Oak Bluffs: Learning from history


Flowers and people are increasing everywhere, and the sidewalks and streets are becoming for us, after a few months of staying-home instructions, pleasantly crowded. Most people seem to be social distancing, and for that we are grateful. This has been a difficult week for our country, our Island, and our town. In some areas, planned peaceful protests have turned into violent riots. How difficult for both the honest protesters and the honest police officers. I am so sorry for the hatred that still exists because of prejudice. Please be patient longer, and remember as Willa Cather, American writer, said, ”Where there is great love, there are always miracles.” It is beginning to seem like that is exactly what we need.

As I am a collector of all things historical, and thanks to my husband’s grandfather, who kept them, I have many Oak Bluffs Town Reports. The following information is taken from the annual Town Report and School Report of 1919, now over 100 years ago. “The general attendance for the period of this report — January 1 to October 31 — has been very good. After the reopening of the school being closed caused by the flu, we have not had to close for any reason. Some of the lower grades have been bothered with cases of measles and whooping cough. A few light cases of scarlet fever and diphtheria have occurred on the island. With proper inspection and follow-up work such as could be done by a school nurse, many of these cases of absence could have been prevented. An effort is being made to have in school every child between 7 and 16 years of age, unless he is given a certificate as the law provides. Recent legislation makes it compulsory for a child to complete the sixth grade before being granted a permit to stay out of school.”

So over 100 years ago, the school was closed also due to the flu epidemic, and because there was no vaccine or medicine to treat measles, whooping cough, scarlet fever, and diphtheria, people continued to be infected by these diseases. We are fortunate that now they can be prevented, but like the flu that was so deadly during that time period, we now face coronavirus. History can teach us so much, and perhaps we can learn to do better.

Our Oak Bluffs library is still closed, but there are some ways to connect with staff there. Facebook: facebook.com/illuminateob. They are very active on Facebook, adding new ideas, content, and programs many times a day for children AND adults. If you want to chat, feel free to message them at the library email: oakbluffslibrary@gmail.com. Questions about your account? Need help using the digital services? Email or call 508-693-9433. They may not be answering the phone, but they are accepting messages, and checking them regularly. You can also follow the library activities on Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.

Each week Tom Dresser continues to provide us with interesting info from his book “The Rise of Tourism on Martha’s Vineyard,” which will be published on June 22. The following is this week’s read:

“When Erastus Carpenter visited the Vineyard from off-Island in the 1860s, he recognized the potential for selling house lots on land near the Methodist Camp Meeting Association. He formed the Oak Bluffs Land and Wharf Co. in 1866, bought 75 acres of shorefront property, and hired a landscape architect to design a thousand house lots, a dozen parks, and a street that encircled the community: Circuit Avenue. Oak Bluffs was the first planned residential community in the United States. Carpenter developed a grand hotel with indoor plumbing, a novelty in the 1870s. Houses mimicked the gingerbread style in the Methodist Camp Meeting Association, and are known today as New England Carpenter Gothic, in honor of Erastus Carpenter. The two communities melded a symbiotic relationship, blending the religious and secular lives of their summer residents.

“Carpenter is credited with initiating Illumination Night in 1869, a tradition that lives on, though canceled in 2020.”

The subject for next week will be “Martha’s Vineyard in 1900.”

We send birthday smiles to Laura Hayden, and special smiles to my sister Ann Hearn, who will be celebrating her 80th birthday on June 5. Smiles to Jennifer Robinson on the 6th, Rory Moreis on June 7th, Robert Murphy on the 8th, Ernestine Kinnecom and Katharyn Colon on the 9th, Suzanne Walker and Lisa Williston on the 10th, and Hilde Combra on June 11.

We send happy anniversary wishes to Will and Susan deBettencourt on June 10.

Enjoy your week. Peace.

If you have any Oak Bluffs Town Column suggestions, email Megan Alley, meganislandmegan@comcast.net.