.” Another Cottage City visitor added in 1887, “Tricycle riding seems to be very popular with the ladies. The concrete streets are delightful for such exercise and a dozen or more ladies may be seen at almost any time in the morning or early evening gliding through the streets. Each carries a colored light in the evening and as the riders go darting around the effect is a pretty one.”

While most popular with women, it was not exclusively so. In the summer of 1887, three famous international oarsmen — famed previously for their sculling rather than their tricycling — squared off in a memorable ten-mile race: 140 laps around the Cottage City Casino in “rowing tricycles” — a sort of recumbent three-wheeler also referred to as the “roadsculler.” Rowers Wallace Ross, George Hosmer and John McKay launched their tricycles in front of a large Vineyard crowd to vie for the $300 prize. Ross was declared the winner, and entered the record books for having rowed the “almost incredible distance of ten miles in thirty-nine minutes” on his tricycle.

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Bathers

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

Bathers

Three unidentified beachgoers show off their outfits at the “bathing beach” in Oak Bluffs about 1920. Bathers arrived fully clothed and then changed into their bathing costumes in one the dozens of bathhouses visible on the left. Daredevils would dive from the wharves and rafts while others would climb the enormous boulder known as “Lover’s Rock” (off-camera to the viewer’s right), but most would forego the water altogether or simply bathe. The steamer wharf is seen in the distance where visitors would arrive on one of the aging sidewheel steamers arriving from New Bedford and Woods Hole. Bathing was not a popular activity until the end of the 19th century, and until 1896 the Martha’s Vineyard Railroad, connecting the steamer wharf to Katama’s Mattakeesett Lodge, dominated much of this waterfront.

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Government-sponsored health initiative.

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

Students from the old Tisbury School on Center Street march with towels and soap. In 1919 the Child Health Organization of America, in cooperation with the U.S. Bureau of Education, formulated eight rules to a “health game” in a broad effort to promote health education in schools across the country. The health game, “A Contest in Which the Government Plays,” was promoted throughout the early 1920s by the Red Cross, popular magazines, and future president Herbert Hoover, often through its mascot, “CHO-CHO the Clown.” Good Housekeeping magazine wrote, “The aim is to put the play spirit into health work, making of it a game whose rules are positive rather than negative. Every child wants to play a winning game.” In addition to the suggestion on these students’ sign, the other rules of the game included “Sleeping long hours with windows open, Drinking as much milk as possible, but no coffee or tea, Drinking at least four glasses of water a day, and Playing part of every day out of doors.”

The Center Street school included Tisbury Grammar School (grades 1-8) and Tisbury High School (9-12.) The high school also served, on a tuition basis, a few students from West Tisbury, Chilmark, and Gay Head. An overflow structure known as the “Portable Building” can be seen on the right, and Center Street is visible in the background. The school closed in 1929, and today the town tennis courts occupy this location.