Main Street, Vineyard Haven, MA: The Bank to Union Street
Site 1: Part One - Crocker's First Harness Factory

The following is Part One of a history of the buildings and businesses that once stood where Compass Bank stands today, on the east side of Main Street in Vineyard Haven, Mass.

This is an unfinished draft! Do you have any memories of any of the other people, places, businesses or events mentioned here? Or do you have corrections, additions, or suggestions? Please contact Chris Baer <>

Site #1 - Part One - The Factory

This site is now the Compass Bank property, until recently the Martha's Vineyard National Bank, and formerly Crocker's Harness Factory, which in its earlier incarnation is said to be the origin of the Great Fire of 1883. Narrow lanes have bordered the north and south sides of this lot since its very first inhabitants. From 1858 until 1883 it was subdivided into two properties, which I have listed separately here as Site #1a and Site #1b, the northern half and the southern half, respectively.


Early Owners

This property was originally part of the extensive Manter family property, which stretched far up the hill to the north (see North of the Bank.) In 1838 pilot Jonathan Manter sold this lot to his nephew Tisbury mariner Henry Manter for $230, including the rights to the fourteen-foot-wide lane on the south side of the property (which still exists today, just south of the bank) which led to Manter's house on the east.

In May 1840, Tisbury trader William Downs (c.1769 - 1843) bought this 51-foot-wide lot for $200 from Henry Manter. Downs had also married into Manter family property. His wife Rebecca Manter (1774 - 1849) was the sister of Jonathan Manter and an aunt of Henry. They lived and ran a grocery store on the property just across the narrow lane on the north. (See North of the Bank.)

In August 1843, Downs sold this property to Tisbury painter Francis Nye Jr. (1818 - 1851) for $216.


Nye's Paint Shop (1843 - 1858)

The first known building at this location was Nye's paint shop, probably constructed shortly after the property was bought in 1843.

Nye was born in Falmouth, the son of Francis Nye and Phebe Cushing. In June 1844, less than a year after buying this property, he married Mary P. Downs (1827 - 1891), the daughter of Capt. Charles Downs, and the granddaughter of neighbor William Downs, who had died the previous October. In 1850 the young couple was living with Mary's parents.

By about 1850 Nye had also become the proprietor and two-thirds owner of a paint and grist mill on the north shore of Chilmark. According to an article in Issue #5 (1924-25) of The Vineyard Magazine, "The mill ground paint in oil; the paint being colored clay, dug from nearby hills." Historian Charles Banks noted that "The highest annual production while it was in operation was about 46,000 pounds, valued at $5000."

Francis' brother, painter Hiram Nye (1817 - 1898) followed his brother to the island between about 1846 and 1850, and by 1851 he had become an equal partner and co-owner of the shop. He was married to Sarah _____ (1823 - ) of Falmouth.

In August 1851, catastrophe struck the Nye family.

The Aug. 1, 1851 Vineyard Gazette reported the tragedy that occurred in the paint store:
"One of the severest thunder storms within our remembrance, passed over the Vineyard on Tuesday forenoon last, by which two valuable lives were lost, and three or four persons injured.… At Holmes Hole, Mr. Francis Nye, Jr., and Mrs. Elwina Norris, widow of Capt. Howes Norris, were instantly killed. Mr. Nye was in the cellar of his paint shop, on the Main street. The fluid entered the building from the roof, striking the chimney, which it shattered, passed below, breaking out the windows, and rendering the shop a complete wreck. A portion of the fluid descended to the cellar, instantly depriving Mr. Nye of life. It struck him on the head and shoulder, and passed off by the hip and feet. The skin was peeled off and the flesh badly burned. Mr. N's shoe was cut directly in two, lengthwise. Mr. Nye was a business man of excellent character, and his loss is greatly to be deplored. He leaves a wife and one child. There were 2 other persons in the building at the time, one of whom was rendered senseless - the other had an arm paralyzed. They are convalescent."

