It takes a village
You can walk by a place many times and never really look at it until someone tells you what to look for. Without a guide, the history of any town cannot easily be read in the buildings and streets.
Last Saturday, the Vineyard Haven Library launched the Tisbury Village Quest (TVQ), a self-guided walking tour of historic points of interest in Vineyard Haven.
With verse directions reminiscent of an old-fashioned treasure hunt, the TVQ starts at the Information Center next to the Steamship Authority. It leads up Union, Main, and Spring Streets to the Katharine Cornell Theatre, then back down William Street and Colonial Lane to Main Street again, ending behind the library. Along the way, more poetry calls the questers' attention to details and recounts brief snippets of town history. The walk is about a mile and a half, including a return to the Information Center, and takes about an hour.
Saturday's launch festivities, sponsored by the Friends of the Vineyard Haven Public Library, included a stamp-making workshop and a roundtable discussion of the TVQ with four local history experts who participated in a workshop last spring, which led to the creation of the treasure hunt materials.
The Martha's Vineyard Times joined the inaugural TVQ promptly at 10 am, starting at the library, along with a half dozen others. By the time we had reached the second set of directions, we had coalesced into a single treasure-hunting team and decided that the TVQ is more fun in a group. Even though our group included Joel Buchwald's small children, Corbin (five and a half) and Tate (not quite four), we easily finished the walk in an hour (Tate rode some on Joel's shoulders). Other inaugural questers were Jacque Cage, Kirsten Schuele-Van Aken, and Shawna-Kaye Brown.
Many of the points of interest were familiar, but none of us had ever noticed the fleur-de-lis and the eight-point star worked into the shingles at the peak of the Chase House on Union Street, the oldest surviving building in Vineyard Haven (1721). Nor had any of us ever noted the small Vineyard outline in the stained glass window of the Methodist Stone Church, or known that one of the figures depicted there is Congregationalist Thomas Mayhew Jr., the first protestant minister to convert Native Americans.
Questing is a place-based education model of creating treasure hunts in order to collect and share a community's distinct natural and cultural heritage - its special places and stories. It was born out of a 150-year-old tradition in the region surrounding Dartmoor National Park in southwest England and was transplanted to America in a program called Valley Quest in Vermont and New Hampshire. Questing was first brought to Martha's Vineyard by Suzan Bellincampi, who developed one for Menemsha Hills Reservation.
According to a press release, the Tisbury version started late last spring at a workshop sponsored by the Martha's Vineyard Museum and was coordinated by Steve Glazer, founder of Valley Quest. Participants in the workshop included Tisbury historian Jim Norton and seniors Ruth Stiller, Betty Honey, and Bob Tilton.
Photo by Dan Cabot
As part of the launch festivities on Saturday, these elders returned to talk about the finished Quest. While public attendance was sparse, the historians had a lively discussion, swapping anecdotes. As often happens with oral history, some of their accounts differed. Jim Norton's explanation for the origin of the name Drummer Lane shows up in the Quest rhyming directions:
To the left of the house can you find Drummer Lane?
A horse kicking its stall gave the pathway its name.
But Ruth Stiller thinks the lane got its name from a boarding house there that catered to traveling salesmen, called "drummers" in earlier times. Mr. Norton will check his source.
A TVQ rhyme shows the walker where the great fire of 1883 began - in the Craker Harness Factory, which was across the street from the present Bank of Martha's Vineyard. At Saturday's discussion, Betty Honey recalled hearing an eyewitness account of where the fire ended, a house at the site of the present Martha's Vineyard Savings Bank, stopped there by a woman and a stranger who protected the roof with quilts soaked in water carried up in buckets. One could say today (but probably shouldn't) that the fire burned Vineyard Haven from bank to bank.
Other town Quests are available for Edgartown, West Tisbury, Oak Bluffs, and Aquinnah. There are also Quests for the Martha's Vineyard Museum buildings, the West Tisbury library, Felix Neck, and two for the Island Home.
For more information, go to questmv.org. Quest Martha's Vineyard receives grant funding from summer resident Davis Weinstock.