This Was Then: Wendell, Annourilla, and W.W. Douglas

Rebuilding after the Great Fire.

Wendell Crocker and Annourilla Clough stand in front of the newly erected W.W. Douglas store on Main Street, Vineyard Haven, 1883. Courtesy Chris Baer.

This photograph was made shortly after the Great Fire of 1883 burned down all of downtown Vineyard Haven. Rebuilding began immediately, and W.W. Douglas’ store was among the first to be erected upon the ashes of old Holmes Hole.

W.W. Douglas was a Derringer-toting Colorado cowpuncher who arrived in Holmes Hole in the 1870s. He ran the Boston Grocery Store on Main Street for a couple of seasons, selling sugar, molasses, pork, lard, beef, lamp chimneys, and tea, before being pulled into other ventures (including a Cuban fruiter). After the 1883 fire, he opened a new store, pictured here, selling hardware and crockery — everything from shovels, hoes, and axes to crayons for schoolchildren.

Douglas leased a portion of his store to Wendell Crocker, whose old dry goods and grocery store was reduced to the pile of rubble visible on the left. (The lot would remain vacant for more than a decade.) Another portion of the store was leased briefly as a shoe shop, and then as a millinery shop. Carpenter Horace Tilton lived in the tenement above the store.

Annourilla Clough, age 20 in this photo, was a music teacher. Her father, Capt. Benjamin Clough, became famous 40 years earlier, when as an 18-year-old third officer he nearly singlehandedly recaptured his whaling ship, the Sharon, after the captain’s decapitation by mutineers off the Caroline Islands. Annourilla’s sister married Crocker’s son about the time this photo was taken. (Annourilla would later marry teacher Henry Flanders.) Why she appears with Crocker in this photo is unclear.

Wendell and his brother Rodolphus Crocker came to the Vineyard from Hyannis in the 1840s. When they were children, their father had been murdered trying to talk down a musket-wielding friend who had barricaded himself in a house with hostages. From the 1850s through the early 1870s, the Crocker brothers kept a dry goods and grocery store in downtown Holmes Hole. Wendell’s wife, Sarah, is known to have invented or at least heavily promoted the name “Vineyard Haven” in 1871, after the townsfolk decided they no longer wished to live in a “Hole.” The Great Fire began just down the street in the harness factory of Wendell’s nephew, Rodolphus Crocker Jr. (today the site of the stone bank), and reduced both sides of the street to ashes and rubble all the way to Mansion House.

On Thanksgiving Day 1887, Bryan Ryan, who worked in Wendell’s nephew’s new factory and used a cane to accommodate his short leg, came into Douglas’ store smelling of alcohol, and had a heated argument with Douglas about a bill for a stove. As he left, Ryan allegedly threatened to return and “fix” Crocker, and “tear his tongue out.” The Martha’s Vineyard Herald reported, “After dark he knocked at Douglas’ front door. Mr. D. went out the side door and Ryan approached him with an uplifted cane, demanded apology, and struck at him. Douglas in retreating tripped and fell, and being at the mercy of his antagonist drew his revolver and fired, striking Ryan on the hip and second shot went through the overcoat.” Douglas was arrested, but the charges were ultimately dismissed. Ryan was treated for his bullet wound and sentenced to six months of probation.

This store would eventually become part of Vineyard Dry Goods. The building still stands, and is currently occupied by Bespoke Abode.