This was then: Ferry Boat Island

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.Ferry Boat IslandBefore the Great Gale of 1815 — one of the most powerful hurricanes to strike the Vineyard in recorded history — blasted the opening into the Lagoon now spanned by our drawbridge, the only entrance to the Lagoon was through a broad waterway, now filled, known as Bass Creek. This important inlet shifted somewhat over the years, but in its final form it began somewhere near the current Steamship Authority parking lot, crossed through the Five Corners area, and connected to the Lagoon about where the Martha’s Vineyard Marina is today on Lagoon Pond Road — roughly where the large white patch appears in this 1930s aerial photograph. Near the inner opening was a long, sandy island known as Ferry Boat Island, adorned in this photo with a small shack. It’s said that Bass Creek was once deep enough that an oceangoing brig could anchor in what is now the mucky shallows in front of the Marine Hospital. The harbor end of the Bass Creek was filled in 1835, although vestiges of the eastern end survived into the 1930s. Ferry Boat Island, on the other hand, has survived more or less intact to this day.

Isaac Chase, one of the Island’s first European colonists, was a wealthy Quaker who was ostracized by his fellow 17th century West Tisbury settlers. He was allowed to purchase land some distance away, instead — the undeveloped wilderness which is today downtown Vineyard Haven. Chase was given permission “to keep a publike house of Entertainment & to sell liquor” at his new remote harborside home, and to attract business he also began the Vineyard’s first commercial ferry service to Falmouth. He anchored his vessel at Ferry Boat Island, and so gave it its name.

A century later, after Bass Creek was closed and the ferry terminal moved, Ferry Boat island became the site of one of three “bug lights” — range lights used to navigate the harbor in lieu of a lighthouse. (The other two were on either side of the Marine Hospital.) Lightkeeper Moses Cromwell maintained a small bridge to Ferry Boat Island, now long vanished.