Main Street, Vineyard Haven, MA: Centre Street to Church Street
Site 32: S. C. Luce's Store, The Post Office, the Phone Company, and Cape & Vineyard Electric

The following historical information relates to the houses and businesses that have stood over the past 150 years in the location of what used to be the Vineyard Haven Post Office and is now the Rainy Day building on the southwest corner of Main Street and Church Street in Vineyard Haven, Mass.
Corrections? Additions? Suggestions? Comments? Contact Chris Baer <>

Ralph Look and Stan Lair in conversation:
RL: The Cape and Vineyard. The telephone office, first. I seen some great goings on there, boy. That little alley way through there? I was a kid, you know? I don't talk. Then, the Post Office.
SL: You remember Ed Lord's shoe store?
RL: Yes! Oh, sure. He was a selectman in nineteen thirty. And I'll tell you another selectman that worked for him, Brad Clough.
SL: Yep, that's true. Brad ran the store, there.
RL: Yep.

Before the Fire:
The Holmes Hole Post Offices (1830 - 1858)

John Holmes Jr. and Charles A. Luce wrote about the house that was here before the 1883 fire: "Mrs. Peggy C. Skiff's house. Now a resident of California. Was formerly located on Chunk's Hill. Was moved by Capt. Shubael Dunham, once postmaster. After his death passed to his daughter, Mrs. Skiff. Capt. James Seldon, who commanded U. S. revenue steamer on this station, lived in it. Lastly Matthew A. Chadwick."

Eleanor Mayhew, in her book "Martha's Vineyard / A Short History and Guide" (1956) writes: "The present post office occupies the site of a former one established here by Capt. Shubael Dunham, who became postmaster in 1830 at the death of Capt. William Cottle. According to a visitor of the period, mail was displayed in the window like cakes in a bakery."

Postmaster Shubael Dunham's Post Office (1830-1835)
Capt. Shubael Dunham
(1762-1835) lived at this location in Nov. 1830, when he was appointed the postmaster of Holmes Hole. He was the son of Capt. Shubael Dunham and Lydia Chase of Edgartown, and was the husband of Charlotte Norton (1762-1821).

Postmaster George Dunham's Post Office (1835-1858)
In March 1835, about the time of Capt. Shubael Dunham's death, his son George Dunham (1802 - 1872) succeeded him as postmaster, an office he held for over twenty-three years. He was married to (1st) Eliza Manter (1801-1835) in 1820 and (2nd) Mary (Crowell) Luce (1795-1871; the daughter of Barzillai Crowell, and the widow of Elisha Luce).

The 1858 Walling map shows two buildings here: the post office on the corner, and George Dunham's house, set back a little from road, southwest of the post office. George Dunham "Esq." retired from the post office in 1858 and became a farmer.

(The post office moved from this location and was not located here again until 1903. The interim postmasters were Eliakim Norton 1858-1861; James Norton 1861-1871; James D. Peakes 1871-1881; George N. Peakes 1881-1885; John F. Robinson 1885-1896; and F. Horton Johnson 1896-1903. During 1879-80 - and possibly as early as 1871 and as late as the 1883 fire - the post office was on the east side of Main street near the Mansion House. Between 1883 and 1903 the post office was located in Lane's Block.)


The corner of Main and Church streets, before 1883 fire, as seen from the Methodist Church tower. The former post office building is on the corner, and its adjacent dwelling house on the right.


After the fire.

Mrs. Peggy Skiff's House (1872 - 1883)

After the post office here closed, this property evidently became a private residence again. It's not clear whether George Dunham and his family continued to live here or whether they moved to the outskirts of town and rented the house. We can assume that the tenants who later lived here occupied the Dunham home, to the rear of the old post office; it's unclear what may have occupied the old post office building, if anything.

Peggy C. Dunham (1832 - ?) was the daughter of George Dunham and lived with him until the early 1860s. She married Tisbury mariner James L. Skiff (c.1825-30? - ) in Fairhaven in 1854. He was the son of mariner Stephen Skiff of Chilmark and Tisbury. Peggy was listed in the 1865 census as a "mantua maker," a mantua being a style of loose gown. She inherited this 48' wide property after the death of her father, former Postmaster George Dunham, in 1872. The Skiffs evidently moved to California in the 1870s, perhaps following the death of Peggy's father, and rented out the house. According to Holmes and Luce, one of the tenants was Capt. James Seldon.

Matthew Chadwick's Rental (? - 1883)

By 1880 the house had been rented to Matthew Anderson Chadwick (1832-1909). Matthew Chadwick was born in New Bedford, the son of shoemaker Thomas S. Chadwick and his wife Sarah Crowell. Thomas and Sarah and their children had evidently come to the island from New Bedford during the 1850s. Matthew had married (1st) Eliza B. Daggett of Tisbury, the daughter of Timothy Daggett and later married (2nd) Elizabeth "Lizzie" West Luce (1836 - 1922) of Tisbury, the daughter of Jesse Luce and Emeline M. Merry.

Matthew Chadwick had been a whaler. He served as a greenhand on the bark Ohio of New Bedford in 1850; as fourth mate of the ship Amethyst of New Bedford during 1854-59, on the ship Roscuis of New Bedford in 1861, and on the bark Virginia of New Bedford in 1862. He served as second mate on the bark Osceola of New Bedford during 1866-68, and as first mate on the brig Mercy Taylor of Tisbury during 1868-1870. He served on the bark Sarah of New Bedford from 1871-73, and as first mate on the brig Rosa Baker of Boston from 1874-75. Crew lists describe him as being 5'5" or 5'6" tall. Matthew and Lizzie and their son Charles F. Chadwick had been listed in the household of Sophronia Dunham when the 1865 Tisbury census was taken, and were living in a separate rental house near the village when the 1870 census was taken.

