55 West William Street demolished

Modular classrooms unlikely to be placed on property.


A contractor for the town of Tisbury has razed and carted off the old house at 55 West William St. The demolition occurred last week, according to Tisbury Building Commissioner Ross Seavey, who issued the permit on Oct. 12. The contract price for the demolition was $215,200, public records show. 

The property was slated to be where temporary modular classrooms would be situated during the $55 million Tisbury School renovation and addition project. However, that no longer seems to be the case. Tisbury School Committee chair Amy Houghton told The Times on Tuesday, “We do not anticipate that we’ll put modulars on that site.” 

Houghton said she expects modular classrooms to be situated on Tisbury School grounds, in the vicinity of the parking lot. Houghton said the Tisbury School gym will likely be the first piece of the school to be demolished, and once this is accomplished, she expected the nearby area will be safe for modular classrooms. Ensuring kids aren’t crossing the street, and avoiding the costs and complications of new sewer and electrical connections are among the reasons the school committee would like to see modular classrooms on school property instead of at 55 West William, Houghton said. Houghton also said the meeting room at the town’s Emergency Services Building and space inside the American Legion were on offer to assist with temporary school accommodations. Houghton said the school committee is very thankful for those offers. 

Seavey ordered the house at 55 West William St. razed when fiscally practicable back on Oct. 20, 2020. His order required the property to be fenced off and denuded of utilities. Seavey previously said the house hadn’t been surveyed for asbestos, which could have caused it to be declared all-asbestos by the state. That didn’t happen, as Seavey said asbestos inspectors were able to safely examine the structure and take samples. Asbestos findings were limited to pipe sheathing in the cellar, he said. In addition to disposing of the asbestos, the town’s contractor disposed of the cellar too. Seavey said the foundation was taken away along with all other parts of the house. The town’s contractor also filled in an old cesspool, he said. As far as cleaning up the ground and carting soil away, Seavey said “nothing has been applied for,” at least to his office. 

Tisbury wasn’t the first to eye 55 West William St. for demolition. The 19th century home was targeted by Island Housing Trust (IHT) for affordable housing in 2017. However, IHT abandoned its plan to purchase the property and demolish the house when the Martha’s Vineyard Commission opted to schedule a public hearing on the demolition. The town of Tisbury then began the process of acquiring the property for $675,000 about a month after IHT bowed out. But it wasn’t until May 2019 that the town got to a closing

On June 11, 2019, select board minutes indicate the town had secured $4,700 to board up the windows and doors of the house and to remove part of a porch roof. 

Circa 2017 photographs posted on the MVC website show the interior of the 1880 house was in need of work, but apparently hadn’t deteriorated to the state Seavey described in his Oct. 20, 2020, order — ”major structural failure with several areas of collapsed floors,” and the threat of “catastrophic structure failure.” 

Language included with the MVC photographs quotes a Tisbury Historic Commission finding when IHT was interested in demolition: 

“The Applicant met with the Tisbury Historic Commission (THC) on May 3, 2017. The THC recommended conditional approval for demolition, submitted the following: ‘The THC acknowledges the property is over 100 years old … as such is both required and worthy of historical preservation consideration. Given the level of disrepair … the cost to renovate the property could prove prohibitive for the intended use by IHT. If IHT decides not to pursue this project, the demolition recommendations should terminate, as private use of the property as single family residence could be viable.’”

June 22, 2017, MVC minutes show commissioners had concerns about the destruction of the house and even the trees that grew on the property, which reportedly included a mature American elm and four mature lindens. On Wednesday only two lindens of the four appear to remain. The elm still stood at the back of the parcel, but its trunk was tied with tape, which may be a marker for a cutting down. Tisbury DPW director Kirk Metell couldn’t immediately be reached to comment on the trees. 

Commissioner Linda Sibley said “she thinks the historical trees are a significant part of the property, and a plan should consider that especially in protecting the elm tree,” minutes state.

Commissioner Ben Robinson said, “Making a decision without any evaluation and one interior inspection is not enough to determine if the structure is past restoration,” minutes state.

Commissioner Fred Hancock said, “if the MVC sends it back to the town, the house could be demolished and IHT could decide not to move forward,” according to minutes. “The MVC could say, Yes you could demolish if you have something in return. He does not feel that demolition should be allowed of a historical building without a plan in place. It sets a bad precedent.”


  1. There were four magnificent lindens on that property.
    The Town knew this. I am quite sure I mentioned these trees specifically, as well as others, when in spoke in Town Meeting in support of the Town’s acquiring this property.
    Also, what happened to the vintage iron fence that rimmed the front of the property?
    These old fences are worth money.
    That old house and its lot used to be a visual asset.
    Now its a horrid visual blot on the streetscape.

    I expect it will be used to stage the construction of the overbuilt new school. I dread the day they start smashing apart the 1938 gym.

    • The 1938 gym lasted so long because it was so overbuilt.

      It is amazing what some people will do with property they own.
      Some day the new house, and plantings, will the pride of the Town.
      Worthy of Conservation.

  2. Interesting. I’m a direct abutter. I know a bit about asbestos. Kids and I remained inside during demo as it was terribly windy. “Dust” in the air was visible. Thanks Tisbury

  3. A historic house that could have been lovingly restored is instead torn down for no reason? The Town of Tisbury is a bafflement.
    At least please save the trees.

  4. My wife and I rented the ground floor apartment at this home back in 1976. It was a very nice place to live before we bought our house. The fence out front was an eye catcher back then. Sorry to see it get rundown and torn down.

  5. I grew up just down the street from this house and walked to school every day. Yet none of us four kids have any memory of who lived there. We remember all the other neighbors, but not this place. Can’t figure out why that is. Maybe it always seemed a little intimidating behind that iron fence. Guess I’ll never know now. But it did come as a shock when I drove by there the other day and it was gone.

    • Hi Gayle! Back then the house was owned by Ed Lopes. He lived there with his wife and sisters. This is years before Mrs. Leonard built the house to the right, when it was one big property. After Ed died his sisters, Mary and Alveda (they worked at the old First National and the A&P), lived there until the house became too much for them to keep up. I can’t remember who they sold it to. I was in that house many times when I was a little girl. It was beautiful. It’s been sad to see it fall into such disrepair. There’s a map at the MV Museum showing Vineyard Haven in the late 19th century. A notation next to the house indicates it was owned by a Captain. I can’t remember his name and it wasn’t clear if he was a sea captain or a military captain. My mother told me that the big house was originally the main house to an estate and my house was the carriage house before being bought and renovated by Mr. Fragosa. Next time I see you remind me to tell you about the magnificent old magnolia that used to be on the property and the chicken coops in the back field.

      • RE “Mary and Alveda (they worked at the old First National and the A&P), ”

        Thanks for the memory! I well remember these two sisters, but didn’t know their names. I always picture them when I think of the old Main Street and how differently business was conducted in retail establishments before the day of the self-serve supermarket. The First National had a long wooden counter on either side; behind them were shelves all the way up to the 10-foot or 12-foot ceiling holding the stock. Items were fetched for customers. The taller Lopes sister with the beautiful wavy shoulder-length hair was especially adept at using a long pole to nudge cereal boxes etc. from the top shelves, catching them as they tumbled down, and placing them on the counter in front of the customer. The items were then rung up on the metal cash register. If the store was busy, one waited.

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