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Martha’s Vineyard Preservation Trust

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From the Flying Horses Carousel in Oak Bluffs to the Old Whaling Church in Edgartown and Alley’s General Store in West Tisbury, on any given day, many Island residents and visitors will walk in, drive by, or pass through a building maintained by the Martha’s Vineyard Preservation Trust.

With an operating budget of $1.5 million for 2014, the trust maintains 20 properties around the Island, many of them acquired when the trust was founded in 1975.

A private, not-for-profit organization supported by contributions from the public and through the management of historic properties, the trust has three special events each year, which generate nearly a third of its income. They are the Taste of the Vineyard gourmet stroll, the Patrons’ Party and Auction, and the generations’ picnic.  In 2013, the combined revenue from ticket sales and auction receipts from the three events was $553,260, Chris Scott, executive director of the trust explained this week.

Hosted by the Edgartown Preservation Trust, Taste of the Vineyard is one of the season's most popular events, raising $465,000 last June.
Hosted by the Edgartown Preservation Trust, Taste of the Vineyard is one of the season’s most popular events, raising $465,000 last June.

“The annual return from events varies from year to year, largely based on the items that are donated to the Patrons’ Party silent and live auctions,” Mr. Scott wrote in an email to The Times. “We get different items each year and the attendees differ somewhat as well.”

He stressed the importance of a good economy to the success of his organization’s preservation efforts. “Auction bidding generosity can be affected by the economy. When the economy is robust, people can be generous; when the market has had a very significant setback, that will affect auction performance.  That said, our income each year is generally evenly divided between special events receipts, contributions, and property generated revenues.”

While fundraising events account for some of the trust’s operating costs, the majority of its annual budget is fueled through rentals for events, including weddings and private functions.

“Property income is extremely important to the trust’s annual budget,” Mr. Scott said. “Throughout the trust’s properties, we have numerous tenants that pay annual rent — this provides a stable base to our overall income.  However, as with auction receipts, user fee income is also affected by the health or weakness of the economy.  Weddings, for example, cost more to produce on the Vineyard than on the mainland, and when people are feeling conservative, they will pull back and economize.”

The Daniel Fisher house, on Main Street in Edgartown.
The Daniel Fisher house, on Main Street in Edgartown.

Janet Heath, the trust’s director of special events, said her team is already gearing up for wedding season.

“It’s going to be a good season,” Ms. Heath said. “We’re already ramping up for the summer, and we’re anticipating a lot of activity.”

Ms. Heath said a majority of the inquiries to rent one of the properties comes  from the Trust’s website. “People generally seem to know what they’re looking for even before they call us,” she said. “Our properties are so specific, depending on the type of function or event.”

She said weddings are a big draw to a few of the venues, particularly the Old Whaling Church, Union Chapel, and the Dr. Fisher House in Edgartown.

“Weddings bookend the season with June and September being the most popular,” Ms. Heath said. “The second weekend in September somehow always seems to be the most popular date every year for weddings.  We do take wedding bookings in July and August, too, but September takes the cake.”

Built in 1840, Dr. Daniel Fisher House on Main Street in Edgartown rents for $3,000 per day and is among the most popular venues for weddings and private functions, Ms. Heath said.

“We have a fair number of weddings booked in any one of these venues already, but that seems to be the biggest draw,” Ms. Heath said.

Ms. Heath said performing arts events take charge in July and August, with a peak in August.

“The fireworks and fair week is usually the busiest,” Ms. Heath said. “The backbeat to it all is the steady schedule of the Vineyard artisans festivals, farmers’ markets, and the antique emporium at the Grange Hall, Memorial Day through Columbus Day.”

For more information about the Preservation Trust call 508-627-4440 or go to mvpreservation.org.

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Members of the Tashmoo Spring Building committee display their award. From left, Henry Stephenson, Patricia Carlet, Denys Wortman, Lorraine Wells, Aase Jones, Harriet Barrow, and Marie Laursen. — Photo courtesy Denys Wortman

Town officials work on many projects, but often they do not get to see physical proof of their labor. However, under their watch, over eight years, members of the Tashmoo Spring Building Committee saw a brick building crumbling beneath overgrowth restored to a space worthy of weddings and Island artists.

“The Town of Tisbury took on a daunting restoration project — the building was severely deteriorated and needed a significant amount of work to save it,” said Chris Scott, executive director of the Martha’s Vineyard Preservation Trust, of the project located at the head of Lake Tashmoo.

Photos show the decrepit state of the building prior to restoration.
Photos show the decrepit state of the building prior to restoration.

“The Preservation Trust was impressed with the commitment of the town and the vision of their committee,” Mr. Scott said. “The building is now fully handicapped accessible and restored in a manner that respects the architectural integrity of the structure. We applaud the Town of Tisbury for preserving this part of our heritage, for the enjoyment of generations to come.”

