Vineyard Haven's Main Street circa 1910 by Stan Lair

Vineyard Haven's Main Street

as remembered by Stan Lair
May 15, 1979

Transcribed by C. Baer, 1995.

(Transcriber's Note: This is a transcript of an audio tape made by local historian and retired plumber Stan Lair (1902-1987) in 1979. It is an extemporaneous monologue, probably aided by a few notes. There may be spelling errors - in some cases I have spelled names phonetically.)

Comments? Questions? Corrections? Suggestions? Write the compiler.
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May 15, 1979. This is Stan Lair. I was born in Vineyard Haven in 1902. So my memory goes back about 1910, I would guess. I'm trying to describe the Main Street of Vineyard Haven as I remember it. It may not be completely accurate, but anyway, here we go.

Let's start on the east side of Main Street, and we'll go south, and we'll start with the Martha's Vineyard National Bank.

The Martha's Vineyard National Bank was the former site of the harness factory owned by Rudolphus Crocker, and it was the start of the 1883 Fire that destroyed all of Main Street. My mother described it as "a day that had no night." It completely destroyed both sides of our Main Street, including the old Mansion House.

Well, the next building was Renear's Livery Stable, as I remember it. Later the site of Cromwell Hardware. The building was built by Benjamin Cromwell and designed by Charlie Barnett, who was a expert on concrete, also engineered our standpipe. What else did he build? Oh - Renear's Garage. And this Cromwell Hardware store also housed a Ginter [?] store, which was a forerunner of the First National. There were bowling alleys in the basement, and it is now the Ben Franklin store. The Barnacle Club is upstairs.

The next building was Walter Renear Real Estate, later E. H. Manter Shoe Store, and then a barber shop. Now it is Wendway health food store.

Next is Lane's Block, built by Dr. C. F. Lane. I don't know the year, but it originally had three stories, which is now only a single story building. With a Chinese laundry; later Bangs' Market was there. There was a clothing store there at one time. And the first A&P store was there, and later it was LeBow's[?] Drug Store. Next is the entrance to the second and third floors, stairway going up, nice wide stairway. And up there was Mabel Johnson's Boarding House. She catered to mostly the working men. A lot of telephone men stayed there. They roomed there and she furnished meals and it was a very popular place. Every one of them liked staying with Mabel Johnson. I think later she moved up to West Tisbury. On the second floor was Dr. Paul Lynch, a dentist, and the Grange was up on the third floor until forced to leave because of no fire escapes. Dr. Lane's office and drug store was next to his telephone company's switchboard. And on Union Street, under his office, was Look and Washburn Grocery Store. There was a series of restaurants there after that. Connie Sanborn ran a store there called Bear Essentials for a few years.

Now we'll go across Union Street. The building on the corner of Main and Union, now Carter Park, was a fish market. It was also Schwimler's[?] Bakery, Ashton's Photographers' Shop, Matthew's Real Estate, with a small store in the front, and a former Barnacle Club headquarters. It was moved to a spot next to Rheno's, next to Mrs. Rheno's, around the corner of Mrs. Mayhew's property, where it was E. H. Manter's Shoe Store with a job printing shop in the back. It was moved from there to the rear of Cronig Brothers' store where it was a restaurant operated by the LeBell[?] Family, and then a printing shop later operated by R. W. Martin. It was moved from there to the present Post Office parking lot, on the corner of Lagoon Pond Road and Beach Street, where it remained for three years and then was moved to its present location, the Island Color Center.

And then E. Issokson, tailor, who branched out into cleaners. Mr. Issokson was noted for repairing sails. Sometimes I understand he'd even spread them out on Main Street to sell them, right in front of his store. I don't remember that, but that's what I have heard. He would repair these sails for boats, and during the Port Hunter days he was noted for making a leather jacket from two Port Hunter vests for about five dollars or so. And there were plenty of Port Hunter vests around, believe me. They were bringing them in by the bale, hundred in a bale. The Port Hunter was a vessel that was sunk during the war off of East Chop by a tugboat going out, and all of the natives took advantage of the opportunity and went out and fished stuff out of the holes. I'll make a tape on that later, as I remember it.

Next to this building was Carter Electric Store, and is now Shirley's Hardware.

Next building was Alton Tuckerman's Plumbing and Sheet Metal Shop. The front part was a so-called "tin shop." He had pots and pans and things like that hanging from the ceiling and all over the place. And one little section near the SBS store was operated by his wife, Theresa Tuckerman, was a small ten cents store. And it is now Allen Mayhew, Ltd. The sightseeing buses used to stop in that area to pick up passengers. They were Stanley Steamers, and I believe the name of the line was the Red Star Line. Too bad they're not running today, along with the old trolley car, gasoline being what it is.