Nye's estate included 1/64 part of the whaling ship Ocmulgee, a Holmes Hole whaler which later gained infamy as the first northern whaler sunk by the Confederate warship Alabama, as well as 1/16 part of the home-town whaling bark(s?) Malta and Cutfett. His half-interest in the paint shop was valued at $375, but his stock in trade, including window glass, varnishes, and an astonishing variety of colored paints, was valued at nearly $4000.

In November 1852, Francis' widow Mary sold the paint shop property to Hiram for $350. (William Case Manter bought the paint mill property in Chilmark and established a grist mill and general store there.)

By 1858, Nye had taken on a partner in the business, Foster Hooker Jenkins. Walling's 1858 Holmes Hole Business Directory lists their business as "Nye & Jenkins - Paint Store" on Main Street, and the 1858 Walling Map marks this location "Paint Shop." Their partnership was short-lived, however, perhaps by design.

In February 1858, the following notice appeared in the Vineyard Gazette:
"The firm of H. Nye & Co. is this day dissolved by mutual consent. F. H. Jenkins will continue the Painting and Retailing business at the Old Stand… H. Nye intends to manufacture and wholesale Paints, in connection with paper hanging. … Hiram Nye, F. H. Jenkins, Feb. 15, 1858."

Nye subdivided the lot the same month, selling the southern half the property, which included a building, to William M. Norton for $700. This lot was twenty-seven feet wide and butted right up to the brick foundation wall of Nye's paint shop on the north. See Site #1b, below, for the history of this property.

In March 1858 Nye sold the north half of the property, including the paint shop, to Jenkins for $900. This lot was twenty-three feet wide. Nye moved to Hyannis by 1860 where he found work as a painter, and he died there in 1898. His children were Marietta R Nye (1841-?), Samuel B. Nye (1846-1851), Hiram Francis Nye (1852-?) who settled in Dennis, and Augustus B. Nye (1858-?) who settled in Hyannis.

(Site #1a) Jenkins' Paint Shop (1858 - 1883)

Foster Hooker Jenkins (1830 - 1910)

Foster H. Jenkins (1830 - 1910) was born in Falmouth to Prince Jenkins and Susan E. Fish of Falmouth. Prince Jenkins has been described as "one of the first settlers of Quissett."

Jenkins was a forty-niner who sailed to the California gold fields on the bark Orion, which left Boston in November 1849 and arrived in San Francisco in May 1850 under the command of Henry C. Bunker of Nantucket and Falmouth. (More than one-quarter of the passengers and more than a third of the crew of this ship were from Falmouth.) Nineteen-year-old Jenkins kept a very literate, elaborate, and interesting diary during this voyage, which is now in the archives of the California State University at Northridge, and was published, together with the logbook of the Orion and the journals of two other passengers, as "A Gold Rush voyage on the Bark Orion from Boston around Cape Horn to San Francisco, 1849-1850 : a unique record based upon the journals of Foster H. Jenkins, Henry S. Bradley, Seth Draper, and Ezekiel Barra" (1978) edited by Robert W. Weinpahl.

January 1865 ad

In October 1879 Jenkins won the bid for painting and preparing the windows, blinds, and shades, etc. for the new Marine Hospital building. (The old "lighthouse property" at the head of the harbor had just been transferred to the Marine Hospital Service, with Dr. W. D. Stewart in charge.)

By April 1881 James Porter West (1849 - 1917) was working as a painter for Jenkins, and in January 1882 opened an upholstery business in the rear part of Jenkins's paint shop.

His younger brother Gilbert Roy West (1852 - 1931) also worked here for a short time, although in December 1881 he returned to West Tisbury. Before working for Jenkins, Gilbert had been employed painting the new Campground houses in Cottage City. A paperhanger as well as a painter, he returned to Vineyard Haven in 1892 to work for contractor Horace Tilton.

