The roads of West Tisbury are full of curious names. Some of their stories we know; others are seemingly forgotten.
Who, for instance, was “Tiah” of Tiah’s Cove Road? (You know, the road New Lane becomes after the bend?) Nobody seems to remember. Old records (and a few old-timers) refer to it as “Tyer’s Road” and “Tyer’s Cove.” There are references to it — sometimes also spelled “Tyres” — as early as the 1870s. But there were no families with the surname Tiah or Tyer living on the Island, historically, although there were a few West Tisbury men with the first name “Melatiah.” Some wonder if it could refer to someone who ties nets. Others theorize it could be the corruption of a Wampanoag word. Homer’s Pond Road, for example, isn’t named after someone named Homer, but was rather a corruption of the 17th-century place name “Pasqunahamman.”
Jennie Athearn Road (which skirts Homer’s Pond) is named after Jennie Lind Athearn (1832-1929) of Scrubby Neck (sometimes referred to as “Athearnville”). Dionis Coffin Riggs wrote, “[Athearn] was the last resident of the Scrubby Neck community where formerly there were stores, a school, and many houses. She refused to ride in an automobile, but walked each week four miles to the center of West Tisbury for supplies.”
The “James” of James Pond Road is none other than the Duke for whom our county is named. Later known as King James II, he never visited the new world, let alone West Tisbury.
Was Walter Hillman Road (off Indian Hill Road) named after Capt. Walter Hillman Sr., early 19th-century storekeeper and master of the whaling ships Ann Alexander, Java, and Rousseau? Or his son, the Rev. Dr. Walter Hillman Jr., who went on to become president of Mississippi College and a school that would later be named Hillman College?
There’s John Hoft Road off Lambert’s Cove Road. Hoft, a German immigrant, is said to have been shipwrecked here. He grew prizewinning cranberries and apples, and may have been connected with the mysterious Baron Von Horst’s failed hops enterprise.
Speaking of hops, there’s Hopps Farm Road, whose origins remain a mystery. There are no obvious historical records of any Hopp families here. Could it refer to the beer ingredient?
Mott’s Hill Road (which is off Ben Chase Road) is named after Samuel Mott, a private in Colonel Mayhew’s Chilmark militia in 1757 who later served as Surveyor of Highways for the town of Tisbury. Don’t confuse it with the Mott Hill Road in Vineyard Haven; perhaps they were a single road at one point.
Otis Bassett Road is named after the Otis-Bassett Line, which once legally defined the bounds of Tisbury. The border was surveyed in 1709 by Col. John Otis, Esq. and Col. William Bassett III of Barnstable and Sandwich. They redefined the bounds of “the Indian Town” (Christiantown) in the same survey. Otis was a powerful judge and legislative representative who was later appointed the “Indian Justice” for the county of Barnstable; he owned an enslaved Wampanoag girl whom he purchased at the age of seven. (In her late teens, she was indicted for burning down his house.) Bassett, like Otis, was a judge and legislator. Neither lived on the Island, although Bassett’s brother, Nathan, was a Vineyard resident and ancestor to the Island branch of that name.
Nabs Corner, on State Road near the Chilmark border, according to historian Charles Banks, “derived its name from one Abigail Dunham, single woman, who lived near there, before 1800, and achieved considerable notoriety during her life.” He doesn’t elaborate further.
There were at least three Mayhew Nortons from West Tisbury, but Mayhew Norton Road, off Indian Hill Road, was named after the north shore stone mason of that name who cut stone near this road until his death in 1865. He lost three fingers on his left hand while blasting a rock from a well as a teenager; his brother seriously injured his leg in the same accident.
