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This Was Then

This Was Then: From islands to Island

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It shouldn’t be a surprise that an island would attract islanders. Many of the families who settled on the Vineyard in the late 1800s and early 1900s were from three Portuguese-speaking archipelagos in the...

This Was Then: The Christmas mutiny of 1857

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An empty grave in Edgartown is topped with a stone bearing a remarkable engraving: "Capt. Archibald Mellen Jr.born at Tisbury June 5, 1830, and murdered on board Ship Junior of New Bedford off the coast of...

This Was Then: Old Island cooking

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Want to prepare an authentically old-fashioned Vineyard meal for the holidays? Look no further than the "Island Cook Book," published in 1924 as a fundraiser to build the new Martha’s Vineyard Hospital. Favorite recipes were...

This Was Then: Island Hermits

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Our Island has hidden a lot of hermits and recluses over the years. Some perhaps hiding, some just peculiar, some maybe seeking a little peace and quiet. Others isolated themselves for reasons we may...

This Was Then: Keeping warm

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My grandfather, Stan Lair (1902–87) of Vineyard Haven, worked a lot of jobs in his life — helping tear down the brickyard in Chilmark, catching lines on the wharf at Woods Hole, building model ships...

This Was Then: Henry Clay Wade

The plaques on the side of the Civil War statue in Oak Bluffs have garnered a lot of attention in recent years. But you may have overlooked one of them. It reads, simply: “Henry...

This Was Then: Transfer steamer Maryland

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To see a huge, open-ended car ferry in Vineyard Haven Harbor is normal. To see one in 1875, a full generation before the first automobiles arrived, was a spectacle. In mid-December 1875, the 234-foot transfer...

This Was Then: T. M. Silvia

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Theophilus Miguel “T. M.” Silvia was born in 1877 on Ilha de São Nicolau, a mountainous island in the Republic of Cabo Verde, the volcanic archipelago nation off the coast of West Africa known...

This Was Then: The Barber of the Black Second

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William Henry Dewey was born into slavery in 1858 in New Bern, a riverfront town in Craven County, in the rural Inner Banks of North Carolina. His mother died when he was a child. By...

This Was Then: The bakers

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The only commercial bakery advertising in Chilmark in the early 20th century was I.F. Flanders & Co. in Menemsha Creek. It was run by sisters Hattie and Ida Flanders, sometimes referred to as “the...

This Was Then: Frank Bodfish, blacksmith

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Blacksmith William Bodfish and his wife Polly Crowell moved to Holmes Hole from Yarmouth in the late 1850s, where they became the parents of Vineyard Haven’s five well-known Bodfish brothers: Josiah, the dry goods...

This Was Then: The tick scientists

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In the early 1940s, decades before Lyme disease was discovered, there was the USDA Ticks Affecting Man field laboratory in Vineyard Haven. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, established by Abraham Lincoln in 1862, oversees everything...

This Was Then: The coal yards

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Martha’s Vineyard once ran on coal. “We didn't have any electricity,” recalled Stan Lair (1902-1987) about his Vineyard Haven childhood in a 1980 interview. “For heat, we had stoves — parlor stoves — and a...

Of mink and Mink Meadows

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Mink once lived on Martha’s Vineyard. When writer James Freeman made an inventory of the wild animals he found on a visit to the Island in 1807, he listed: “Besides domestick animals, the quadrupeds...

This Was Then: The Island’s lost birds

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In 1602, John Brereton, chronicler of Capt. Bartholomew Gosnold’s exploration of Martha’s Vineyard, recorded the many different kinds of birds he saw on the Island: eagles, “hernshaws” (herons), cranes, bitterns, mallards, teals, geese, penguins,...

This Was Then: Pig tales

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Martha’s Vineyard is not known for its swine, but hogs have historically been a critically important Island livestock; only sheep and cattle were more numerous in centuries past. The first written record of pigs on...

Naming West Tisbury’s streets

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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...

This Was Then: Chief King

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Before 911, before police radios and walkie-talkies, there were blue light bulbs over Main Street, Vineyard Haven. When a call for help came in, the telephone company switched on the light to signal the...

This Was Then: A story of three Vineyard men

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Brothers William and Luther West of Chilmark were of solid Island stock. Their parents and grandparents were all Island natives, as they were. Their family tree was a constellation of Island names including Tilton,...

This Was Then: Doppelgängers and namesakes

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Our Island shares its names with people, places, and products around the world, some for historically connected reasons and others by coincidence, complicating our Google searches and rerouting our Amazon orders. Tisbury and Chilmark on...