Next was the Swift Bodfish and Swift Grocery Store, S. B. S. "Soak 'Em, Beat 'Em, and Skin 'Em," we used to call it. This was their main store of an Island chain. They had the grain store. They had stores in Oak Bluffs and Edgartown, and a bakery in Vineyard Haven. Then it was a series of gift shops and right now it is Murrays of the Vineyard.

Next is the famous Linden Tree, and under this tree or very near it Ben Turner, remembered by many as a happy-go-lucky colored man, and respected by all, had his shoeshine stand. He was at this location in the summer, and operated there for quite a few years. As of yet I haven't come up with a picture of it, but maybe someone will come up with one someday. I'd like to have one!

Next was a small building used by Charles S. Norton as a real estate office, and then later by Walter Norton as an ice cream parlor. Later the movie theater was built at this spot.

Just across the little alley that goes down by the movie theater and parallel to it was one of the old trolley cars converted into a diner and that was operated by Ornan Slocum. He was brother of Joshua Slocum, the man that sailed alone around the world.

Then the livery stable, operated by Leavitt Norton, later operated by his son Charles Norton and later Norton and Bradley Riding Horses. Then it was a taxi stand for several years, and is now the Bowl & Board.

The next building was the home of Leavitt Norton, and then Charles Norton Real Estate.

The next was a paint shop operated by George Churchill, and the Customs Office was on one side, operated by Howes Norris.

Next was Brickman's Shoe Repair Store. Later it was Harry Osman's Shoe Repairs, and now it is Mosher's Photo Shop.

Where Lillian's is now was a vacant lot. The present building was built by the Red Mens' Organization, and they had a meeting room upstairs and they rented the lower floors. Then at one time it was Jeanette's Restaurant. It is now Lillian's, of course.

Next was Lane's Stable. Dr. Lane kept his horses under the main floor, which was below street level. The street floor was occupied by S. L. Rheno who had a woodworking shop there.

Next building was the Mansion House Barn, and at one time it was operated as a livery stable by Clem West.

And the next building is the Mansion House Hotel.

Diagonally across from the Mansion House, now the Youth Center, and former telephone office, was a large house owned by the Foster Family. It set back from the street with a white fence in the front and eventually was moved across the street next to the Mansion House, on the Beach Street side. It was later demolished by George Woods and it's now the site of the Health... I think they call it the Health Club - swimming pool and so forth.


That was the east side of Main Street as I remember it, and now we'll go over to the west side. The first thing that we remember is a fountain, the famous fountain - horse fountain, combination fountain for horses and a bubbler for people. On the sidewalk side. It incidentally is being activated again by Bill Honey. This is May, 1979. And Bill is trying to put it back the way it used to be, but he located it now between the Martha's Vineyard National Bank and the Ben Franklin store.

Well next to the fountain, directly in back of the fountain, was Jenkins' Paint Shop. It is now part of Brickmans'. Later it became Hinckley and Renear Undertaking Parlor, and I believe - yeah, I know - it's now Brickman's Toy Shop, with bicycles in the rear.

Then came William Swift Grocery Store. Then a few gift shops were in there, and now it is Brickman's store.

Next building was Hatch, and then later Adams Express headquarters, operated at the time by Luther West, and then John and Laura Johnson for a number of years. I believe they operated it when it was Adams Express. Eventually they moved out of there, and down onto Union Street. It is now a silver shop, operated by Mark Lender.

Next, where Dave Golart's clothing store is the Frank Golart building. That was Dave's father. Frank lived on the second floor. He repaired bicycles up in the back and he worked for the telephone company. Tisbury Waterworks office was on the street floor for several years.

Next is the barber shop, operated by a colored man by the name of Barber Hammond, we always called him, and a Mr. Penney operated it, and then a fellow by the name of Charlie Bell. These were all barbers, operated it. And then Charlie Bell rented the upstairs rooms, and called it the Hotel Plaza. Charlie was a sight to behold, strolling the Main Street with a derby hat and cane, light colored spats and a carnation in his jacket button hole. Always smoking a large cigar. He drove an auburn car. Charlie was Italian, and he was liked by everyone. It is now Bert's Barber Shop.

Then there was a vacant lot, now Brickman has a mini-mall at that location.

