Veteran Islanders talk about the good old days on Circuit Avenue
Residents who live close to Circuit Avenue claim that the noise coming from bars can be so loud their quality of life is affected. Granted, the instruments are probably more powerful and the lyrics less "easy listening" today, but longtime Islanders say Circuit Avenue has always been the Island's go-to place for entertainment.
"Kids used to be walking up and down the street when I was a cop in 60s," said Edgartown Superior Court Clerk Joe Sollitto. "Circuit Avenue has always been active. That's where people congregate on the Island."
Mr. Sollitto worked with the Oak Bluffs police department from 1968-1972, and he said the town was always alive with action. Instead of Sharky's and Season's it was The Boston House and David's Island House where people flocked, but it has always been the epicenter of Island stimulation, he said.
"Back then it was piano, it wasn't the same type of music and it wasn't quite as loud as it is now," Mr. Sollitto said. "But it's always been a meeting place for people."
In a copy of the Dukes County Intelligencer from 1983, Stuart MacMackin describes the mood of Oak Bluffs in his missive, "I was a Circuit Avenue street kid." Mr. MacMackin spent the summers of 1915 through 1921 in Oak Bluffs.
He recalls the Monkey Man and Hurdy Gurdy, two traveling musicians who would ground themselves in front of a hotel on Circuit Avenue until a crowd gathered. The Monkey Man had an organ suspended on his back, while Hurdy Gurdy was equipped with a five-foot long piano mounted on two large wooden wheels.
"He would crank the organ, which had a haunting whistle-like character, until a crowd assembled and then the monkey, which had been perched on his shoulder, would jump down and circulate among the crowd, extending his little red hat for pennies," Mr. MacMackin wrote of the Monkey Man. He described the organ's music as "loud and penetrating."
"On Sunday afternoons, the Oak Bluffs Band would play from the balcony above the porch of the Pawnee House as the people sat on the porch below and rocked to the time of the music while others just stood around in the street and listened," Mr. MacMackin wrote of the popular hotel. "It was a real community event and folks looked forward to it."
Business at Oak Bluffs hotels was booming, recalled 90-year-old Wilfred Lawrence, who grew up in the Campgrounds. "There were loads of people because we had the boats come in and out and they brought in passengers," he said. "It was bustling, and then some."
Mr. Lawrence said at one time there was a diner at the bottom of Circuit Avenue that was open 23 hours a day - closed one hour for cleaning. There was also a bowling alley and two pharmacies, which are now long gone. "When prohibition was repealed we had quite a number of places that served wine and beer, and up," Mr. Lawrence said of the local drinking establishments. "The big thing in those days was dancing. But you would be surprised, people were very well behaved."
Oak Bluffs was also a popular fishing port, which brought fisherman into town for quick, overnight stays, Bill Norton said. "A lot of the boats came into Oak Bluffs because 50, 60 years ago, there were fish," chuckled Mr. Norton, who was born in 1928. "A lot of the fishing boats stopped overnight and fished the next day."
Year-round stores, the presence of the Rod and Gun Club, and the absence of sidewalks made Circuit Avenue a colorful hub for revelers, according to Mr. Norton. "There were only two towns that were wet, Oak Bluffs and Edgartown. And Edgartown was six miles away - that was like going 60 miles in those days."