Historical Perspective: Hine’s Point Capers

Chunk’s Hill from the east. From C. G. Hine’s 1907 History of Cedar Neck Martha’s Vineyard. Hine wrote that “What we have known for the last thirty years as Oklahoma was formerly called Chunks (or Chunx) Hill. — Photo courtesy of Martha's Vineyard Museum

Martha’s Vineyard’s history is a rich narrative of people and events. In a regularly appearing series, The Times has invited the Martha’s Vineyard Museum to draw on its unique cache of contemporary photos and first-person accounts to describe interesting but often unfamiliar moments in Island history called to mind sometimes, but not always, by present dates.

Hines Point juts out into Lagoon Pond in Vineyard Haven. Conveniently located close to town, yet relatively sparsely populated, the point is named for the Hine family, who had a summer home there from the early 1870s through the 1920s. Much of what we know about the place over that period of time comes from the writings and photographs of Charles Gilbert Hine (1859–1931). Hine and his brothers owned an insurance publishing house in New York City and lived in Wooddale, New Jersey, and later in Staten Island, N.Y.

The family acquired the land in 1873 and Hine’s father tried to develop it by dividing it into 98 house lots. C. G. Hine was thankful for the failure of his father’s plans because it allowed the land, which was then called Cedar Neck, to become the site of decades’ worth of secluded summer visits for his family and their guests. In 1907, he wrote, “Father had no intention of turning the neck into a Lonesomeville, for he had it duly surveyed by Mr. Horatio N. Pease, of Edgartown, and laid out in lots, that all the world might share in his good fortune. But no one wanted any of the lots as it turned out, and now we rejoice exceedingly that such was the case, for today we are all monarchs of all we survey provided, of course, there is a good thick fog on, or we do not look over the edge of the bank.”

So far we have a familiar story. A family has property on Martha’s Vineyard and returns summer after summer. Children grow up there. Storms take their toll, but the family rebuilds. The family members take photographs to record their time on the Island, gatherings of friends, sojourns to Gay Head and other Island spots, and their sailing trips and boats.

But this story is a bit different because Hine turned the documentation of his summers into a lifelong project, creating a series of beautiful handmade books illustrated with artfully composed photographs. Hine was a dedicated amateur photographer, a passion he shared with his brothers and his father, who was serious enough to install a darkroom in the Vineyard house “for those who would photograph.”

We don’t know whether C. G. Hine made the books alone or with others, or even how many he made, but there are seven of them in the collection of the Martha’s Vineyard Museum, dating from 1884 through 1928, and most were donated in memory of Mary Risk Hine. Some are called Hine’s Annuals and have dates embossed on their spines. One is called, “The Caper Club at the Cedars,” a title expanded inside the book to read, “Log of the Caper Club: A True Account of an Expedition in search of pleasure in the year of grace 1892 (with copious omissions).” The books are fragile and lovely, with shimmering platinum print photographs and brilliant blue photographs, called cyanotypes, tipped in.

An undated album opens with a page that has a cyanotype showing a white-bearded man, probably Mr. Hine, and a map of Vineyard Haven. Handwritten is the introduction, “There was a conspiracy to banish me to Cedar Neck. The Doctor suggested it, the children fomented it, the wife consented to it, and I went!” This echoes a sentiment that appears in other volumes. “When the family was home in Jersey accumulating chills and fever for Vineyard air to cure, Grandfather lived at the Mansion House in the village…”

The “Caper Club” book seems to have been a special effort. Not only does it have an unusual binding of leather and straw (from a floor mat), but many of the photographs were composed to emphasize the romantic adventure of a summer on Martha’s Vineyard: a woman looking off the porch through a spyglass, another in a kimono, a pair of young ladies on the beach, hair and skirts blowing in the breeze. One of them has given up and removed her hat; the other must hold hers onto her head to keep it from blowing away. Each of these books was carefully planned and involved a lot of hand work at many stages in the process of making it.

In addition to the “Hine’s Annuals,” which look like they were made by hand for a select audience (few of the people in the photographs were identified; it was probably unnecessary), Hine also wrote and printed a quirky and personal history of Cedar Neck in 1907 and a history of Martha’s Vineyard that appeared a year later. Many of the same photographs in his Annuals and other special books were used in the histories.

One dramatic story described in the history of Cedar Neck is the total destruction of the family house in the great storm of November 1898. The wreckage was photographed, of course, and the Hines used some salvaged bits of the old house to rebuild “further along the bluff.” Eventually the Hines sold their property. The last Hine’s Annual that we know of was dated 1928, two years before his C. G.’s death. We have not researched who, if anyone, lived there during the years between that date and 1948, when the famous cartoonist Denys Wortman moved into the house with his family, but Wortman’s son Denny describes finding the house and grounds in dilapidated and unkempt condition, waiting for another family to bring it to life.

Bonnie Stacy is chief curator of the Martha’s Vineyard Museum, on School Street in Edgartown. The Museum is open Monday through Saturday. Go to mvmuseum.org or call 508-627-4441 for more information on tours and exhibits.