Chadwick retired from the sea to become a grain store manager. In May 1877 the Gazette reported that William J. Rotch, "the enterprising grocer of West Tisbury," was contemplating the construction of "a large building" in Vineyard Haven "where he intends to carry on the wholesale grain business." This was an extension of Rotch's booming grocery business in West Tisbury, so he needed to hire a local manager. In September 1877 the Gazette reported that Mr. Matthew Mayhew was "in charge" of "Rotch's new grain store." This grain store was on Water Street, and later became part of the SBS company's holdings - ultimately their last downtown store.

Chadwick's rental home was destroyed in the 1883 fire. Chadwick lost $350 in uninsured furniture, and Mrs. Peggy Skiff, who was then living in Farmington, California, loss her uninsured childhood home, valued at $1000. Sometime before 1891 Chadwick had moved back to New Bedford, but he returned in that year to take over his son's fruit and confectionery store in Vineyard Haven. (See Sites #27 and #___.)

After the Fire:

Stephen C. Luce's Grocery Store (1883 - c. 1903)

Stephen Carey Luce Sr. (1854-1941) was the son of Tisbury whaler and Liverpool packet-ship master Capt. Ellsworth Allen Luce and his wife Margaret Merry Smith. He married Mary Johanna Buckley in 1879. His son S. C. Luce Jr. said that Ellsworth "was a shipmaster. He was lost at sea. My father had to go to work at seven years of age. He worked in a grocery store as a clerk."

According to his obituary, one of Luce's early jobs was a position in a ship brokerage office in New York City. Luce is mentioned in the Gazette in June 1877 as selling bread - "Vienna loaves" - at the Post Office Block in Oak Bluffs. In September 1877 the U.S. District Court in Boston brought bills of indictment against several people, including tobacco dealer Stephen C. Luce of Oak Bluffs. It is unclear what the charges were - perhaps the sale of tobacco, or possibly the sale of liquor. Later the same month it was reported that Luce had been recently hired by the firm of Macy & Wing, perhaps in Oak Bluffs.

In May 1878 the Gazette reported that Luce had "purchased the Boston Grocery of W. W. Douglas. The former proprietor is, we hear, going to Colorado, to enter in a new business." (See Site #29 for details about Luce's first store.) The 1880 Tisbury census calls the 25-year-old Luce a "retail grocer" living with his wife, mother, and several boarders.

Within weeks after the great August 1883 fire, the Gazette reported that Mr. Stephen C. Luce of Tisbury had "purchased the lot corner of Main and Franklin Streets, for the site of the store which is to be built for his grocery business." What we call Church Street was then known as "Franklin Street." Peggy C. Skiff, who listed her residence as Farmington, San Joaquin Co., California, had sold her 47-foot--wide corner lot to Luce for $700. (This deed, however, was not recorded by the county until 1967.)

In September 1883 Luce announced his plans to build a store on his recently purchased lot, and by the beginning of October the store was "well underway" by builder Moses C. Vincent. In November the new grocery store was completed, and Luce moved in. The Gazette described it as a large building.

He continued to make improvements to the property. In April 1884 Luce built a stone wall on his store lot and graded part of it, and in October 1888 Luce bought a 20' wide portion of the lot which neighbored on the south, the so-called "Trask Lot," from W.W. Douglas for $266. In December 1889 he sold the rear part of this narrow lot to R. W. Crocker for $25.

Business boomed. In May 1889 Luce opened a branch grocery in North Tisbury, and in August 1891 the Gazette reported that "Mr. Stephen C. Luce had purchased the store at North Tisbury owned by Miss Margaret Norton, and will remove his grocery business to this store from the one now occupied in that town." In July 1891 he was awarded the contract to supply the Marine Hospital with groceries for one year.

Gratia Harrington (1885- ) said in 1980:
"The [store] that was important to us was down on where the Rainy Day is now. That was a grocery store. Well the extraordinary thing about that was that in the fall of the year the man who ran that grocery store used to get a big hogshead of pickles. And when we had just time recess to go on down there to get one, you see, and they had a wooden dipper, and we used to [shuffling sounds] this way until we got the biggest one we could find, it would come up, you know, and that was wonderful for it only cost a penny. Nice big pickle for a penny. Of course I loved to have licorice with it so if I had two pennies that was terribly good cause I could buy these shoestring licorice and the pickle, so that was wonderful."

Gratia Harrington also wrote of her memories of this store from the early 1890s in a 1967 Gazette: "[Here] stood the grocery store of Stephen C. Luce. The building, now much enlarged, houses the post office and the Cape & Vineyard. At the time of which I write this grocery had one distinguishing feature which set it apart from the other grocery stores in town, at least in the eyes of the small fry. On the left-hand side of the entrance, as one entered the store, there stood a very large barrel filled with very good-sized cucumber pickles and furnished with a stout wooden dipper. Now the village school was located where the town tennis courts stand. During our fifteen minute recess it was possible to dash down to Main street and, if one were armed with a penny, to proceed to the pickle barrel. Once there one grasped firmly the wooden dipper and roiled the pickles extensively until a very large one was brought to the surface. Of course, as the school year advanced and the quantity of pickles was reduced by the inroads of eager penny spenders, it became necessary to lean farther and farther over to wield the dipper and properly inspect the pickles. As the end of the school year approached, one was bent perilously over the rim of the barrel, with one's head well down in the depths.
"The store was later enlarged somewhat to accommodate the telephone central. I remember well during the Spanish American War, reading the bulletins in the window telling of the capture of Spanish ships. Sometime later I also remember waiting thirty to forty-five minutes to put through a call to Boston."

In April 1896 the Gazette reported that Luce was enlarging his store. In December 1897 there was a reference in the paper to Luce's "candy window." In June 1900 Luce was among the local grocers selling "milk lunch".

By Jan 1898 Fred Stanton was clerking at Luce's grocery, and by September 1898 Carl Carlson was clerking. In March 1900 it was reported that Miss Celia W. Adams of Chilmark had resigned and that Miss Etta Reed was to take her position. By June 1900 Henry Bodfish was working for S. C. Luce.

