This was then: Owen Park

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.

Owen Park, 1932

Owen Park and Vineyard Haven Harbor, about 1932. The Bethel’s launch Helen May is the large vessel visible on the right; the little black dots on the left are people, venturing dangerously out onto the ice.

Vineyard Haven natives Ralph Look (1910–’85) and Stan Lair (1902–’87) reminisced about early 20th century winters in a series of recorded interviews:

Mr. Look: “Oh, sure. I’ve skated from East Chop to West Chop, back when I was 8 or 9 years old. Cold! You don’t see that today … I’ve seen it 32 below zero, too! The day that Henry Cronig’s house burned down at West Chop, it was 32 degrees below zero, might have been for two or three hours. On this Island, that’s the truth!”

Mr. Lair recalled a favorite sledding hill, near the south side of Owen Park, known as Doane’s Hill:

“Some of the more adventurous kids would start up on William Street, which meant sliding directly across Main Street, just hoping no cars would be going by. I guess they were lucky, ’cause I don’t recall any accidents there. And then slide on down the hill to the harbor, right onto the harbor ice. Less traffic in those days.”

Mr. Look: “I’ve gone down Doane’s Hill there, sliding, see? Right out to the breakwater, see? That’s a steep hill … I remember an incident of Herb Tilton going down ahead of me, and the harbor was all frozen over. Somewhere or other he got off of the sled and he went right under the ice. Someone aboard [a boat] pulled him out of there. If he hadn’t of, he wouldn’t be here today. Right under.”