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This Was Then

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...

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...
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