Originally opened in 1887, the brick pumping station was built to bring pure water to Vineyard Haven and West Chop. “It represents a historically important connection to the town’s past; an impressive industrial building that for many years supplied residents with fresh water,” said Mr. Scott. “It is also one of a handful of brick buildings on the Island.”

Because of their efforts, the Town of Tisbury Tashmoo Spring Building Committee recently received the Martha’s Vineyard Preservation Trust’s annual Preservation Award for its restoration effort. The committee members are Henry Stephenson, Patricia Carlet, Denys Wortman, Lorraine Wells, Aase Jones, Harriet Barrow, Ralph Packer, Joe Tonetti, Harold Chapdelaine, Sandra Kingston, Paul Brissette, Ruth DeWilde-Major, Marian Halperin and Marie Laursen.

The building had remained relatively vacant since the facility closed its doors in 1971, and it was in a dangerous state of disrepair. In 2004 engineers deemed the crumbling chimney a liability, and the Town of Tisbury was faced with a decision.

Henry Stephenson (left) ad Denys Wortman inside the town of Tisbury's newest public space.
Henry Stephenson (left) and Denys Wortman inside the town of Tisbury’s newest public space.

“The chimney was going to come down by itself or we had to do something about it,” said Mr. Wortman, a former selectman. “People would not believe how bad it was.” Along with fellow committee members, Mr. Wortman decided that the Tashmoo Spring Building was worth saving.

At the initial town meetings, some town members disagreed.

“One of the hardest parts was explaining it in front of the town,” Mr. Stephenson said. “The engineers told us something had to be done, but some shouted at the town meeting, ‘get the bulldozer.’”

However, the committee insisted that the building be saved.

“As a committee, we all met at Denys’s place way back when,” Mr. Stephenson said during a recent tour of the building. “We talked about this being a centerpiece of this space. It’s not just a renovation of some nice little building. It’s something the town can use and appreciate.”

The committee delivered a finished product under the millions it was projected to cost, with the total renovation costs coming in just over $800,000. Campbell Construction served as the General Contractor for the restoration project and completed all of the exterior work. The entire project from conception to finish took nine years.

“We asked the town for $25,000 at the beginning to deal with the safety issue of the chimney. When the chimney repairmen were here, they looked at it and said they could rebuild it for a quarter of the cost,” Mr. Stephenson said.

After the initial money was granted to deal with the crumbling chimney, no further taxpayer money was used to restore the building. A combination of private donations, money raised from multiple fundraisers, and Community Preservation Act funds were used to finance the project.

“At the beginning of this project, we promised the town that we would keep restoration costs under $1,000,000 and we’ve been able to do this primarily through funds we have received through the Community Preservation Act,” said Patricia Carlet, manager of the Tashmoo Spring Building. “We could not have saved this incredible town asset without the support of the CPA.”

The building, consisting of three rooms, boasts high ceilings with brick and plaster walls. Carlton Sprague completed all of the interior construction while Eric Ward served as the architect.

“When we stripped this off, the lower level of plaster got left on. Looks terrific — artsy,” Mr. Wortman said, pointing to the walls in the main room. The main room also has a painting on the wooden floors indicating where the spring still remains. In the future, the wood may be replaced by see-through glass allowing visitors to see the water below.

One of Mr. Wortman’s favorite parts of the building is the courtyard that once held coal to fuel the pump-house. Now, remnants of the track that carried the coal cart into the building can be seen above the stone bench, built by P & P Masonry.

“The renovations turned out exactly as we wanted. We kept it very simple and straightforward so the building could be usable by a lot of community members for different reasons,” Mr. Stephenson said.

The building has two handicapped-accessible toilets that are also accessible for public events held outside.

“We’d like to thank the Water Works Company. Whether it was cutting the grass or shoveling, if something needed to be done they just did it. We didn’t have to ask,” Mr. Wortman said. “We are really proud of the way it came out. The whole town can be proud of it.”

The building became available for rentals in 2012. “Marsha Winsryg has produced a beautiful Solstice Puppet Festival at the building each June, The Vineyard Playhouse uses the Spring Building and grounds each summer for its theater camp, and we’ve had several artists rent the building for solo and group art receptions and shows,” Ms. Carlet said.

Tashmoo Pond provides an idyllic setting for the restored pump station.
Tashmoo Pond provides an idyllic setting for the restored pump station.

“We’ve booked retirement parties, an annual pig roast benefit for cancer victims called Hope Strengthens, surprise birthday parties, and wedding rehearsal dinners. The Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish Group will be hosting a benefit art show with a big reception this July, and our first wedding will also happen this summer.”

The receipts from these events will be used to maintain and preserve the Spring Building.

Day rentals range from $300 to $850, depending on the number of guests. Discounts are given to nonprofit organizations. For events over 150 people, portable toilets are needed. For further information on renting the Tashmoo Spring Building, call 508-696-4202 or visit tisburyma.gov.

Adrienne Forgette is a frequent Times contributor. She teaches English at the high school.