(A third brother, West Tisbury painter Charles Hardenburg West (1864-1916), also worked for Jenkins, but later - in 1888 - at his new shop - see Site #16; and a fourth brother, Henry B. West, later worked at the Crocker's Harness Shop. James, Gilbert, Charles, and Henry were sons of West Tisbury painter Gustavus Lewis West and his wife Deborah R. Allen.)

In April 1881 Jenkins built a large addition to his shop for carriage painting, and in June 1882 the Gazette reported that Jenkins was doing "a brisk business" painting carriages.

The Great Fire of August 1883 burned down the shop, which the Gazette reported was "full of combustible materials."
Five days after the fire, Jenkins sold what was left of the property to Rodolphus W. Crocker, who by this time had bought all of the property to the south and east. (See Part 2 for a history of the Great Fire and Part 3 for more onCrocker.) Rumors circulated that Jenkins might rebuild on "Franklin Street" (the name given to Church Street at that time), and by September Jenkins had set up a temporary paint shop in Hursell's carpenter shop on Main Street (Site #40) In October 1883 Jenkins bought a lot from John H. Lambert near the southern terminus of Main Street, and in November Jenkins' new paint shop was raised. See Site #16 for the history of Jenkins' new shop.

Jenkins died in Tisbury in March 1910, and his remains were returned to his native town of Falmouth for burial. His children were Martha Hooker Jenkins; Oliver Everett Jenkins who went west at age sixteen but ultimately settled in New York and worked for the railroad; Rev. John Prince Jenkins of South Dakota; and Henry Jenkins who died as a teenager.

Mrs. Jennie L. Robinson was interviewed for "A Gold Rush Voyage on the Bark Orion" regarding her step-grandfather:
"Mrs. Robinson states that Foster Jenkins kept a paint store and was a painting contractor up until the time of his death. His hobby was gardening, especially roses. He also kept a farm hand to raise poultry and produce for his own table; the excess he sold at his store. He was a devout Christian, a Presbyterian, but as there was no Presbyterian Church in Vineyard Haven, he attended the Methodist Church and was a generous subscriber. His person Bible was always on the table by his chair where he sat evenings and he always read a chapter or more before retiring. Mrs. Robinson continues: "He was a quiet, kindly man, quiet and unassuming, but never knew or heard of his doing or saying an unkind word."

Jenkins' widow, Mrs. Elizabeth Carey (Harding) Jenkins (1843 - 1933) was born in Vineyard Haven, the daughter of Captain Edward and Jane Harding. Her first husband was Timothy Claghorn, who "was lost at sea, the merchant ship upon which he sailed never being reported after."

(Site #1a) The Martha's Vineyard Lodge (1859 - 1883)

The Masons opened a lodgeroom in part of Jenkins' shop in 1859, which they maintained until 1883.

Dr. Banks wrote about the revival of the Masons in Holmes Hole:
"A recent arrival in the town, a Mason, Mr. Joseph T. James …interested Captain Benjamin Clough, Henry Bradley, Alexander W. Smith, Dr. William Leach, Daniel F. Worth and Alexander Newcomb to apply to Marine Lodge, Falmouth, for the necessary degrees. After these men were made Master Masons in that Lodge, application for a dispensation to work was presented to the Grand Lodge and granted. A lodge-room was fitted up in Hiram Nye's paint shop (near the Martha 's Vineyard Bank building) at a cost of $1000, and in September, 1859, these seven brothers, with James as Worshipful Master, Clough as Senior Warden, and Bradley as Junior Warden restored speculative Masonry to its respected place in the community. A charter was granted Sept. 12, 1860, and from that time the growth of the lodge was rapid, until at the close of the term of Mr. James as Master in 1863 it had about seventy members. In the half century of its life the lodge has prospered through much adversity and many discouragements."

In 1883 the lodge was in the process of moving into a newly constructed lodgeroom further down Main Street (See Site #___) when the fire destroyed both buildings.

Site #1b: The South Lot - Hillman's Tenants and the First Factory

Between 1858 and 1883, the southern half of this site was a separate property. In 1883, the two lots were rejoined, and today the southern half of Compass Bank lies across this lot.


