This Was Then: The Grove Hill Seminary

At one point it became a popular hotel out on West Chop.

The Rev. Marshall’s Grove Hill Seminary in Vineyard Haven was open 1870 to '73. Courtesy Chris Baer.

In 1868, the Rev. Horace Barrows Marshall moved to the Vineyard from Maine with his wife Annie and their three young sons. A graduate of what is now Colby College, the Rev. Marshall came to serve as the new pastor of the Holmes Hole Baptist Church, a tall white wooden church which dominated the center of town until the Great Fire of 1883 burned it to the ground.

In the summer of 1870, the Rev. Marshall erected a substantial new building, the Grove Hill Seminary, on a hill north of Holmes Hole, across from what is today the Unitarian Church on Main Street. It was a private school (possibly girls-only for a time). Marshall soon quit his job as pastor to become its principal.

The seminary was not particularly successful. Marshall moonlighted as the acting pastor of the West Tisbury Baptist Church, and after the birth of their fourth son Philip in 1873, the Marshalls closed the school and moved to Chelmsford.

Mrs. Love West, who for many years had been the proprietress of the Mansion House, bought the vacant seminary building and renovated it as a hotel, which she named the Grove Hill House. It became a popular and successful summer hotel for more than 20 years, and was a favorite gathering spot each summer for Army and Navy officers and their families from D.C. When the Great Fire burned down all of downtown Vineyard Haven, including the Mansion House, Grove Hill became a refuge for many local families made homeless by the inferno.

One of those Army officers was undoubtedly Lieut. Colonel Charles Barnett, an elite West Point graduate who served as deputy quartermaster general of the U.S. Army. His status in Washington was such that his elaborate Baltimore wedding to Miss Sallie Shoemaker was attended by General William Sherman (of Civil War fame) and the sitting president himself, Rutherford Hayes.

The Barnetts purchased the hotel upon Mrs. West’s retirement, renamed it Avenel, and converted it to a summer home. Along with their two sons, Charlie Jr. and Eccleston, the Barnetts summered at Avenel until 1902, when Col. Barnett was sent to a sanitorium in Battle Creek, Mich., for “suicidal mania,” and jumped to his death from its fourth floor at the age of 57.

Col. Barnett’s son Charlie, a civil engineer, lived at Avenel for another quarter-century. A concrete expert, he designed a number of Vineyard Haven’s concrete buildings, including Renear’s Showroom on Church Street (today known as Church Street Landing) and Vineyard Haven’s concrete water standpipe. Alas, in 1936 he followed his father’s dark path and intentionally shut himself in Avenel’s garage with a running automobile, ending his life at the age of 51. Avenel — the former seminary — was demolished not long afterward.

The names of the students who attended Grove Hill Seminary have been forgotten, except for two: Ellis Manter and Harriet Eaton, who attended the school as teenagers. Both grew up with modest means. (Harriet’s mother died when she was less than 2 weeks old, and she grew up on her grandparents’ farm.) Both came into wealth in their lifetimes, and both bequeathed significant sums to the community. The Harriet (Eaton) Goldberg fund is now part of the Permanent Endowment for Martha’s Vineyard, and the Ellis Manter fund, managed by the Tisbury School, continues to provide shoes, clothes, and other necessities for students in need.

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