This was then: Don’t do this

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Photo courtesy of Chris Baer

–Chris Baer teaches photography and graphic design at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. He’s been collecting vintage photographs for many years.

Vineyard Haven Harbor freezes over occasionally, although saltwater ice can be deadly to venture out on. In the old days, even the steamers were sometimes iced in. Woods Hole would close for days at a time, and ferries, when they were able to get out, would have to push through the inlet known as Robinson’s Hole, between Naushon Island and Pasque Island, to get to New Bedford. In the 1930s, Dr. Raymond Merchant, whose office and home were on Main Street, would sometimes walk out on the ice to make house calls to vessels in the harbor.

Historian Henry Franklin Norton wrote of the harsh winter of 1778 in his book Martha’s Vineyard. It came at the end of what had already been a dreadful year for Islanders, considering that British redcoats had plundered nearly all of the Island’s livestock and provisions that fall in the infamous Grey’s Raid. According to Norton, that bitter winter nearly finished them off. He wrote, “The snow in some places was up to the second-story windows, and the ice was so thick that it was possible to drive with horse and sleigh to New Bedford … In December, after a terrible northeast blizzard, a school of black bass was found frozen in Lagoon Pond. People from all parts of the Island hurried to the pond and cut tons of fish out of the ice for food, thereby saving many from starvation.”