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This Was Then

This Was Then: Ben Luce

There were at least a dozen men named “Benjamin Luce” who resided on Martha’s Vineyard over the past four centuries — all cousins of one another. Once, you could drive a cart from near...

This Was Then: Classes of 1952

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Before the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School opened in 1959, there were three secondary schools on the Island: Edgartown High School, Oak Bluffs High School, and Tisbury High School. Every year, the three graduating...

This Was Then: Selim Mattar’s Dreamland

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Brothers Selim and Meek Mattar immigrated to the U.S. as teenagers, about 1890. They were natives of the city of Beirut, then part of the Ottoman Empire, and today the capital of Lebanon, but...

This Was Then: The deerly departed

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As the most recently departed generation of Islanders would have told us, there were no deer on Martha’s Vineyard. “There wasn’t any then,” declared Fanny Jenkinson (1893–1994) of Chilmark to Linsey Lee of the Martha’s...

This Was Then: Barnstorming

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Ever since the first hydroplanes landed in Oak Bluffs in 1919, Martha’s Vineyard has had a reputation for bold and sometimes renegade aviators. Teenage delinquent-turned-World War I ace Walter D. Rheno of Vineyard Haven...

This Was Then: Captain Cleveland and the wrong cache

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George Cleveland (1871–1925) grew up on Hatch Road in Vineyard Haven, in a neighborhood full of extended family. He attended the old North District school on the corner of Main and Hatch in the...

This Was Then: The 1950 census

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It’s April 1950. The boomers are just babies, and the Atomic Age has arrived. Harry Truman is president, World War II has ended, the troops have come home, and the Korean War is still...

This Was Then: The gamblers

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Joseph Thaxter, born in Hingham in 1744, grew up sickly and impoverished. He worked on his parents' meager farm until the age of 19, and planned to become a cooper. But then he bought...

This Was Then: Capt. Abner West and the Sapelo River Expedition

Capt. Abner West (1811–1902) of Vineyard Haven had just about retired from the sea. He had been aboard ship most of his life, having begun his whaling career as a mess boy at the...

This Was Then: The Old County Road

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The Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road dates back to the late 18th century and probably earlier, although not entirely in its modern location.  It was along this road that British troops drove thousands of plundered sheep and...

This Was Then: The remarkable life of Sarah Norton Wilbur

Sarah “Sally” (Norton) Wilbur (1792–1875) likely died within a mile of where she was born, in the lands just west of Major’s Cove, in what is today part of Oak Bluffs. Her lonely grave,...

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...