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Updated, Oct. 26. Ed. note: We wrote about this house first last spring, but turns out it’s still on the market, and still an amazing house, with a rich history. Read on:
Walking up the path to 108 William Street is nothing less than breathtaking. The majestic waterview property provides a look back in history to the time Captain Benjamin Cromwell built this house in 1873. He built it as an emblem of his success as captain for The New Bedford, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket Steamboat Company’s steam powered sidewheelers, Eagle’s Wing and Monahansett. This commanding period home with perfectly proportioned cross gable and cupola was impeccably renovated and in move-in condition.
The Captain Benjamin Cromwell House was a departure from previous architectural styles and and a sign of the towns new life as a summer resort. Its difference is not only one of building style but also in the kind of nautical activity which paid for it. Captain Cromwell was not a whaling Captain or a maritime Master but a Skipper of the boat line connecting the Island to the world. He is reported to have carried 1500 passengers on the side-wheeler Eagle’s Wing to a prayer meeting in the “Oak Grove” on a single Sunday. As part of the effort to attract tourists to the Island’s natural beauty, a contest was held to find a name befitting a luxury tourist destination, and in 1871 the name of the town was changed to Vineyard Haven from the “salty and undignified” Holmes Hole.
Around 1830 the William Street Development was created as an oasis just outside of town. From 1830 to 1870 much of the construction in town was in the Greek Revival style emblematic of the successful men of the sea who could afford to build fine housing suited to their stature. The creation of William Street continued that tradition. The tall captain’s houses, built in stately Greek Revival fashion, seem to rest quietly in the leafy shade of the street. In the span of those 40 years over fifty houses were built on this hill, almost doubling the size of the older community along Main Street and the harbor shore below. One of five churches built in the area is now the town hall on Spring Street.
How fortunate we are for the decision to create the William Street Development. Much of downtown Vineyard Haven was destroyed in the fire of 1883 and William Street survived with its long stretch of homes in Greek Revival style. There are many homes in town dating back to the 1700’s but no single street in the village maintains its 19th century physical appearance and character as William Street. Cromwell’s magnificent house was not part of the William Street Development but a product of the town’s new life as a summer resort.
Of the few structures that survived the fire on Main Street, one was the Nathan Mayhew Schoolhouse built in 1827 which sits a block east of the Captain Benjamin Cromwell House on Main Street. A monument placed by the DAR in 1901 commemorates the spot with a bronze tablet on land given for the purpose by the self same Captain Benjamin Coffin Cromwell. The tablet was placed on a boulder brought from Gay Head at Mayhew’s request to honor his Native-American students.
The National Register of Historic Places lists William Street Historic District as running from Woodlawn Avenue to 24 William Street. Streets were laid out to accommodate house lots, but also to provide access to the Old Village Cemetery of Proprietor’s Burying Ground (Franklin and Center) in use since 1770 at the Methodist Meeting House, to which the buyers had rights. William Street stands as an early and successful effort of planned residential real estate development made possible by wealth accrued in the Island’s maritime community. The William Street Historic District is distinguished as the most intact surviving group of Greek Revival buildings in Vineyard Haven, including some of the finest Martha’s Vineyard architecture of the period. Under the protection of the William Street historic district, the residents of the street are subject to regulations about renovations that would alter the outside of their homes.
The Captain Benjamin Cromwell House is an excellent example of the Bracketed-Italianate style, strongly enhanced by its physical setting. The building sits on the highest point of a rising lot substantially set back from William Street. The lot is surrounded by an ornate cast iron fence. The building itself is three stories with a perfectly proportioned cross gable. Paired brackets and details are repeated throughout the exterior, beneath the eaves, bay windows, cupola and along the arcaded porch.
The architecture, water views, spacious front veranda approximately 440 square feet, interior spaces with 9’ and 10’ ceilings, crown molding, gleaming antique wood floors, horsehair plaster, and history will captivate the attention of the most discerning buyer. Truly a rare, in-town opportunity with access to the park, deep water dock, beach, harbor, and clay tennis courts only steps away. In summary, this property needs to be seen to be fully appreciated.
After standing breathless on the path to 108 William Street, I finally entered the Victorian arched, etched paned, double doors to the grand front hall featuring a dramatic winding staircase with a glass ball finial newel post and etched glass hanging ceiling fixture. I wandered slowly through the entire property taking in:
- Hand made crown moulding
- Carved white marble front fireplace covers and mantels
- The dining room which easily accommodates large gatherings
- The gourmet kitchen includes a La Cornue, five burner propane range, Viking side by side fridge, soapstone sink, custom cabinets, dishwasher, breakfast bar and additional countertops. (The countertops are custom made from Longleaf Yellow Pine salvaged during restoration on the well-known tall ship the Alabama)
- Heading to the second floor I had to pause at bay windows with village and harbor views
- On to a wonderful guest suite complete with wet bar and under counter beverage cooler, bedroom, sitting room, and recently updated full bath with marble shower.
- The third floor is an inspirational and airy fully renovated loft with superb water views of the Vineyard Haven harbor and beyond. This is a true get-away that allows the imagination to soar.
From the third level a stairway leads to the cupola — the crowning glory of this 1873 historic gem. With supreme water views of the harbor, rooftops, and beyond – north, south, east, and west. Enjoy sunrise, sunset, magnificent starry nights, moon gazing, and fireworks displays from ones very own perch. No other residence in town affords private studio space of this magnitude and with mesmerizing views. But do not take my word for it; come and see for yourself.
But what have I missed: blue crystal door knobs, guest house, ⅔ acre manicured grounds.
And what luxury home would be complete without its own 1871 outhouse.
More information about this property at 108 William Street. Listing broker is Viewpoints.
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