The Island has had its share of colorful names. There was Major Pain, the Chilmark lawyer who fought unsuccessfully to move our county seat out of Edgartown; Mayor Blood, who gave us the name “Cottage City”; and Captain Pound, the pirate who plagued Holmes Hole Harbor. There was Harry Legg, the Helenian carpenter; Dr. Lynch, the Vineyard Haven dentist who carved toy animals with his drill between patients; Dr. Bullitt, Tisbury’s mentally challenged physician; and Dr. Leach, the physician whose private marine hospital on Edgartown Road boasted a “death rate” of only 8 percent.
Then there was Rollo (“Wiggy”) Wigglesworth (1891–1966) of Oak Bluffs. He was six feet tall, slender, with blue eyes, gray hair, a ruddy complexion, and a tic that made his head shake when he talked. He neither married nor had children. He was born in Jay, Maine, just down the road from New Vineyard. He was only a young boy when his parents divorced (Rutillus and Abbie Wigglesworth, in case you were wondering), and his mom remarried carpenter Emery Noyes. Rollo and his sister moved from Jay to Norton, where Rollo found work as a machinist and toolmaker. He set off briefly on his own, working for the American Screw Co. in Providence, and serving as a private in the Massachusetts National Guard. But soon he rejoined his family, who had moved to Oak Bluffs about 1914. He lived with his mother until her death in 1950.
Rollo first worked on the Island as a tool shop machinist, and later as a trucker and house mover. By 1917, Rollo had also begun buying a handful of properties around the Island. One of them, presumably a purchase he made in 1919 from historical author Henry Franklin Norton of the Farm Neck Nortons, included a small pond.
This pond, a freshwater kettle hole close to (but distinct from) Majors Cove and Sengekontacket, was known originally as Quatapog, a name derived from a Wampanoag word meaning “the end of the pond.” It presumably served as an important source of freshwater for a sizable Wampanoag community, which was located near the site of the Land Bank’s modern Pecoy Point Preserve. (This village was described by an 1807 visitor as “formerly a large town of Indians,” and still home to six families numbering some 20 Wampanoag residents at that time.) Nearby Quantapog Road (formerly a part of the original Edgartown–Vineyard Haven Road) remains its namesake.
The Norton family acquired the pond and much of the surrounding lands in the late 1600s, and it remained in their family for six generations. It was reportedly a favorite campsite of U.S. Senator and Secretary of State Daniel Webster, who visited the Island in 1849. The pond became known by locals and mapmakers alike as “Norton Pond” or “Norton’s Pond.”
By the mid-1800s, the pond was sandwiched between the farms of first cousins Constant Norton and Isaac Norton. Isaac’s colonial-era farmhouse stood at the north edge of the pond. Constant’s home stood somewhat to the south. Well-educated and having a knack for politics and town affairs, Constant served as collector of Customs in Edgartown during the late 1850s. Both their wives were natives of Farmington, Maine, and the families maintained strong ties to the New Vineyard area, as did many from this neighborhood. (When world-famous Farmington opera star Madame Nordica visited the Island, she made a point to spend an afternoon visiting Constant’s home, by then in possession of his son.)
By 1883, the new town of Cottage City was eyeing Norton’s Pond as a possible source of freshwater. That year the Massachusetts legislature passed “An Act to Supply the Town of Cottage City with Pure Water,” which specifically identified Norton’s Pond as the potential site for a public waterworks that would provide water for hydrants, fountains, and household taps across town, and allowed the town to establish rights-of-way, lay water mains, elect water commissioners, and sell bonds to raise the necessary funds. But the money became a sticking point, and the project was eventually paused. The state renewed its three-year permission in 1886, again naming Norton’s Pond as the most likely water source, but the second effort also stalled. (A private venture, the Cottage City Water Co., succeeded in 1890 where the town failed, but they chose to locate their waterworks at Beech Grove Spring, at the head of the Lagoon, instead.)
In July 1915, the Fifth Infantry Regiment of the Massachusetts Volunteer Militia (later known as the Massachusetts State Guard) was sent to the Island for training. Consisting of 10 companies totaling about 300 men, the regiment arrived at Eastville on a Sunday on the steamer New Hampshire, to a large crowd of onlookers. On Monday, the regiment marched to Norton Pond, established an outpost, received a lecture on sanitation and hygiene, drilled, and paraded, before camping for the night on the pond. On Tuesday morning, the regiment struck out by mule train for Katama (“but before reaching it, wagon after wagon stuck in the sand,” the Boston Globe reported). The men spent the next couple of days firing thousands of machine gun rounds at toy balloons pegged along the crest of the herring run.
And then in 1919, Constant Norton’s grandson Henry sold the property to Wigglesworth. An ice business was operated from its shores for many years, and it became a popular spot for children to fish and skate. David Wilson of Oak Bluffs writes, “When I was young, you could walk much of the old road along Senge, which stretched from Farm Pond alongside the old Island Country Club boundary as far as Wiggy’s Pond. One surviving section comprises the east side trail of Trade Winds Preserve. To walk the old road to go fishing at Wiggy’s was something out of Andy of Mayberry.”
Basil Welch of Vineyard Haven told this story in a 1982 interview: “Old Wiggy. He lived over in Oak Bluffs. In my recollection of Wiggy, he was always an old man. I knew him for years, and somehow he was always an old man. He was deaf as a post in his later years. He did quite a bit of house moving. He had two or three houses around that he lived in himself.
“I have one funny story about old Wiggy [and] Fred Purdy, who was a carpenter in Oak Bluffs. Wiggy had a truck, he used to do trucking. And Fred Purdy hired Wiggy to take some stuff to the dump. So Wiggy was backing up to the pile, and Fred kept hollering ‘Hold!’ and Wiggy kept backing up, and he backed over the pile.
“He couldn’t hear him. He wore a hearing aid, but he couldn’t hear him. So Fred helped him load the truck and everything, and every time he’d say something to Wiggy, Wiggy wouldn’t pay any attention, because he couldn’t hear him. Fred would tap him on the shoulder, and Wiggy would look at him, and then Fred would holler.
“So at noontime, they both went to lunch to a restaurant on Circuit Avenue. Fred said, ‘What are you going to have, Wiggy?’ Wiggy never answered him. Fred hollered and tapped him on the shoulder. ‘What are you going to have?’ Wiggy says ‘What? Huh?’
“So Fred reached over in Wiggy’s pocket, took out the little box with the hearing aid, the batteries and stuff, and opened it up, took the battery out, closed it up, put it in Wiggy’s pocket, got up, went out, went up to Phillips Hardware, bought a new battery, came back, took the thing out of Wiggy’s pocket, opened it up, stuck the new battery in, closed it up, turned the thing on, and he says, ‘How’s that now?’
“Wiggy kept looking at his plate. Fred hollers, ‘How’s that?’ Tapped him on the shoulder and Wiggy looked at him. He says, ‘How does it work now, Wiggy?’
“Wiggy says, ‘Don’t work. Wire’s broken.’
“‘Well, what the hell are you wearing it for?’
“’Well, force of habit.’ He’d wore it so long from force of habit, he put it on even though the wires were broken. Wiggy was quite a guy.”
Rollo Wigglesworth died in 1966 in Oak Bluffs, and was buried next to his mother, Abbie Noyes, in Norton. The pond is currently owned by its abutters, including the Sengekontacket Community, the Farm Neck Association, and a dozen or so private homeowners; it is not open to the public. While it is marked on modern maps as “Fresh Pond,” locals still know it as “Wiggy’s Pond.”
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.