(Site #1b) William Norton's Teaming and Carting Business (1858 - 1867)

In February 1858, just before Hiram Nye sold the paint shop and business to Foster Jenkins, he had subdivided the property and sold the south half of the property, a 27-foot wide tract which included a building of some sort, to William M. Norton of Tisbury for $700. The lot butted right against the brick foundation wall of the paint shop on the north, and had rights to the little lane on the south.

William M. Norton (1820 - 1901) was born in Edgartown, the son of Tisbury farmer Mitchel Daggett Norton and his wife Jane Vincent. William was listed as a both a farmer and a teamster during the years he owned this property, and his obituary states that "A large majority of the houses of Vineyard Haven before the fire, were built of lumber that he carted." We might assume that the business he had at this site was the office of his teaming business, although he may have lived here as well.

Norton was married to Phebe A. Manchester (1833 - 1861) of New Bedford, the daughter of Adaniran and Phebe Ann Manchester of New Bedford. She died in 1861, a day and a half after giving childbirth. (The infant died the same day as her mother.) In October 1864 he married again, to Rhoda B. Allen (c.1843 - 1909) of Tisbury, the daughter of Ephraham and Dency Allen.

In January 1867 he sold this property for $475 to Thomas N. Hillman. The sale did not include the "dwelling house and basement under" which Norton agreed to remove within five months.


(Site #1b) Warren Luce's Express Office and Grocery (1871 - 1874)

In January 1871 the Gazette reported that "Thomas N. Hillman, Esq., is building a new store on Main Street. It will be an ornament to the village. It is to be occupied by Mr. W. Luce."

Capt. Warren Luce (1819 - 1907) was born in Tisbury, the son of Capt. Jesse Luce and Mary "Polly" Daggett, and the husband of Almira N. Crowell (1824 - 1907). He was a forty-niner, having gone to California on the Rialto under Capt. Charles Downs (whose parents lived next door - See North of the Bank.) Luce was also a veteran shipmaster, having circumnavigated the globe six times in his career (see Site #34.) By 1870 Capt. Luce had retired from the sea and settled in his hometown as a businessman.

Capt. Luce had been running his express business for at least a year prior to leasing this property, although the location of his first express office has not been learned. In January 1870 "Luce's Express" advertised shipping from Holmes Hole and Woods Hole to New Bedford on the Steamer Monohansett, and offered the service to "forward merchandise or money to, and collect bills from all parts of the country, making connections with the Express Agents at New Bedford."

Landlord Thomas N. Hillman (1810 - 1886) was born in Holmes Hole, the son of Elijah Hillman and Charlotte Coffin. He was listed as a Tisbury "painter" in 1844 and 1847; as a "trader" in 1850; and in 1855, 1860, 1865, and 1880 as a "farmer." He was married to Betsey West (1801 - 1883), the daughter of West Chop Light keeper James Shaw West. Hillman was an enterprising businessman, owning real estate around the island. The Gazette remarked upon one notable sale in 1872: "Cedar Tree Neck in the Lagoon Pond, formerly owned by Mr. Thomas N. Hillman, and which cost him but about $800 has been sold for $10,000." By 1873, Hillman was the sixth largest taxpayer in town.

Hillman also served as the Trial Justice during the late 1860s and early 1870s, although he was no stranger to the other side of the law. In 1871-2 he was charged with committing adultery with Mary Jane Douglas and pled "Nolo contendere." In 1873 he was indicted again for two counts of adultery, this time with Mehitable Norton. He pled guilty, and was sentenced to one year in the Bristol County House of Corrections for one charge, and two additional years of hard labor at the House of Corrections for the second charge. This period of his life hardly seem to dent his entrepreneurial career, although his days as a Trial Justice were over.

