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This Was Then

This Was Then: The Jetties

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Until a major storm reconstructed our coastline around 1725, Cape Poge and the whole northern tip of Chappaquiddick — the landmasses we sometimes refer to as Great Neck and Little Neck — were a distinctly...

This Was Then: Tallman’s octagon

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Henry Beetle Hough, in his 1936 book “Martha’s Vineyard, Summer Resort,” listed the Island’s five most colorful, outward-facing characters of the late 19th century: a “bell ringer at the camp meeting,” “a somewhat mad...

This Was Then: Mephitis mephitis

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Updated 1-5-2024 Skunks have lived on Martha’s Vineyard for at least four or five hundred years. (Except, that is, for about 50 of them. We’ll get to that shortly.) Nantucket, on the other hand, hosts...

This Was Then: Dave Curney

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At 3:45 am on Friday, Jan. 18, 1884, the 275-foot steamer City of Columbus, bound for Savannah from Boston, struck Devil’s Bridge off Gay Head, and sank beside the treacherous rocks. Despite the heroic...

This Was Then: Here and there

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The English settled Martha’s Vineyard from the outside in; early colonial settlements clustered around natural harbors and mill-powering streams, mostly near the periphery of the Island. The dry interior — that scrubby triangle formed...

This Was Then: The Tisbury School

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Welcome to the new Tisbury School! It’s 1930. Students, staff, and teachers have moved into the new school on West William Street, to pomp and parades. The deteriorating old Tisbury School on Center Street, together...

This Was Then: Francis Lewis

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Deborah Lewis was born about 1730 in Yarmouth, the daughter of John and Thankful Lewis. She came to the Island of Martha’s Vineyard with her parents when she was about 3 years old. In the...

This Was Then: KaBLAM!

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It’s Labor Day, 1929, at the New Bedford, Martha’s Vineyard & Nantucket Steamboat company wharf in Oak Bluffs. The last steamer has departed for the night. The terminal staff has gone home after a...

This Was Then: Jane Wamsley

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In 1859, two writers for Harper’s Magazine visited Gay Head on a day trip “to see something of the Indians.” One of them was the well-known illustrator “Porte Crayon” (David Strother), who would sketch...

This Was Then: Rollo Wigglesworth

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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...

This Was Then: The joys of Oak Bluffs

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The area we know today as downtown Oak Bluffs was known as “Squash Meadow” for longer than it has been called “Oak Bluffs.” The large body of brackish water at its center — today...

This Was Then: Charlie Bell

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He was known by everyone as “Charlie Bell” (and in his Vineyard property deeds as “Charles A. Bell”), but that, it turns out, was just his alias. “Charlie was a sight to behold,” recalled the...

This Was Then: Laura Johnson

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She dressed in men’s clothing. She was openly gay. And she ran this town during the 1930s and ’40s. “Laura Johnson the real, real selectman behind the scenes, out of the express office, with...

The New Vineyard

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My son and I took a trip up to New Vineyard, Maine, a few weeks ago. New Vineyard is exactly what its name suggests: a town settled by dozens of Martha’s Vineyard families in...

This Was Then: Attendance required

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In October 1837, teachers and officials from around the Island gathered in Edgartown for the first-ever “Dukes County Common School Convention” — a public look at the state of schools on the Vineyard, which...

This Was Then: Hiram and Tom

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Hiram Dunham was 3 years old, and his older brother Tom was 15, when their father’s seizures began. Ralph Dunham, a 41-year-old Edgartown native, had been working as a cooper (a barrel maker) in New...

This Was Then: The Scarecrow and the Confectioner (Part Two)

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The North Atlantic Ocean, 250 miles west of Bermuda, October 1841. The whaling brig William and Joseph of Holmes Hole is heading back to the Vineyard with a disappointing haul. “We put away for...

This Was Then: The confectioner and the scarecrow

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London, England, January 1830. A tall, very slender, and considerably deaf 40-year-old man was badgering the acclaimed English author Mary Russell Mitford, bringing her huge stacks of American magazines, and trying to talk her...

This Was Then: Shrinkage

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By 1870, it was an open secret that things would sometimes disappear into Holmes Hole (soon to be renamed Vineyard Haven.) Like nearby Woods Hole, Quick’s Hole, and Robinson’s Hole, the word “Hole” refers here...

This Was Then: The Holmes Hole skyline

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Behold Vineyard Haven — or as many of the locals still called it, Holmes Hole — as it appeared in the late 1870s. This photograph was taken on two plates from what is now...