On the corner of Main and Spring was a building owned by S. T. Moray[?] who had a store on one side, and the other side was Dr. Davis' office. Dr. Davis was a man of tremendous size. He had to have the steering wheel of his Model T made special so he could get his stomach in the car. It was ordered special by Walter Renear, who then was a Ford dealer, and was hinged in some way so it could be moved forward to allow for his tremendous size. As I remember seeing that thing it seemed to be mounted off-center, also. The steering column came up right near the front of the wheel. The building was later the Come & See Shop. Judal[?] Brickman made his start in the rear of this building. He had a small room there, and he was repairing shoes, and he worked there night and day. He later moved to the Mosher building, across the street.

On the opposite corner of Main and Spring was John Lambert Grocery Store, later a harness store run by my father, Leroy Lair, and later it was E. T. Walker's Paint and Hardware, and is now Issokson's Cleaners.

Next was Dr. Mayhew's office. The Vineyard Haven Public Library was upstairs. It was McGuinness Jewelry Store for many years, and it is a jewelry store today. Inside of the first floor of that store has never changed, as far as partitions and rooms go, since it was occupied by Dr. Mayhew. Big waiting room in the front, the doctor's office was on the right in the rear, and on the left in the rear was a sink and a bathroom and his famous white and pink pills.

Next was H. L. Tilton's Stoves and Ranges, and he had a plumbing shop in the rear. The front was later a drug store and ice cream parlor. Big Hutch and Little Hutch, two very popular clerks, worked there for many years. The plumbing shop was later taken over by Lester Bumpus, for whom I worked until his death by drowning in 1925. I recall that day very well. He had worked that day on a gasoline tank on a speedboat. The name of the speedboat was Jazz, owned by the Whitney Family, and he told me that day that after he installed it he was going to have a ride that evening. Well he did - they went out in the harbor that evening. They had a lot of children aboard also. He hit a swell from the steamer coming in, and it threw all the people out of the stern of the boat. Threw them right out, and Jack went down, and he was never seen again. Well, they found him of course, but he didn't come to the surface. All the children were swimmers, so they survived. That was in 1925. And the business was operated for a short while after that by H. N. Hinckley, and then it was bought by Jack Hughes. It is now Yates Drug Store.

Harry Horton's buses - he used Rios[?] - left for Oak Bluffs on the hour, from in front of this drug store in the summer. Harry ran his buses there for a good many years.

The next building was Ben Chuck's. Ben Dexter his actual name was, Benjamin Dexter - everyone called him "Ben Chuck." He lived in the back of the building and did all of his wood carving there. The front was rented as a clothing store. Old Ben was famous for his crazy wood carving. Some of it still is around today - I have a few pieces here. I recall mounds of earth in the rear of that building with a full-size wooden Indian on each mound. I lived on Center Street, so I went right by there as a kid. I remember that wooden Indians out there. Frank Downs had a leather repair business in the front at one time. William S. Swift and Sons, surveyors, had their office there. Also the back room, after Ben Chuck, was rented to a Portuguese club. The young men would play cards there in the evenings, and had a good time.

Next was the First National store, and then it was demolished. The present building was a modern First National store. It is now the Bunch of Grapes Bookstore, and I noticed they've put a second story on there, so that changes the whole front of that building.

Next was the barber shop, operated by a Mr. Medeiros. And then A. S. Andrews, and Mr. Andrews had a typewriter rental shop in the rear of this barber shop. It was then operated by his son, William Andrews, Billy Andrews. At one time there was a womans' hairdressing shop in the rear, Priscilla's. It is now Popeye's Deli.

Then comes Center Street. In the old days, there was a full wet river after a rainstorm. Boy the water would really come down that street, just like a river! It was impossible to get across without getting your feet wet right up to your ankles unless you wore rubber boots or something like that. They finally had a wooden bridge made that the Highway Department would throw across the street after a rainstorm. And now they have an underground drainage system, of course, so all is well.

Next building was C. M. Vincent, Charlie Vincent's Paper Store, and candy, tobacco, fresh roasted peanuts, and so forth. At the back of this store was a great gathering place for the old-timers to sit around the old pot-bellied stove there, and smoke, spit and talk. Yes, they had spittoons back there! And Charlie always enjoyed chewing the rag with them. Charlie was quite a baseball fan. He enjoyed sports. Mr. Cleveland - that was Charlie Vincent's father-in-law - would sit out in front of the store in the summertime on a soda box, turning the handle on a peanut roaster. It was a funny-looking thing. Had a big drum on it, I would say maybe fifteen, eighteen inches in diameter, had a handle on the end, and under it was a fire of some sort. I presume it was either kerosene-operated or alcohol-operated, or something like that. He'd sit out there and crank that thing and roast peanuts, oh for hours at a time. Once in a while he would give us a couple of peanuts. This was a store where we always bought our penny candy, and of course it was bought after a lot of deliberation of course, as it is today by the kids. Today it is Mardell's Gift Shop.

