This Was Then: Dolph

Snow plowing and house moving.


“I recall Dolph; his job in the winter was to plow the sidewalks after a snowstorm,” remembered the late Stan Lair (1902-1987) of Vineyard Haven. “He had a horse, and a small snowplow. In those days they didn’t plow the streets, they just plowed the sidewalks. So, Dolf would do that after a snowstorm.”

Rodolphus “Dolph” Manning (1872-1949) was the youngest of nine children of Wampanoag farmer Thomas Manning of Gay Head, and his wife, Rosabell Howwoswee. His aged father died when he was seven.

Dolph married at the age of 24, but his young wife, Jennie Vanderhoop, died in 1904 of “Typhus Malaria Fever,” leaving Dolph with a two-month-old baby daughter to raise. He never remarried. He spent the next two decades — the 1910s and ‘20s — managing the farm of Freeman Allen Look in West Tisbury, while his daughter Julia bounced between his home and the home of her maternal grandfather, John Vanderhoop, in Gay Head.

By 1930, Manning had moved to Water Street in Vineyard Haven, into a small house on the site now occupied by the building Stop & Shop uses for storage (formerly Golden Dragon). He found work with house mover Harry Horton, eventually taking over his business.

The late Basil Welch (1924-2011) recalled, “Dolph I remember was a Gay Header. He was quite a big man; quite a stout man, too. But he drove a team of horses for years, and he had a horse that used to wind the rope on the turnstile when Harry Horton moved houses, before Harry used a truck.”

Manning kept his horse, Togo, in Luther West’s barn, still visible at the bend in William Street just before you reach Look Street, at the top of Reynolds Lane.

Welch recalled, “You remember when he used to plow the sidewalks? He had a homemade V-plow and he used to stand on it for a little weight, and the horse, and he’d plow all the sidewalks in town of the snow.” Lair similarly recalled, “They only used to plow the sidewalks, you know. They never plowed the roads at all.”

The end came suddenly for Dolph. He died in 1949, at the age of 76, of “internal hemorrhage and shock.” Welch remembered, “I guess Dolph’s horse was the cause of his death. I guess it crushed him in the stall. It was kind of a wild horse, anyway.”

Rodolphus Manning is buried in Aquinnah.

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