S. Carey Luce Jr. said:
"I was born in Vineyard Haven November 25, 1890. My father's name was Stephen C. Luce. My mother's name was Mary J. Buckley. My father was primarily engaged in the retail grocery business on the location where the post office in Vineyard Haven is now situated. I had no brothers or sisters, and was the only child and, I always thought, a little spoiled! I attended the schools in Vineyard Haven and graduated from the Tisbury High School in June 1908.

"The first job that I ever had was when I was nine years old working in my father's grocery store and thank goodness I worked ever since. I had no particular feelings about what I wanted to do. My father wanted me to be a lawyer, but quite frankly I didn't think I was a good enough bet, and I wouldn't allow him to spend any money experimenting with whether I would be a lawyer or not. I've always been a person who had to learn things by doing and not by reading."

"I remember milk was six cents a quart. They'd bring it in the stores, and get store pay. For instance bring it in my father's store and he'd pay him in the things they sold."

"I worked in the store and one of the first things that I did was to clean out the stable in the morning where he kept his horses. At that time there were no automobiles or telephones. The orders were taken by the men who went from house to house with horses and wagons and took orders and came back to the store and put them up. My job was to have the stable cleaned, the horses cleaned - and there were five - the harnesses and wagons in presentable condition, and ready for the men's start out at 6:30. [I got up at] four o'clock. I get up half past four now. I was up this morning at ten minutes past four! Yes, always have.

"When he sold the grocery business he had some horses that he used to have out there and I thought it would be a good idea I'd keep some of those horses and I'd rent them to the telephone linemen. And I did. I get them ready, get them all hitched up before I went to school, and the linemen would take them and go out and have the horses dinners all ready and they'd come back at night and I'd be there after school and put the horses out. And for a kid fifteen years old, this was real money then. I was pulling in about $125 per week profit. And I put that in a savings bank, and I've got it now, and it's a lot of money! Well, that's where I got in the horse business…"

Luce retired from the grocery business in 1903 to become postmaster of Vineyard Haven.

Stephen C. Luce Store, mid-1890s. The boy at the center is Stephen Carey Luce Jr. (1890-1982)

Circa 1896-1901 photo of Stephen C. Luce's store and the telephone company.

The Telephone Company (c. 1896 - 1928)

Luce had a telephone installed in his first store (See Site #29) in June 1881 which connected his Vineyard Haven grocery with an office in Cottage City. By the summer of 1882, the Gazette reported that "one can stand in the telephone office here and chat with his friend in Edgartown." By the summer of 1883 (just before the great fire) telephone poles had gone up and communication had been established between Vineyard Haven and West Tisbury.

Luce's telephone was not the first on the island. In August 1878, only two years after Alexander Graham Bell first spoke to Mr. Watson using his new invention, the Gazette reported that "Howes Norris, Esq., has a regular Bell telephone connecting the Sea View telegraph office with the office at Eastville, where messages may be sent and make connections with the main land. Mr. Norris has rendered us a service by his enterprise, as messages may now be sent without going to the Bluffs."

In September 1884 it was reported in the Gazette that the Martha's Vineyard Telegraph office had moved from Cottage City to Stephen C. Luce's store, and that telephone connection now existed between Vineyard Haven and Cottage City, Eastville, Edgartown, North Tisbury, and West Tisbury.

The results of the election in November 1884 were "telegraphed in" to the office at S. C. Luce's store and then telephoned to rest of the island. The same month it was mentioned in the paper that the Western Union Telegraph Co. had a branch office in Vineyard Haven, presumably the one at Luce's store.

The telegraph lines were constantly failing. In May 1885 it was reported that the telegraph cable had been fixed and that the Western Union Co. had placed "a lady operator" in charge of the office, located at S. C. Luce's store. In September 1885 a storm knocked down an old willow on Wharf (Union) Street and reportedly tangled the telephone and telegraph lines. In October 1885 the Western Union Co.'s telegraph cable had again failed.

A March 1886 article described the path for newly planned telegraph lines. The cable was already in place in the Sound at that time, but the land portion, on poles, was about to be set up soon. The line began at the Western Union office at Woods Hole and ran from there to Long Neck, into Buzzards Bay, to Uncatena Point, and then direct to the end of Vineyard Sound. The cable ran two miles east of Tarpaulin Cove to Cedar Tree Neck. On Martha's Vineyard the lines were planned to connect to Vineyard Haven and Edgartown, and then connected by telephone to Cottage City and Gay Head. A cable to Nantucket was to run from South Beach. By April 1886 it was reported that iron poles for the "Signal Service cable" had been put up, and that the connection was complete from Cedar Tree Neck. The Gazette article reported that the poles were more modern looking than the old-time wooden ones.

In November 1886 it was reported that the winter headquarters of the U. S. Signal Service telegraph and telephone lines were to be located at the Mansion House. (See Sites #___ and #30 for more early telephone and telegraph history.) The next ten years passed and S. C. Luce evidently had no direct relationship with the telephone business during this period.

Finally, in November 1896 the Gazette reported that "The Telephone Exchange has moved from its room over Luce Bros.' store into Mr. Stephen Luce's store, corner Church and Main streets."

In February 1900 the Gazette reported that a long distance telephone cable for the Southern Massachusetts Telephone Company were being laid to Vineyard Haven via West Chop, and that Stephen C. Luce was the island agent for this company. It also reported that off-island telephone service was to begin March first. There were two cables that ran to the island from Nobska to West Chop at this time - one telegraph, and one long-distance telephone cable. In July 1903 the Gazette reported that a new telephone line had been laid to Lamberts Cove.

S. C. Luce Sr.'s 1941 obituary notes: "Becoming manager of the [telephone] company on the Island, he developed the telephone system here, and the first central office, a small switchboard less than three feet square, was in the back room of his grocery. The difficulties with which he had to cope, assisted by a single helper who was at once a mechanic and lineman, were many and varied. Among other things, he and his single helper repaired the wreckage of the most violent storm the Island ever saw after telephone service was established, the great November gale of 1898; and there were many other incidents relating to telephone maintenance which he met with equal efficiency. During his management, the number of telephones here increased to 450. He retired from his grocery business and from telephone affairs in 1903 to become postmaster of Vineyard Haven, following his appointment by President Theodore Roosevelt."