By May 1871 Hillman completed construction of his small new store here, and Capt. Luce moved into it. That month the Gazette reported that "Capt. Warren Luce of Vineyard Haven has just completed a new store in that village, located between Jenkins' Paint Shop and W. Crocker's store, to accommodate his express business, and will also keep on hand a fine assortment of Groceries, Fruits, Confectionery and Fancy Articles… In candies especially he can give good terms at wholesale or retail. The express business will be attended to promptly and reasonably, as heretofore."

In February and March 1873, Luce advertised groceries, candies, flour and corn, in addition to his express business. During 1871 - 1873 he was also known to have bought cider and cranberries from Thomas D. Fish of Falmouth.

In May 1872, Hillman sold the rear half of this lot to Rodolphus W. Crocker Jr. for $325. It was a small lot about 31 by 44 feet, set back from Main street about fifty feet. The deed notes the border on the west as the "shed now occupied by Warren Luce." It was on this small lot that Crocker built his first harness factory (see below.)

By June 1874 Capt. Luce bought land across the street, and the Gazette reported that "Land is being broken opposite the Masonic Hall for a new store to be built quite soon, I am told, for Capt. W. Luce, one of our popular expressmen." By December he had moved into his new store. (See Sites #34 and #35 for his new store, and his subsequent store.)

(Site #1b) Capt. Newcomb's Grocery Store? (1874 - before 1878?)

In December 1874 the Gazette reported that "Capt. Alexander Newcomb is about to establish himself in the general grocery business, in the store recently occupied by Capt. Luce."

Capt. Alexander Newcomb (1811 - 1879) was born in Tisbury, the son of Alexander Newcomb and Parnel Manter who lived just a couple of houses up the street (see North of the Bank - the Lambert house.) He was the husband of Cordelia Lambert (1810 - 1872), the daughter of Jonathan and Love Lambert. He spent most of his youth at sea, sailing on the ship Enterprise of New Bedford during 1828-29, on the ship Leonidas of Fairhaven in 1829, on the ship Java of Fairhaven in 1831, on the ship Hydaspe from 1832-1833, on the ship Rodman of New Bedford from 1840-1843. He probably also served on the Bark Franklin of Rochester in 1833. He may have also been master of the ship Rodman during 1843-1847. Crew lists of these vessels describe him as between 5 feet six inches and five feet seven inches in height, with a light complexion and brown hair.

From 1867 until October 1870, he was captain of the bark Sarah of New Bedford, but by the early 1870s Newcomb had retired from the sea and operated a fire, life, and accident insurance business, which he turned it over to Henry H. Smith in 1878. His wife Cordelia died of "Melencholia Exhaustion" in August 1872. In May 1873 he married Mercy A. (Heald) Lambert, the daughter of shoemaker John and his wife Hannah who had once lived just up the street (see Site #37.)

In November 1876 the Gazette reported a robbery at Capt. Newcomb's store, which netted between eight and fifteen dollars plus crackers and cheese.

Newcomb sold his insurance business in May 1878, and reportedly moved to Chelsea. He died in 1879. His probate records suggest that by this time his store may have been located down the street on Charles Smith's property (see Site #3), as Smith stated that Newcomb owed him $143.80 for rent and damage and cleaning of a store. (Or could it be that his predecessor Warren Luce had moved Smith's land after 1871, and that Newcomb had never been at this site?) Newcomb's estate inventory included $340 worth of "Stock Dry Goods, Fancy Goods, Groceries, Crockery + Small Wares." He was insolvent at the time of his death, owing more than $2000 in debts, mainly to Dr. Leach, Gilbert Smith, and Charles Smith. He had also recently lost a lawsuit involving a $175 piano.

In April 1880 the paper reported that Mrs. Annie Crowell had removed to "the rooms over the store formerly occupied by Warren Luce." This was evidently Mrs. Ann (Luce) Crowell (1818 - 1906), the wife of carpenter Arnold Crowell.

In September 1880, Hillman sold the rest of this property, including the store, to Rodolphus W. Crocker Jr., whose rapidly growing harness shop was located directly behind it to the east.