The next building was Godfrey's Clothing Store, then it was Howes' Clothing, and Frank Swift's Clothing, and now it is part of Vineyard Dry Goods store.

Next was Ernest Tilton's Hardware. Ernest always was just out of something when you went in to get something, and always said it was "down on the wharf." It'd be "up on the next load of freight." That is now part of Vineyard Dry Goods, too.

The next store was Aleta Tilton's - she was the wife of H. L. Tilton who ran the drug store further up the street. She had a dry goods store there. Later it was run by Charlie Coll [?], Charles Coll. Then it was an A&P store. It was a gift shop under a few owners, and it is now the Thrift Shop.

Next was Henry Coye's jewelry store. Then it was L. E. Briggs jewelry and furniture, and then Tobins and now Holmes Hole. There was a drinking fountain at one time on the sidewalk in front of this store. It was donated by the Sons of Martha's Vineyard. That was some sort of an organization several years ago. It had small projections at the base so the dogs could get a drink. Sort of an ornate fountain, pretty fountain. One day someone tied a horse to the thing, and something frightened the horse. He wrecked the fountain. I don't recall them ever repairing it - they may have.

Next was the old Telephone Exchange and office, later the Cape & Vineyard Electric Office, and it is now Medi-Save. This same building was E. H. Lord's Shoe Store.

Then the U. S. Post Office, and now it is Rainy Day Gift Shop.

Then, crossing Church Street, is the Cronig Block. The former site of the Tashmoo Inn, it was moved by Henry Costello to North Main Street, just off of Tashmoo Avenue, and it burnt down, and I don't remember the year, but it was replaced by the Sandpiper Restaurant, which was built just about on the same site. At one time at Cronigs Block there was W. E. Godfrey Clothing. Then in the rear was a Mr. Sparrow. (Sparrow, like a bird.) A piano tuner. I recall seeing Mr. Sparrow on a bicycle. It was probably the first Smith motor wheel [?] on the Island. The wheel was fastened on the rear of the bicycle, right along side of the rear wheel. Old Mr. Sparrow was chugging along with his piano tools strapped onto the bicycle. Quite a sight! Also in that building was Dewey's Barber Shop. He was another colored barber. I went to school with his boy, Harold Dewey. I remember him well. The Barnacle Club was located there for awhile also. And Walter Norton had another ice cream parlor there. And Herbie Stephens opened a small short-order restaurant. Herbie was famous for his "Coot Stew." If you don't know what a "coot" is, it's a form of duck whose chief diet is fish, I believe. And unless they're cooked a certain way, why they're not very edible. And Herbie used to serve this "Coot Stew" and it was pretty good, I guess. He also had a sign stuck up over the front of the counter, said "Do not kid the coffee - you may be old and weak yourself one day." Quite a guy. George Carey also had an electric store there for a few years. Henry Cronig's office was there. Peakes & Lair's office was in the same office as Henry's, and on the end, towards the Bodfish House, was David Kolinsky's[?] clothing store.

Next came the home of William P. Bodfish. The house is still there, and looks very much like it always used to look, and run as a rooming house, I believe.

Next was the Western Union office. At one time it was a grocery store, Bodfish and Coll. Then the S. B. S. Bake Shop. I recall that very well. I used to drop in there once and awhile to sit in the back room. Old Joe Correllus used to work there. He'd hand out a fresh-made doughnut, cookies, those sort of things. Right out of the oven. They were good. I used to drop in there very often and chew the rag with the bakers. Then, Averill's Bake Shop was in there, and Humphrey's Bake Shop. Then Jimmy Morris remodelled the whole first floor and had his florist shop there. He had a hot house in the rear. Later it became Western Auto, and for a short while it was the bank, just for a few short months. Now it is a French restaurant, Patisserie. I don't now how to pronounce it, but I guess it's something like that.

Anyway, that concludes the western side of Main Street as I remember it in the early 1900's and of course later years too, but I may have missed something or something may not be exactly correct, but we tried to do the best we could. Next, we'll try to go down Union Street, down towards the wharf, along Water Street, probably over to Beach Road, and then back up Beach Street as far as the Mansion House.