S. Carey Luce Jr. said in 1972: "My father was very anxious to see that the Vineyard had some telephone lines, telephone system. And so he entered into a contract with a firm was called the Southeastern Bell Telephone Company and it was located in New Bedford. And the law firm of Clifford, Crapo, Prescott, and Bullard owned that company, owned the stock of that company. The general manager's name was W. K. Wagner. And I always had a very soft spot in my thoughts for Mr. Wagner, because when I was married he is the only person that gave my wife and I a wedding present and had the initial 'L' put on it. Most of the gifts had my wife's maiden initial on it, which was 'T', but I always felt right kindly of Mr. Wagner. At any rate my father as I say had this contract with the telephone company, Southeastern Bell Telephone Company, and he built the lines, or had them built, on the Vineyard and he made it their business, and developed the business. I remember when he came home one day and said 'Well, what do think I have done? I have talked over the telephone with Edgartown!' He talked with a man in Edgartown who was in the jewelry business and his name was Richard G. Shute.

"The switchboard was in the office, my father's office, in the grocery store, and the bookkeeper in the grocery store was the operator. In her spare time she'd answer. We had telephones that you cranked; there was no what they called cochangers, which are those things that ring automatically. At any rate this went on for some time and I learned how to operate that telephone. And that continued for quite a long while even when I was in high school because I was a night operator in the telephone exchange. And that exchange was located where the Cape & Vineyard sales and business office is now. I used to go to bed about half past ten and I'd lie in a cot folded up in front of the switchboard. The thing developed then considerably of course and he had to move out of his office in the grocery store. A gong would ring in the middle of the night and wake me up and I'd get up and also had a little potbellied stove there and I had to get up in the middle of the night in winter and refuel the thing because there wasn't enough to go through the night. I was going to school at that time, high school, and I could do some of my homework there when I wasn't listening to conversations that went on late night, of private people who could get on it quite a little there.

"Had one very interesting experience, I won't mention his name, there was a lady up in West Tisbury used to rubber on the telephone and it was very difficult when you ring on the line, she'd take down her receiver, and then you couldn't get power enough with this hand crank to make the bells on the line ring very loud and we had some trouble to catch her. And so Capt. George Donaldson lived in where Alley's gas station used to be - I don't know what they call it now, I think the ____ boys run it. He lived there and he had a friend who was Capt. Albertus Calhoon who was captain of the lighthouse up at Gay Head. He lived in West Tisbury on Music Street and it was arranged that he was on the same line that this lady was on, and we thought we knew who it was. So Capt. Donaldson called up someone and said - we heard this lady's receiver come down and we knew she was on there - and he said 'Did you hear that Albertus Calhoon was murdered last night?' And this lady came right on, and so we knew her voice, and said 'Good God, who did it?' Well, many amusing incidents.

"My father arranged to have the cables laid from the mainland to the island here and the first cable was from Nobska to West Chop. And we used to have a lot of fun at night - late at night - we'd call up all these outlandish places and talk with the operators there. They had a kind of club, of course they were all doing the same thing. Congressmen Nicholson I remember it was, he lived in Wareham, he was the night operator up in Wareham and had really quite a little group that used to get together once in a while. That went on for years and years, after I even came to the bank the group used to get together. But anyway my father sold the grocery business, closed it out, and was appointed postmaster in nineteen hundred and three, I would think it was, might have been two or three.

"Getting back to the telephone business, that was of course enlarged and then my father didn't want to continue and it had got way beyond his… it got to be a big thing. And so in the meantime the New England Telephone and Telegraph Company had bought the control of this Southeastern Bell Telephone from Mr. Prescott, Mr. Clifford, Mr. Bullard and merged it with New England Telephone and Telegraph Company."

Ethel Fischer, Mr. _____ Luce, and telephone operator Elizabeth W. "Lizzie" (Jones) Downs. The woman at the rear is unidentified. The building on the left appears to be the post office, and the street on the right to be Church Street. Roughly 1910?

Joseph A. Merry was Luce's first night operator. For the previous twelve years he had worked in Luce's grocery, and after the switchboard was installed he worked in the store during the days, and slept in the operator's office nights. Later, after Luce gave up the grocery business and became postmaster, Merry became postmaster at West Chop and held that position for 15 years.

It's unclear who Luce's other early operators were. The 1900 Tisbury census lists Henrietta L. Reed (1876-) as a "telephone operator" but it is unclear whether she worked for Luce's company or for the competing telephone company across the street started by Dr. Lane about 1895 (see Site #26.) Miss Wright is also listed as a telephone operator in January 1902.

In May 1902 19-year-old Thankful Gorham Downs (1883-1967) began with Luce's company. She was the daughter of harnessmaker Frank G. Downs (see Site #___) and Abbie Tilton. In a 1937 article for the Gazette, it was reported that when Thankful Downs was hired in 1902 there were only two or three other telephone employees. The Gazette wrote: "The young North Tisbury girl worked first at a tiny switchboard about two feet square, situated in the back room of the grocery store of S. C. Luce of Vineyard Haven. Telephones were few in those days, and at first only the down-Island towns were linked together by the system. The telephones were the huge wall sets, sometimes called farmers' telephones, with Leyden jars stored in the cabinet and many contrivances that failed to work when weather conditions affected them. The call to the operator in those days was 'Give me John Smith', and perhaps, when the operator failed to place Smiths' number at once, the subscriber would inform her that it was 'two long and two short.' The numbering system was a later innovation, and so with many other improvements that have been made since Miss Downs first went to work as 'central.'" Downs retired from the phone company in 1947.