(Site #1b - Rear)
Crocker's Original Harness Factory (1872 - 1883)

Rodolphus Crocker Jr. (1845 - 1931) was born in Wareham, and came to the Vineyard with his parents when he was one year old. Rodolphus Crocker's father, Rodolphus Sr., bought the house on Main Street across the street from this lot in 1853 (See Site #33.) Rodolphus Sr. was the brother of Vineyard Haven merchant Wendell Crocker who had a shop next door for many years (see Site #2.)

According to a 1925 newspaper profile of Rodolphus Jr., "Following the death of his mother when he was about eleven years of age, Mr. Crocker left home, and bound himself out to a half-uncle, to learn the trade of harness making. The uncle, while never laying hands on the boy, contrived to torture him mentally."

His obituary adds, "The uncle, Mr. Crocker remembered, made the apprenticeship difficult and the boy sought relief in religion. 'I worked fifteen hours a day in the summer and twelve hours a day in the winter,' Mr. Crocker said, in after life. 'For this I received $25 a year and my board. And I did this for five years! I had to go out and do extra work on Sundays in order to clothe myself, although at first I was troubled by the thought that I was breaking the Sabbath.'"

The profile continues: "It is in connection with his apprenticeship that Mr. Crocker voices disgust at the eight hour day and the present wage standard. Not that he would like to see a return of olden customs perhaps, but because present day workmen are continually voicing their dissatisfaction."

The Civil War broke out when Crocker was fifteen, and twice he ran away to enlist, only to be returned to his uncle's harness shop by the sheriff both times.

His obituary continues, "His first real employment was with the Old Colony Railroad, trimming railroad coaches. … When he was 22 he returned to Vineyard Haven and opened a harness shop on the site of the present post office." This would have been about 1867 when he returned to Vineyard Haven and opened a harness shop on the corner of Main and Church streets (See Site #32). In the 1870 census, young Rodolphus was living with his father and stepmother, and working as a harness maker. His father and uncle were both listed as traders.

Rodolphus W. Crocker Jr. (1845 - 1931) Photo courtesy Dave Merry.

Rodolphus W. Crocker Jr. bought the rear part of Hillman's property for $325 in May 1872. It included rights to the little lane on the south side of the lot that gave his property access to Main Street. It was on this small lot that Crocker built his first small harness shop in 1872. The lane still exists today (2002) on the south side of the bank, but the site of Crocker's original shop is marked only by a neat plot of grass and gardens kept by the bank.

The construction of Crocker's shop went unmentioned in the newspaper, although within a few years news items began to appear regarding his employees:

The 1875 census states that Crocker's business employed nineteen men (including one boy under sixteen) and one married woman (who was furnished with work at home.) They were employed ten hours per day, 308 days that year, and the average yearly wage of $810 ($2.25 per day), making a total payroll of $15,390. The woman was paid $150 for the year. Crocker's total capital investment at the plant was $5000, and they produced $24,000 worth of goods that year.

In September 1879 the paper noted that Crocker was contemplating a barn on his premises.

In October 1880 the paper wrote that "R. W. Crocker, Esq., has purchased of Thomas Hillman the store on Main Street next to the paint shop. He has connected this purchase with the store in rear, by a large two story building to be used as a workshop. This makes a continuous building 73 feet in length, the three floors affording space for sixty workmen." (Hillman also loaned him $350 as a mortgage, which he paid off by the following year.) This purchase put Crocker's factory on Main Street.

Partial view of Crocker's first harness factory (the wide building on the left), the top of the livery stable (see Site #2), and the lane in-between. Crocker's mother's house, located on the other side of Main Street, is in the right foreground (see Site #33.) The date of this photo is uncertain, but was probably before 1880. It was taken from the Methodist Church tower.

Rear view of the bank and "Scovy Duck Alley," July 2002. Cronig's Block and the Methodist Church tower are seen in the distance. The original harness factory was in this location, where today stands little but lawn, gardens, and pavement.


