West Tisbury: It was as it was

The post shows the initials of people who may have built the Slocum house. — Courtesy Hermine Hull

The sky was wild this morning, Monday, when I looked out of our east-facing bedroom windows. Bright red with yellow streaks that turned a psychedelic chartreuse, then a neon green. By the time I sat downstairs with my coffee, it had resolved itself into the dull ochre-gray that has persisted through the morning as I am writing this week’s column.

I think we are in for a funny weather week. Warm, rainy, colder, maybe snow. Good old New England weather.

There will be a couple of special events at the West Tisbury library this Saturday. At 10:15, ballerina Miss Shannon will host a Nutcracker-themed ballet and story program for kids. Email mlawson@clamsnet.org for the Zoom link. From 2 to 3 o’clock, come to the outdoor holiday party. There will be heaters provided, also hot mulled cider, delicious treats, and the always wonderful Vineyard Classic Brass Band.

Dec. 18 is Silas Hammond’s second birthday. Silas’s parents are Bethany and Stephen Hammond, who, with grandparents and friends, are planning a suitably joyous celebration. Many happy returns, Silas.

Woody Bowman sent me an email asking about the history of the Joshua Slocum House that I often mention in my columns. It led to a pleasurable time looking up Joshua Slocum online, and a conversation with my cousin, Hannah Beecher, current resident, and the reason I regularly mention the family house. 

If you don’t know where the Slocum House is, drive along the Edgartown-West Tisbury Road to the corner with Dan’l’s Way, about a mile down on your right if you are coming from State Road. It will be the third house on your left past the firehouse if you are coming from Edgartown. The house is surrounded by a rail fence. There is a marker on a large stone out front.

You will see a low, shingled cottage with a pagoda roof, a reminder of the sea captain’s travels. He was, after all, the author of “Sailing Alone Around the World,” the story of his 38-month-long circumnavigation of the world in his sloop “Spray,” the first person to do so. He began his trip from East Boston in 1895 and landed in Newport, R.I., in 1898. I couldn’t find out how or when he came to the Vineyard or how he came to own the house. These are the times I miss John Alley; he would have known. I’ll try Harry Athearn and put it in a future column.

The original house was built in 1743. The year and two sets of what we think are the builders’ initials, are carved into a gunstock post beside the front door. It must originally have been a small Cape. Hannah didn’t have any information about who owned the house before Captain Slocum. He added on to the east and south sides, what became the dining room, children’s nursery, and kitchen of the house we now know. Hannah found “Slocum 1902” and “Falmouth Lumber” on a post in the kitchen. 

After Captain Slocum died at sea in 1909, his second wife sold the house to a silent screen actress, unnamed to us. The actress or her estate sold the house in 1943 to Grandpappy, as the children called him. He was Daniel R. Hull of Woodbury, Conn., called D.R., father of Hannah’s mother Judy, my husband Mike’s father Richard, and Daniel and Rose Hull. I always thought the meadow was part of the Slocum House property, but D.R. and Margie bought it later on. The meadow was given to Richard and Bobby, Mike’s parents, and Dan’l Manter built their house in 1963.

Back to the Slocum House, Hannah’s sister and brother-in-law, Lissa and Steve Bryant, lived there when I joined the family in 1985. Steve built on two bedrooms with a walk-out basement below sometime after that. He also built a one-bedroom camp on the property that we all called “Scrounge Lounge” after its pedigree. Steve had cobbled together parts of three sheds from other sites and whatever other bits and pieces he could find. It’s actually rather cute and comfortable; I have always liked Scrounge Lounge. 

I miss that old New England thrift and ingenuity that modern building codes have superseded. It’s how Mike and I built our house with what we could afford at the time, doing without, eventually replacing or finishing something when we could afford to. It was the same for most of our friends. We all joked about living in unfinished houses for years. Building a house now seems an insurmountable expense I can’t begin to imagine. I will admit that this is a pet peeve of mine.

I have always loved the Slocum House. I love its age and idiosyncrasies, that it has been left mostly as it was. There are family photographs and lots of stories of children growing up, summer parties and adventures, the lore that is passed down from one generation to the next. At one time, all the properties from the Slocum House down to our house were owned by family members. We had paths through the woods from one to the next. We called them “the nature trails.” Olga Bryant, who lived across the street, called it “Hullabaloo.” In some ways it was wonderful and in some ways it could be really irritating, but it was as it was. I admit to missing the houses and the people who lived in them, especially at Christmas.