A 1947 article noted: "The telephone office, such as it was, consisted of a corner of the store room of Stephen C. Luce's grocery store, when Miss Downs first began to work for the company. The board before which she sat was perhaps three feet square and contained two positions. Her chair was a varnished, round-backed wooden chair, a type sometimes found in kitchens, and her background was a stack of flour barrels, boxes of spices, cases of canned goods, and a small heap of Leyden jars, or wet batteries, which the old telephones used, a few coils of wire, and whatever tools the single repair man may have dropped there from time to time."

Downs' 1967 obituary noted: "'I started to work in Mr. Luce's store,' Miss Downs said once in later years, 'and he worked us twelve to fourteen hours a day.'" "She was not the first operator, for when she began her long service there was but a two-position switchboard which replaced the single-position board in an unscreened corner of the Luce store with a background of flour barrels, cases of groceries, and a heap of telephone equipment."
"Miss Downs sometimes said that she hated her given name. 'It was not of my choosing, nor my mother's' she said. 'It was my grandmother who chose it. She was wearing a hoop skirt and went to a grist mill to get her flour. Her skirt caught in the cogs and she injured her leg. The miller grabbed her and pulled her out in time. I was born a few months later, and miller's name was Faithful so I got the name Thankful. I have to use it all because of that old hoop skirt."

Basil Welch and Stan Lair in conversation:
SL: Thankful Downs.
BW: Yeah, I remember Thankie. She was a telephone operator for many years. I guess she started originally with Dr. Lane from one of her tapes that she made, and which was before my time. And then she went to the New England company and she worked for many many years for them. And she just died what not that long ago, not too many years ago.
SL: She was sister to Addie Bangs, Stuart Bangs' mother. And she was a telephone operator for a good many years.

Mrs. Addie (Downs) Bangs (1892-1992) said in 1980: "This New England telephone company had an office on Main street, right in back of Luce's grocery store. I used to go over there. I was very fascinated with that work. Lizzie Jones, of course, she was there. She operated the switchboard there for years."

In August 1907 the paper reported that Miss Lina Davis had taken permanent position at the "Telephone Exchange."
In September 1907 Lloyd Lamprey of Brockton was reported to be in town "sinking the telephone wires beneath the street." In January 1908 a petition circulated that opposed placing telephone poles on William Street.

In 1907 the employees of The Southern Massachusetts Telephone Company (which was evidently by this time a branch of the New England Telephone & Telegraph Company) included Miss Downs, Frank Golart Jr. (1872-1932; see Site #19), Ethelyn Davis Hillman (1889-?), and Marian S. Wright (c.1887-8 -?). The 1907 Vineyard Haven directory lists "Public Telephone Pay Stations" at L. L. Aldrich's store (Site #23) and the selectmen's office. George H. Smith of Falmouth is listed as the company manager.

In the fall of 1906 Stephen C. Luce, Esq. was referred to as the "manager" of the Southern Massachusetts Telephone Co., but his duties as the new postmaster soon put an end to his direct management of the company. In May 1911 it was reported that Walter H. Sanford had become the Vineyard Haven manager of the Southern Massachusetts Telephone Company, and in January 1913 the New England Telephone and Telegraph Co. signed a five-year lease with Luce to rent part of the ground floor of his former grocery. This was a formality, as the company already occupied this space, but the lease describes their facility as consisting two rooms and a toilet, with additional space for the "rest-room" and a 17' x 38' "operating room" which was then under construction. The lease also gave them rights to the new 17 x 38 concrete basement beneath. The yearly rent was $600, and required that Luce install a new hot water heating system to provide 24-hour heating of the building, and to wire the building for electric lights.

1910 Tisbury census lists 17-year-old George L. Peirce as the night operator of the telephone office. He was the son of carpenter Charles L. Peirce. Sisters Ethel D. Hillman and Lydia B. Hillman (1891-1973) are also listed as operators. They were the daughters of carpenter George D. Hillman. They married and left the company by the 1920s. Frank Golart is listed as the "wire chief" of the telephone company, and Charles Murphy of Maine is listed as a "wireman" for the company. Marion S. Wright (daughter of widow Lizzie G. Wright) and Lenora Barnard Smith (1889-?; daughter of laborer Charles F. Smith and Mary Luce Crocker) were also listed as operators in 1910.

By 1910 Thankful Downs was described as the "head operator" of the telephone exchange. In 1916 Mrs. Laura Vincent, who had just graduated from Tisbury High School, was hired to work in the manager's office of the Telephone Exchange as the assistant to Miss Christina Wade Smith (1892 - ?; the daughter of painter Lawrence Smith). In June 1918 it was reported that Theodore Chapman Howes (1896-?) was working with the Telephone Exchange during his vacation.

Stan Lair identified these four women as Marion S. Wright, Thankful Downs, Lizzie (Jones) Downs, and Ethel Fischer.
All except Fischer were known to be operators at the telephone company.

Thankful Downs said in a 1947 article: "When the armistice was signed at the end of the first World War, the village became a mad-house and we felt the effects of it very strongly."

By March 1919 Frank Lester Eddy (c. 1886-7 - 1920) of Vermont had become the manager of the Southeastern Massachusetts Telephone Company for the Vineyard and Nantucket districts. He died in April 1920.

In 1920 Erwin C. Burleigh (c. 1883 - 1952) became the manager of the telephone exchange. Burleigh was born in Laconia, NH. He had worked in the telephone business since his youth, and was eventually employed by the New Jersey Telephone Company. He came to the Vineyard in 1920 from Brockton, and served as the manager for Nantucket as well until the jobs were separated in 1929. In 1929 Burleigh returned to New Jersey to accept a job with his old employer, but ten years later he retired to the island to operate the Mansion House (See Site #15.)

Erwin C. Burleigh

In October 1920 the New England Telephone and Telegraph Co. extended their lease with S. C. Luce.