In February 1881, the Gazette reported that "The Allen P. Eagleston Manufacturing Company having closed up its business, R. W. Crocker, Esq., has purchased the engine, boiler, &c. and proposes introducing steam into his harness making establishment." (See Site #___ for more on Eagleston.)

In March 1882, Crocker expanded yet again, when he paid $300 a large tract of land to the east and south, belonging to Mrs. Eliza (Harding) Sparrow of Mattapoisett. The land, shaped like an upside-down, lopsided "T", included the 12-foot lane on the south side of Crocker's lot, all the land behind Crocker's and Jenkins' lots, up to the lane on the north of the paint shop, and a 65-foot wide arm stretching all the way to the harbor on the east. (This was probably Eliza (Dunham) Harding (1827 - ) the widow of Capt. Ephraim Harding, who drowned with all his crew in the famous 1858 wreck of the John Milton - See Site #33. Eliza apparently shared ownership of this property with her step-daughter Abby (Harding) Holmes. Eliza evidently married a Mattapoisett physician, Dr. William E. Sparrow (c.1823-4 - ?) in 1869 in Rhode Island and had long moved to Mattapoisett when she made this sale.) The Gazette reported "Mr. R. W. Crocker has bought either one half or the whole of the John Manter house immediately below his shop, and will build an addition in which he proposes to do the currying of the leather he uses."

Crocker expanded his operation into his new land purchases. In March 1882, builders Thomas Norton & Son began raising the rear part of Crocker's harness shop, making the whole building a uniform height with the front. In April 1882, the Gazette reported that "Mr. R. W. Crocker has erected a gate at the head of the lane between his factory and Mr. W. P. Bodfish's stable, which will be kept locked when not in use, and is designated to keep out loafers." In July 1882 they reported that "Mr. R. W. Crocker has purchased the old post office building, and it has been moved to a position east of his main building." And in March 1883: "Mr. R. W. Crocker is having a building erected on the shore lot a short distance east of his harness factory. It is 16 x 25 feet, with two rooms above and two on the lower floor, and is to be used for tenement purposes."

His obituary continues, "[By] August 11, 1883, he owned and operated a factory employing 135 hands and carrying a payroll of $1,000 a week. This was the date of the great Vineyard Haven fire, and it completely wiped out the Crocker factory." (This figure of 135 employees is very likely an exaggeration, but Crocker's business had definitely become the biggest employer in town by 1883.)


The Employees of Crocker's First Factory

In the 1880 census of Holmes Hole, there are 17 people connected with the harness-making trade, most or all working for Crocker. Many of them were teenage boys - Crocker was known to take in boys from the New Bedford's Orphan's Home and put them to hard labor in the factory.

Sylvester G. Bradley, 26, Harness Maker (He worked at the factory for many years before opening his own harness business by 1883.)

William H. Luce, 24, Harness Maker (He lived next door. See North of the Bank - Mrs. Elenora Luce's House)

Rodolphus Crocker, 35, Harness Maker (with his wife Clara, and their servant Hattie Luce)
Michael R. Tool(e), 17, boarder, Harness Maker. (He was still working at the factory in 1882. He was from Clinton, Mass.)
John Ash, 14, boarder, Harness Maker
Timothy Shugrue, 17, boarder, Harness Maker
Charles Robinson, 13, boarder, Harness Maker
James Moha, 16, boarder, Harness Maker
Henry Bumpus, 17, boarder, Harness Maker
Chase Willis (or Hollis?), 19, boarder, Harness Maker

William Cunningham, 20, boarder, Harness Maker (boarding with Crocker's mother Mary T. Crocker across the street - see Site #33)

George M. Manter, 18, Harness Maker (with his parents Peter and Lottie Manter at their Main Street boarding house - see Site #31)
George Mason, 29, boarder, Harness Maker (living at Manter's Boarding House)
Henry C. Baker, 22, boarder, Harness Maker (living at Manter's Boarding House)
Samuel Partridge, 30, boarder, Harness Maker (living at Manter's Boarding House)

John Daily, 34, Harness Maker

Everett Stanton, 17, Harness Maker

In February 1882 the Gazette wrote about Crocker's business: "after learning his trade started here at home with one or two apprentices, and has gradually built up a business that employs over fifty hands, and his pay roll each year mounts up to thousands of dollars, some setting his business as high as $75,000."