Leona Lane is named after Dr. Leona Baumgartner (1902-1991) who owned a farm here. Dr. Baumgartner was the first woman to serve as commissioner of New York City’s Department of Health, and became a celebrity in 1956 when she assisted in the inoculation of 21-year-old Elvis Presley on the Ed Sullivan Show. Polio immunization among American teens rocketed from 0.6 percent to 80 percent over the next five months, and Dr. Baumgartner’s act was widely credited for its spectacular success. Nat’s Farm Lane and Elias Lane were both named for her first husband, Nathaniel Elias, a chemical engineer; Alex Way was named for her second husband, Dr. Alexander Langmuir, a noted epidemiologist. Many up-Islanders remember Dr. Baumgartner and her family. Albert Fischer writes, “I remember Leona giving me a shot once. I don’t remember what for, but I do remember the shot.”
Davis Look Road (sometimes referred to as Orin Look Road) near Ghost Island Farm is named after father-and-son West Tisbury farmers Orin (1847-1914) and Davis Look (1873-1964). Orin won the contract to provide 300 tons of “large stone” for Beach Road in 1897, while Davis is remembered for his attempts to capture the mysterious Chilmark ape in 1915.
Scotchman’s (Bridge) Lane is named after Robert Cathcart, who may have built the bridge, or for one of his sons. Cathcart settled in Tisbury before 1690, and family tradition holds that he had been involved in some of the border or clan wars before emigrating from the lowlands of Scotland. He is said to have received a wound from a bullet from one of those battles which he carried inside his body until his death.
Much has been written about Edgartown physician and bakery owner Daniel Fisher, namesake of Dr. Fisher Road. And to learn more about the Cedar Tree Neck trap fisherman for whom Obed Daggett Road is named, you should read his son’s book, “It Began With A Whale.”
Danls Way is presumably named after Daniel Manter, who lived upon it. He and his wife Lillian are best remembered for building the nearby Youth Hostel in the early 1950s.
Historian Charles Banks wrote at length about 17th-century “instigator” Simon Athearn, for whom Simon Athearn Way, near Paul’s Point, is named. Athearn, who helped lead a boldly rebellious attempt to take advantage of the Dutch seizure of New York and break the Mayhew family’s authority over the Island, angered the Mayhews to such an extent that “for the remaining years of their lives it was a vendetta that knew no surcease”.
Waldron’s Bottom was named after West Tisbury residents Tom Waldron (1918-2000) and/or his father Raymond. The Waldrons have resided in West Tisbury since about 1717.
West Tisbury has some “paper roads,” too, that do not yet exist physically in this universe, like Joseph’s Cove Road (who was Joseph?) or Ned’s Way (who was Ned?). But that doesn’t mean they don’t have real history attached to them. Jim Green Road, a paper road inside the Pond Road development, evidently refers to Edward “Jimmy” Green (1865 -1938), a native of the island of St. Helena, whose farm, according to Riggs, was “where the heath-hen made its final stand against extinction.”
There are loads more: Bartimus Luce Road, Dolphine Merry Road, Shubael Weeks Road, John Cottle Road, Ephraim Allen Road, Joe Viera Road, Edson Forrest Road, Joe Walker Road, Ichabod Allen Road, Lucy Lovelace Path, Ben Luce Path, Bradley Martin Road, Sarita Walker Road, Tom Nealon Road, Skiffs Lane, Foster Way, Crowell Lane, Cournoyer Road, Atwood Lane, Dumont Drive, Murphy’s Road, Merry Farm Road, Rogers Path, Littlefield Lane, Kaeka Lane, Seth’s Lane, Robert’s Way, Charles Neck Way, Kaitlyn Farm Way, Bea Lane, Rebekah’s Way, Stephen’s Cross Path, Amelia’s Way, Dylan’s Way, Tessa’s Way, Carl’s Way, Scotty’s Lane, Amos Lane…
(Many thanks to Cynthia Aguilar for her work mapping the forgotten roads of West Tisbury circa 1892. Do you know a story about the namesake of a West Tisbury street? Please share! My email: firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Chris Baer teaches photography and graphics at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. His book, “Martha’s Vineyard Tales,” containing many “This Was Then” columns, was released in 2018.