The 1920 Tisbury census lists Chief Operator Thankful Downs as well as the following telephone company employees: operator Alice Howland Smith (1896 -?; daughter of widow Mrs. Mary Luce (Crocker) Smith); operator Florence Emma Stevenson (1901-1930; daughter of the Danish Capt. Henry Stevenson); electrician Henry Counsell (c. 1885-6 - 1944; an English immigrant who arrived in the US in 1884 and by 1920 was staying at Mabel Johnson's boarding house - see Site #___); Frank Golart, lineman; electrician Clarence Parker Chapman (c.1888-9 - 1965); clerk Mary A. Luce (c.1900-?); operator Gladys Mary Baptiste (1901-? ; the daughter of grocery salesman Joseph B. Baptiste); operator Louise X. (Bodfish) Swift (c. 1896-7 - ?; the divorced daughter of teamster Frank B. Bodfish); cashier Berta Hagen Fuller (1897 - ; the daughter of mason James O. Fuller); manager Frank L. Eddy; night operator Carlton Ellery Norton (1901-1970; the son of carpenter Carlton E. Norton); supervisor Louise Emerson Pinkham (1894 - 1943; the daughter of Simeon C. Pinkham); and operator Dorothy Reed Cleveland (1901-?; the daughter of fisherman Charles B. Cleveland.)

Connie Leonard said: "Just beyond Mr. Briggs', also a little path goes, there was the business office of the telephone company. The business office for the telephone company was right there where Kennedy's framing. And Alice (Stevenson) Burt and Berta Fuller worked there. I did drop in there occasionally. Just a couple of desks. The switchboard was in the back, I think there was two levels in the back, and that's where the switchboard was. [Thankful Downs] was probably in the back there somewhere, I didn't go up there. Mr. Burleigh was the manager, Erwin Burleigh. He was the manager for years. They lived next door to us down on Franklin Street where the Arno house is. They lived there for years.

Connie Leonard also remembers Howard Whitney working as a night operator.

Basil Welch and Stan Lair on Erwin Burleigh:
SL: Mr. Burleigh. You remember him. Erwin Burleigh?
BW: Yeah, I remember he lived next door to the old telephone company. I know he was the manager of the telephone company on the island here at one time. But I don't remember when he was. Might have been when I was a kid. I remember when he ran the Mansion House. And I remember Mrs. Burleigh - she lived a lot longer than he did.
SL: She could turn the air blue, boy!
BW: Oh boy, couldn't she!
SL: She was a good-hearted woman.
BW: I tell you one thing, if you worked for the phone company boy there was nothing she wouldn't do for you. She used to take in roomers there, you know. 'Course she could talk though.
SL: A good-hearted woman.
BW: Yep, yep.

By October 1923 Miss Mina Silva was working as an operator at the Telephone Exchange. By November 1923 Miss Anna Medeiros (probably the daughter of Azorean barber Raul Medeiros) was working at the Telephone Exchange, and by June 1925 Dorothy Cleveland was working as the night operator of the telephone office. In October 1925 Berta Fuller resigned and Miss Mary Pease was hired to fill the vacancy. In October 1926 Miss Mumler resigned and Miss Vivian Horton was hired in her place. Thankful Downs continued as "chief operator" of the NET&T Co., as did Erwin C. Burleigh, local manager.

Thankful Downs

In May 1927 the NET&T Co. renewed their lease with Luce. The five-year agreement entitled them to 646 square feet in the first floor of Luce's 1½ story building plus the basement underneath, as well as a portion of the one-story frame addition (about 343 ft2) and a portion of a second addition (about 375 ft2). Their yearly rent was $800.

In December 1928 the telephone company announced their plans to build a two story Colonial brick structure on Beach Street (where today - 2001 - stands the Educomp building.) The "Windemere," a rooming house that stood at that location, was moved across the street and incorporated into the Mansion House, and the new brick building was built by the Sawyer Construction Co. of Boston.

In June 1929 the phone company moved to their new headquarters and the system was "cut over" at 10:59 p.m. on Saturday night, June 23rd, in a grand ceremony which involved old-timers Stephen C. Luce "first agent for the telephone company on the Island", Frank Golart "first lineman and general mechanic" and Joseph A. Merry "first night operator." Also involved in the wiring switch-over were A. C. Fitch, district traffic manager, and James Murphy.

By March 1930 John D. Lawlor had become the local manager of the telephone company, and the early operators at the new facility included Grace Mayhew, Rose Oliver, Evelyn West, Elizabeth Childers, and many others. Martha's Vineyard converted to dial telephones about 1963, eliminating need for a large number of operators. In July 1930 the first transatlantic call from the island took place. The eight minute call between Vineyard Haven and England cost eighty dollars.

The new phone company building, 1929. Educomp occupies this building today (2001).

The Post Office (1903 - 1979?)

Stephen Carey Luce Sr. was appointed postmaster of Vineyard Haven in 1902, but evidently did not begin his duties until 1903. Since April 1900 he had reportedly been the postmaster of West Chop, a position he held until August 1903.

In March 1903 the Gazette reported that the post office was about to move to Luce's building, across the street from it's former location. Since shortly after the 1883 fire, the post office had been located in Lane's Block.

In April 1903 the Nobnocket Club temporarily moved into the tenement over Luce's store, and an oyster supper was held in the temporary club room. (Later that month the club bought the "old Harding place" near the beach. The home of the late Mrs. Sarah Gray, it was moved closer to the water and made into the new club headquarters.)

Edith A. Beetle (?-1947), Gertrude Wilder Bodfish (1889-?; daughter of blacksmith Prentiss C. Bodfish), and Stephen Carey Luce Jr. (1890-1982; son of the postmaster) are all listed as post office clerks in the 1907 Vineyard Haven directory. Joseph A. Merry is listed as the postmaster of West Chop.

In 1907, the office summer hours were from 5:30 a.m. until 8:45 p.m., its winter hours were 6:30 a.m. until 7:45 p.m., and its Sunday hours were from 11:30 a.m. until 1:00 p.m. The money order office was open from 7:00 a.m. until 7:30 p.m. The mails arrived twice daily from Oak Bluffs and Edgartown, once a day from up-island, once a day from Nantucket, four times daily from New Bedford, and three times daily from Boston, New York, and points south and west.

