This was then

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Bathers — Photo courtesy of Chris Baer

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. — Courtesy of Chris Baer

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.

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Girdlestone Park, Oak Bluffs. — Courtesy the collection of Chris Baer

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

Girdlestone Park

Osgood Mayhew, Bert Bradley, Frank Bodfish, Clyde Mayhew, and Carl Lair pose with their horses, Gano Wilkes, King Benton, Alert, Mable, and Coasterine at Girdlestone Park, Oak Bluffs, about 1909. This popular half-mile circular racetrack, cut out of the scrub oak by local farmer George Smith, was located off Barnes Road not far from the present-day roundabout. Remains of the foundations of the viewing stands can still be seen from the road between the two entrances to Deer Run. It was not saddle horse racing, but rather two-wheeled “sulky races” which drew both horse enthusiasts and gamblers to these popular events. Tourism ads in off-Island newspapers of the time boasted: “Lovers of the harness horse will see some very spirited racing during the season at Girdlestone Park at Martha’s Vineyard.” Girdlestone was only one of two popular Island racetracks, the other being “Whiting’s Farm Trotting Park” located near “Dead Man’s Curve” in West Tisbury, across State Road from the cemetery.

Cap’n George Fred Tilton recalled his days racing (and wagering) at Girdlestone during the winter of 1906-7 as part of a local driving club. “A bunch who were always racing for anything from a plug of tobacco to a sack of oats used to meet pretty regular…. We induced quite a number of men to bring horses from the Cape and New Bedford to race at this track, Girdlestone, and Whiting’s track at West Tisbury.… Fast horses were brought to the Island and faster horses were bought by the Vineyard boys, so that we made a pretty good showing every time we turned out.”

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Photos of long ago Martha’s Vineyard.

Circuit Ave., 1920. — Courtesy Chris Baer

Fred Metell

An unidentified (but quite dapper) couple poses in front of their automobile on Circuit Avenue, Oak Bluffs about 1920. Fred Metell, whose sign appears in the background, was a popular Oak Bluffs plumber who later sold the Island’s first electric refrigerators. His father, José Pimental, arrived on the Vineyard in the 1870s from Flores Island in the Azores; his name was corrupted to “Joseph P. Metell” and he became the progenitor of the Island’s Metell family. The sign beyond reads “The Monohansett – Furnished Rooms,” a hotel or boarding house presumably named after the Island’s storied 19th-century steamer of the same name. The building on the left was the post office.

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