The Sea View House is remembered 140 years later

The elegant interior of the Sea View House dining room attracted many distinguished guests.
Photo courtesy of Bill Milhomme

The elegant interior of the Sea View House dining room attracted many distinguished guests.

Monday, July 23, will mark the 140th anniversary the grand opening of the Sea View House in Oak Bluffs. There is nothing left of the original structure that burned to the ground in 1892. But years ago, the most important commercial buildings of that era were the large resort hotels, and the Sea View House was preeminent among them.

Why recall a destination hotel that was built and disappeared without a trace in the late 19th Century? I think is worthwhile to bring to the present the lives and the simple pleasures that were enjoyed by earlier generations.

The Sea View, situated at the head of the Oak Bluffs Land and Wharf Company steamship wharf, was built by Erastus P. Carpenter, a major stockholder in the enterprise. Carpenter, who hailed from Foxboro, built similar hotels on Nantucket and Shelter Island, New York, during this era.

The Sea View was built at a cost of $102,000 with a further cost of $30,000 in furnishings; five stories high on the waterside and four on the inland elevation, it measured 225 feet in length and 40 feet in depth. It contained 125 rooms, office, parlor, spacious dining salons and reception suites. Speaking tubes connected every room with the office; the whole hotel was lit by gas, and warmed by steam heat.

The July 27, 1872 edition of the Seaside Gazette described the dedication and grand opening of the Sea View House.

“The good steamer Martha’s Vineyard arrived at the Oak Bluffs wharf at 4:05 pm, as all who were in that vast crowd that lined the bluffs can testify, and commenced discharging her distinguished freight. The New Bedford Brass Band was on the wharf, and saluted the guests with ‘Hail to the Chief.’ When the passengers were landed, with the band in the lead, they proceeded up the wharf and into the hotel, whose spacious doors were wide open, and whose genial hosts were personifications of the welcome displayed upon the front mat.

“Among the 500 guests present we noticed His Honor Lieutenant Governor Tucker, Hon. Oliver Warner, Secretary of the Commonwealth, Hon. Charles Endicott, Auditor of Accounts, several members of the Executive Council, President Coolidge, of the Senate, Hon. Ginery Twichell, M. C., Hon. Aloah Croker, M. C., Hon. Josiah Quincy, Hon. Francis Dewey, of the Superior Court, Hon. Thomas Russell, Collector of the Port of Boston, John E. Sanford, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Amasa Walker, of North Brookfield, Hon. George B. Loring, of Salem, the Board of Harbor Commissioners, nearly all the state senators, some of the representatives and other public gentlemen.

“The supper was appointed for 5 o’clock; but by reason of the delays incident to assigning rooms to so many it was nearly 7 when the hungry party sat down in the immense dining room. After the invoking of the Divine blessing by the chaplain of the Senate, two hours were spent in discussing the numerous and inviting viands, after which the assemblage was rapped to order by Hon. E. P. Carpenter, chairman of the committee of arrangements. He introduced Hon. J. T. Pease, of Edgartown, who extended a cordial welcome to the party, ‘The Oak Bluffs Company, at whose invitation we have come differs from most other corporations in that it has a soul. Composed of gentlemen of intelligence, enterprise and energy at its head we find an amount of brains and excellent ability which but few Carpenters possess.’ Three rousing cheers were given for Mr. Carpenter.

“The band then performed a fine selection, after which Dr. George B. Loring, of Salem, was called upon to respond. This he did in his inimitable manner, evoking laughter and loud applause from the guests assembled. He hoped that every man, woman and child who desires, may have the privilege of occupying a cottage on the lands of the company at a reasonable rate. In behalf of the party, he thanked the hosts for their munificence, and wished them great success.

Governor Washburn being absent, His Honor Lieutenant Governor responded briefly for the State. On rising he was greeted with three cheers. He asserted that this hotel was the nearest like his own home of any one with which he was acquainted. Honorable E. B. Stoddard represented the Governor’s Council. He said the council was favorable to this kind of thing, and that if the proprietors meditated anything of the kind in the future, the Governor’s Council would lend their influence, and he hoped, their presence.

Honorable Oliver Warner was called upon to give the thanksgiving proclamation, which he did in a manner slightly less formal than usual, ending with ‘God save the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.’ [Loud applause].

“The exercises closed with a poem by Mr. Marden, of the Lowell Courier. This was a very happy production and elicited loud applause.

“The party then promenaded ‘around the circle,’ while the waiters cleared the large dining hall for a hop. This was participated in by a great number, most of whom were dwellers on Oak Bluffs, and was continued until the small hours. The band furnished excellent music, and ‘All went merry as a marriage bell.’ ”

On September 24, 1892, the Sea View House caught fire and burned to the ground in less than 40 minutes after the alarm was sounded. The fire originated in the basement near the kitchen, and it was thought resulted from a stray spark getting into the cotton waste that was near the engine.

The Sea View House was truly a preeminent tourist destination and major attraction for thousands of guests. The Sea View House structure may be lost to history, but its spirit of hospitality and recreation is alive and well.

Bill Milhomme is the Director of Volunteer Services at the Massachusetts Department of Correction. Previously, he served as the Reference Supervisor, Field Archivist and Deputy Coordinator of Historical Records at the Massachusetts Archives. He resides in Foxboro.