The 1910 Tisbury census again lists 20-year-old Gertrude W. Bodfish as a post office clerk. Edwin N. Cook, aged 32, is listed as the driver of the mail stage. The 1910 directory again lists Edith A. Beetle as a post office clerk.

Early view of the Luce's building from the Methodist Church tower. Sheriff Walter Renear's home is in the right foreground on Church street, and Lane's Block is in the background on Main street.

About 1912-13, eighteen-year-old Arthur Ashley Mayhew (1894-1953) was hired by the post office. He left to serve in Europe during World War I, but returned to the post office after the war.

In 1913 the U.S. government signed a ten-year lease for post office quarters with Postmaster Luce. At that time the post office occupied a 18' by 19' room on the first floor of Luce's building together with a 24' by 30' extension in the rear, plus cellar space. There was a rear entrance on Church Street. The lease included provisions for heat and light fixtures, water closets, and a fireproof safe with a burglar proof chest, and iron bars to protect the office. The annual rent was $450.

In 1913 Postmaster Luce established the Rural Free Delivery Route, and Frederick Clifford Luce (1878-1924; son of blacksmith Benjamin N. Luce), formerly a grocery salesman, was appointed the first RFD carrier. (Previously Frederick A. Mayhew of Chilmark had driven the up-island mail stage on the "Star Route.")


The post office about 1910. The building on the right is Castello's Block. Photo courtesy Bob Renear.


The post office and telephone office about 1919.


Neighbor Mrs. Renear and a rear view of the post office building from Church Street. Photo courtesy Bob Renear.


S. C. Luce Jr. in back of the post office


The 1920 Tisbury census includes 64-year-old Postmaster Luce, 30-year-old Assistant Postmaster Gertrude W. Bodfish, clerk Arthur A. Mayhew, clerk Flossie Poole Allen, and rural mail carrier Frederick C. Luce.

Flossie Poole Allen (c1893-4 - 1984) was the daughter of William and Sarah Hammett Allen of Chilmark, and the brother of author Joseph Chase Allen. She was hired by the post office in 1913, and retired in 1963 after 51 years of service. In 1931 Miss Allen married Rev. Edgar James Curry, Methodist Church pastor.

Connie Leonard remembers some of the early post office employees: "Flossie Allen, Flossie Curry - Flossie who married Mr. Curry, that little short fat man. And Gertrude Bodfish, and Eleanor Baptiste, she was Eleanor Cleveland."

Eleanor (Cleveland) Baptiste (1898-1973) was the daughter of fisherman Clement L. Cleveland, and the wife of Franklin N. Baptiste.

In 1922 Milton Welch was hired.

Milton Welch said in a 1979 interview: "I started in Oak Bluffs in the post office as a summer help in 1921. And then I took the examination before that. And then Lena MacNeill was assistant postmaster. Pat Dow was a clerk. And Lena MacNeill was gonna marry - Lena Athearn her name was then - Lena Athearn was gonna marry Bill MacNeill. So she was getting through. So Pat Dow was gonna take her place, and they wanted somebody to take Pat's place. So Pat and Fred Place was very friendly, see, so, Pat got Fred to take it, then I took it, and I forget, there was a couple of others who took it. Well, of course Fred Place got the job, see, and I got the substitute, I'd go in after it. So I used to work summers, and then I'd work Christmastime, and they needed they'd call me, see? That was 1921. Then they were gonna have an examination for Vineyard Haven post office so I asked Pat Dow about taking that one and he said no harm, you can take it if you want to but he says, I imagine they'll give it to a Vineyard Haven boy. So he said why don't you go over and talk to the postmaster over there. So I come over and I talk to Mr. Luce and he said well, Gert Bodfish was gonna get married, and she was leaving the post office and Vineyard Haven. So, Arthur Mayhew was gonna have her job and they wanted somebody for Arthur's job. So Mr. Luce told me there well he said that they wasn't sure when they were gonna have it and all this and that so well I asked him if he'd mind if I took the examination and he says, no, he says you can take it. So I took it, myself, Dana Swift, Billy Andrews' brother, Bart Brush, and there was one more who took it - I forget now who it was. And we all took it. And it was all fixed so Bart Brush was gonna have it, see, because Bart Brush's family was related to old man Luce somehow, I don't know how. Well, so Bart was gonna have it. Well then Bart married a school teacher come from Raynham and she never liked it here very well or anything and her father had a big farm there in Raynham. So Bart decided he was gonna get through and go to Raynham and run the farm. So I don't know whether it was Carey Luce who came to see me or Mr. Luce, well before that Carey and his father went to see Mr. Landers and talk to Mr. Landers about me and I never forget Mr. Landers told me and he said, Milton, he says I told him that we made the wrong mistake when we took Fred instead of you. So then, Carey or his father wrote me a note and wanted to see me and so I went over and he told me it wasn't a steady job, but I could work in there. So I worked in there in 1922 I came to Vineyard Haven. I worked in September, and I used to ride my bicycle back and forth and then in October we moved over.…"
"When I went into Vineyard Haven post office there was Mr. Luce, Arthur Mayhew, Flossie Allen, and myself. That's all that was in there. And then once in a while when we got real short Eleanor Baptiste would come in and help. She was related to Steve, see. She'd come in to help. That was in 1922. I retired in 1957, October."

