This was then: The Tea House

Photos of long-ago Martha’s Vineyard.

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The Betty Benz Tea House served lunch and afternoon tea at the Lagoon Bridge until its destruction by hurricane. “For ‘Tea’ we serve a ‘Betty Benz Special,’ consisting of cinnamon toast, assorted sandwiches, hot or iced drinks, and homemade cake. Ice cream, too, if you want it,” its owner exclaimed in a 1922 Woman’s Home Companion feature.

While part of the building may once have served as the draw-tender’s office, by 1915 it was already known as “the Tea House at the Bridge,” or the Eagleston Tea House. It stood at street level on the approach to the original, hand-cranked drawbridge, which was much lower than subsequent drawbridges and crossed by the electric streetcars. A New York Herald columnist described “great earthen hanging baskets of brilliant geraniums, which brighten the pergola.” The tea house was originally operated by dry goods merchant Allan P. Eagleston, who also founded the Eagle Theatre on Circuit Avenue (better known today as the “Island”). Eagleston and his brother opened a series of grand but short-lived dry goods stores in Vineyard Haven — the Vineyard Haven Cheap Store, the Boston Store, and the New York Store — as well a second movie theater, the Capawock.

By 1920 this shop had become the Hawaiian Tea House, run by Hawaiian native and New York restaurateur Mary Wilder Gunn, featuring a full Hawaiian menu and decor, and by 1922 it became the Betty Benz Tea House, a prizewinner in the Woman’s Home Companion’s “T-Room Contest,” specializing in lobster and chicken dinners.

A landmark for decades, it was completely destroyed in the September 1944 hurricane. A private home was later built on this site, but demolished in 2013 to make room for our latest drawbridge.

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