Other employees of Crocker's pre-fire harness factory include:

  • Martin Johnson. The Gazette wrote, "This gentleman is well known as our most skillful custom boat builder, and has resided here for a number of years, partly in the employ of S. T. Meara, and of late harness making for R. W. Crocker, Esq." In January 1881 he left for Denmark.
  • William Edward Cunningham, listed as a harness-maker in 1881. He was from Quincy, Mass, and married Elwina Smith of Vineyard Haven.
  • J. W. Ingles, who in February 1882 the paper wrote was "once more in charge of the books at R. W. Crocker's harness factory"
  • James Lynch and his son Daniel, who were hired in March 1882.
  • Charles Brooks, who was making harness for Crocker in 1882 and 1883. He was from Needham. He married Frances Manter of Vineyard Haven, daughter of boarding house keeper Peter Manter.
  • "Two young lads" who in September 1882 attempted to run away. They took Shubael Vincent's dory at the wharf and stowed away in a vessel in the harbor. The vessel started off for New York but returned due to contrary winds. The boys made themselves known and were brought to shore.
  • Mr. Laducer, a workman in the factory in 1882, who lived over Capt. Warren Luce's grocery (see Site #34.)
  • Frank Pementel, started work at the factory in fall of 1882, after leaving the employ of Capt. P. L. Smith. He moved to New Bedford for a short period, but returned to work at the factory again in June 1883. (Was he related to Jose Pimental, the barber, of Site #26?)
  • Charles C Look Jr. who was acting engineer at the factory in November 1882
  • Samuel N. Brush, who worked at the factory in February 1883.
  • Howard M. Smith, also employed at the factory in February 1883.
  • George F. Winslow, who lived "up the neck" near Hatch Road, and was employed at the factory in March 1883.
  • Joseph Frates, who in March 1883 the Gazette notes was "again in his old position as engineer" at the factory, "in place of Mr. S. Carter, resigned."
  • An unnamed bookkeeper (perhaps J. W. Ingles?) who stole between $800 - $1000 from Crocker before vanishing in April 1883. The paper wrote "His book-keeper has absconded after overdrawing on his employer, and borrowing money of a number of our townspeople, who could ill afford to lose by such chicanery. Mr. John Holmes now holds the responsible position of accountant, filling the vacancy thus occasioned." Holmes lived across the street - see Site #33.
  • Mrs. Ball of Vermont, hired as the new accountant in April 1883.
  • Mr. John Daley, who was listed as a harness maker in 1880 and as the factory foreman in April 1883. He was from St. John, N.B.
  • John D. Ash, who worked at the factory for a number of years before leaving to work in Boston in April 1883.
  • Henry Bertrand West (1861 - 1930), son of Gustavus and Deborah West of West Tisbury, whose obituary notes that "as a young man he went to Vineyard Haven where he was employed in the harness factory." He was illiterate and later worked as a day laborer and gardener, and also as a dishwasher at the Mansion House. Three of brothers worked for Foster Jenkins next-door at various times.
  • Elisha L. Luce of Chappaquansett had moved to Vineyard Haven and started work at the factory by May 1882.

The Gazette stated in April 1882 that 73 hands were then on the harness factory payroll. At the time of the August 1883 fire, the New Bedford Evening Standard stated that Crocker employed about 65 people in the harness shop, while the New York Times and the Boston Herald stated that Crocker's harness manufactory employed about 75 hands.

This is an unfinished draft! Do you have any memories of any of the other people, places, businesses or events mentioned here? Or do you have corrections, additions, or suggestions? Please contact Chris Baer <>

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