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This was then

This Was Then: Lost graves of Martha’s Vineyard

Jonathan Tilton, here he lies,  Nobody laughs and nobody cries;  Where he's gone and how he fares,  Nobody knows and nobody cares. Jonathan Tilton (1770–1837) of Tisbury was described by author Charles Hine as “one of the odd...

This Was Then: Woodpecker Hall

Chilmark’s first town hall was built on Middle Road in 1844, not far from Tabor House Road, on land given to the town by Capt. Nathan Bassett. Town business was conducted here for more...

This Was Then: Classic Rocks, Part II

Twenty thousand years ago, two colossal glaciers crossed paths to form Martha’s Vineyard as we know it. To the east was the mountain of ice now known as the “Cape Cod Bay Lobe,” a...

This Was Then: Poison Vineyard

This Island is full of native poisons. Black widows, water hemlock, jimsonweed, baneberry, amanita, man o' war, and many, many others. Moshup, the legendary Wampanoag giant, smoked pokeweed rather than tobacco in some versions...

This Was Then: The manufactories

Flipping through the “1907 Business Directory of Oak Bluffs,” you’ll find it’s arranged by category. One might look up “Boarding Houses,” for example (there were 14), or “Electricians” (there was only one). Many categories...

This Was Then: Swept aground

It was ten o’clock on a Monday night, August 24,1931. The steamer Naushon was arriving in Vineyard Haven from New Bedford via Woods Hole, with an unusually small number of passengers (28), and a...

This Was Then: 10 minutes to Boston

In August 1807, Dr. James Freeman visited the port of Holmes Hole (today, Vineyard Haven). He described a rustic village consisting of about 70 homes, two schoolhouses, one church, 11 vessels, and one huge,...

This Was Then: The Daggett Avenue Grocery

Depending on how you want to define it, there are fewer than 10 grocery stores on the Island today. But it wasn’t always so. The 1907 directory of Martha’s Vineyard listed 25: seven in...

This Was Then: The Bachelor

Finding a mate on the Island has always had its challenges. “At Martha’s Vineyard,” wrote the Rev. Charles Brooks in 1855, “they have a particularly bad time. The island is a sea-girt. The youth...

Can you help solve a mystery?

My grandfather, Vineyard Haven plumber Stan Lair (1902–87), collected a lot of images. He had a copy stand set up in his bedroom command center in my childhood home, where he would rephotograph prints...

This Was Then: Body count

There’s a Victorian trope in literature, art, and theater — later echoed in films and television — of the troubled, distraught heroine who walks into the sea to die. Although its roots go back...

This Was Then: Plagues on the Island

The Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 infected some half-billion people around the world, killing tens of millions globally and tens of thousands in Massachusetts alone. Vineyard schools closed twice for a total of 11...

This Was Then, Narrated: St. Croix Oliver 

When you stand inside the Steamship Authority ticket office in Vineyard Haven, you’re standing on the site of one of the most storied maritime gathering spots in town — the E. St. Croix Oliver...

This Was Then: Last days of Lane’s Block

Lane’s Block, the jewel of Main Street, Vineyard Haven, was cut down in 1951. Ground was broken for the massive building just days after the Great Fire of 1883 burned Capt. Charles Smith’s spacious 18th-century...

This Was Then: Mother Stafford’s flag

Falmouth, as its sign declares, may have been the birthplace of “America the Beautiful” author Katharine Lee Bates. But Oak Bluffs (then Cottage City) was once home to the flag described variously as “the...

This Was Then: Royal Society of Good Fellows

The turn of the twentieth century was an era of fraternal organizations and social societies. The Island had long hosted the Freemasons, of course, who met at the Masonic Hall in Vineyard Haven and...

This Was Then: Wild bikers

In the 1880s, the booming metropolis of Cottage City (today Oak Bluffs) had a growing appetite for live entertainment. A massive roller-skating rink, located roughly where Santander Bank is today, offered up concerts and...

Fire on the Island

Just after lunch on April 26, 1900, Capt. Benjamin C. Cromwell and his men were burning piles of brush on his farm on the outskirts of Edgartown. “As the last pile was fired,” reported...

This Was Then: Last of the bumboats

During the 19th and early 20th century, the most recognized ship captains in Vineyard Haven Harbor were not its storied whaling masters, but rather its bumboatsmen. Bumboatsmen sold anything and everything — water, food,...

This Was Then: Ben Pease, monster

The Pease family is among the oldest and most respected in Edgartown, and the family of Henry Pease (1789-1878) was little exception. Henry was a carpenter, cabinetmaker, and lifelong Edgartown resident who raised a...