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This Was Then

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...

This Was Then: Superintendent of streets

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“You didn't have tractors, you didn't have the machinery that you got today,” recalled the late Basil Welch of Vineyard Haven in a 1982 recording. “We had an old 1936 ton-and-a-half dump truck, and...

This Was Then: Welcome to Oak Bluff … Manitoba

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It’s a little unfair to ridicule tourists for asking directions to “Oaks Bluff.” There is an Oaks Bluff. About a 47-hour drive west of Woods Hole, Fair Oaks Bluff, located in a scenic park...

This Was Then: Some assembly required

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The Ford Motor Company is often lauded for the invention of the modern assembly line (a claim that begins with a lot of caveats). But the truth was, unless you lived near Detroit, that...

This Was Then: Smith, Bodfish, and Swift

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S.B.S. — Smith, Bodfish, and Swift — was once an extensive Island chain. Their flagship store was a grocery on Main Street, Vineyard Haven, under the shade of the Linden Tree, but at the...

This Was Then: Dolph

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“I recall Dolph; his job in the winter was to plow the sidewalks after a snowstorm,” remembered the late Stan Lair (1902-1987) of Vineyard Haven. “He had a horse, and a small snowplow. In...

This Was Then: Street Store

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There were no fewer than seven grocery stores in downtown Edgartown at the turn of the 20th century. The list, which included Pease Brothers, Thomas Mellon, Holmes Smith, and four others, doesn’t even include...

This Was Then: North School and Hill Mill

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There were four school districts in Edgartown at the time of the American Revolution: “Pohoganut,” the Plains, Chappaquiddick, and Edgartown village. In 1837, a statewide survey overseen by educational reformer Horace Mann reported six...

This Was Then: The 1918 flu

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In Massachusetts, 16,358 residents died in the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, according to the official figures of the time. Twelve of them were from Martha’s Vineyard. But both numbers were undercounts. The best...

This Was Then: Lost graves of Martha’s Vineyard

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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

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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

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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

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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...
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