Basil Welch and Stan Lair on Milton Welch:
BW: My father was born in Oak Bluffs. There were six children in his family. There were five boys and one girl. The three older ones were born in Maine, and his father - was my grandfather - used to come from Maine with Clofus Gonyon and bring horses on a train down to New Bedford, and then drive them to Woods Hole, and put them on the ferry, and come over here, and those horses pulled the horse-drawn trolley cars in Oak Bluffs in the summertime. And in the fall they took them back to Maine. Well after a half a dozen years my grandfather moved here, and stayed here, and the following year Clofus Gonyon moved here and stayed here, and they had their teams of horses here, and Clofus Gonyon bought an ice company.
SL: Is Annie Gonyon his daughter?
BW: Yes. Yep. And Clofus bought an ice company and my grandfather worked for him and one or two years he worked at the old Katama hotel. Well anyway, that's my grandfather. My father, as I said, was born and brought up in Oak Bluffs, went to school there, and he went into the post office sometime around 1919-1920 somewhere in there, and transferred to the Vineyard Haven post office after about a year in Oak Bluffs, and stayed in the Vineyard Haven post office and was the postmaster - acting postmaster - right up until he retired.

In November 1923 the federal government signed a new ten-year lease with Luce for the post office quarters. The premises as described in the deed was the same as the 1913 deed, with the addition of a 7'x16½' side extension. The rent was increased to $780 per year.

About 1923 Herbert R. Norton took over the RFD route from Frederick C. Luce.

In October 1927 Mrs. Mary Joanna Luce, wife of Postmaster Stephen C. Luce, died at the age of 68. She was born in Vineyard Haven, the daughter of Capt. William Buckley and Sarah A. Luce. Mrs. Luce was a charter member of the Ladies Library League, established in 1878 with the purpose of creating a public library. After the first library (see Site #22) was destroyed in the 1883 fire, she led the movement to reestablish a new library (see Site #24).

During the summer of 1928 the Gazette reported that Albert C. Littlefield had been hired as a new clerk in the post office, replacing Edward C. Swift (1907-?; son of fish merchant Arthur B. Swift). Swift later returned during the summer of 1930 to clerk.

1930 Gazette articles mention clerks Arthur Mayhew, Milton Welch, Ed Swift, and Miss Annie Rogers. 1933, 1935, and 1937 articles also mention postal clerk Annie Rogers.

In April 1934 a five-year lease for the post office quarters was signed. The description of the space is the same as in the 1923 lease, with the addition of a rear parking space. The rent was lowered to $585 per year. In 1938 they signed an identical five-year lease.

Connie Leonard on Postmaster Stephen C. Luce Sr.: "Oh heavens, yes. Never paid much attention to him. I don't think he liked kids very well. Little short grumpy man! But I remember a little bit later when Arthur Mayhew. He was postmaster for a long time."

Basil Welch and Stan Lair in conversation:
SL: S. C. Luce. Sr. Do you remember him at all?
BW: I remember him. He was the postmaster when I was a kid. And of course my father worked at the post office. And I remember old Steve - he lived at the corner of William Street and Spring Street, on the corner towards the Main Street, the east corner I guess you call it. He a crooked leg, I don't know whatever happened to his leg. He had one leg the knee was bent out to one side. I think the opposite leg that old L. E. Briggs had. He had one that cantered the other way.
SL: (Laughs.) Yeah, that's right!
BW: But he used to hobble around that office there. That was when the post office was in the store on Main Street that is now called the Rainy Day shop, across from Leslie's Drug Store.

In a 1982 letter to Stan Lair, Kathleen McDonough wrote about this tiny snapshot: "Hi Stanton: This is the picture I spoke about. I'm sure I was told that Billie Andrews is on the end and I'm sure Pierce is next to Mr. Dunlap but I don't know the others. This was taken with a somewhat different camera and I have one of P.T. alone taken that morning. I can remember the blue plaid mackinaw. I have always understood it was the time the first draftees left. You can have the picture but I would be interested to know who the others are. It could be Carey Luce standing in front of the drop letter box -- the slacker! See what you can make out of it. Kath."

In February 1938, L. E. Briggs' neighboring store (see Site #31) was badly damaged by fire, and the post office suffered slight damage.

About 1940 Malcolm Orr Welch (1921-), son of Milton Welch, was hired as a clerk at the post office.

In December 1941 S. C. Luce died at the age of 87. He had been postmaster for almost forty years. His obituary notes: "He is believed to have been the oldest postmaster in office in the country, having served, by reason of his unusual ability, for seventeen years beyond the prescribed age limit. He was commonly known as the dean of the second class postmasters, and he had been at work through the Christmas rush, spending his last day at the postoffice the day after Christmas."

Arthur A. Mayhew served as acting postmaster after the death of Stephen C. Luce, and in 1942 was officially appointed postmaster. Up to this time Mayhew had 27 years of service with the post office, having worked at the Vineyard Haven Post Office prior to serving in World War I. Mayhew married West Tisbury School teacher Esther Crocker of Newburyport.

Postmaster Arthur Ashley Mayhew (1894-1953) was born in Vineyard Haven, the son of Josiah B. Mayhew and Harriet L. Merry. He had married Esther A. Crocker in 1920. Mayhew's obituary notes "Mr. Mayhew was distinguished for his quiet dependability. It has been said of him that he was a man who could always be found at his post of duty, and the complexities connected with dealing with the public left him unruffled at all times."

Bob Renear remembers Arthur Mayhew as "tall, thin. … I remember he used to stand out in front of the post office, chatting with people and smoke cigarettes. Socialize."

Basil Welch on Arthur Mayhew: "Arthur lived up on the State Road up on the high bank across from Leo DeSorcy's house. He also had a house up in Lambert's Cove. Arthur worked in the Post Office down here with my father and old Steve Carey Luce. And when old Steve Carey died, Arthur had been there the longest, and when old Steve Carey died Arthur was made postmaster. When he died, then my father became postmaster. Arthur had four children, and they were all right around with me in school, a couple were a year or two ahead and one in my class and the daughter was a year back of us."

In March 1944 the interior of the post office was renovated and enlarged, and the partition with the store next door was shifted to give the post office more room.

c. 1947 aerial photo by pilot Walter Hume Renear

About 1948 began as George Andrews Costa (1921-) was hired as a postal clerk. Another clerk was Joe Fragosa. Later Claire Drew worked at the parcel post window.

Polly and Bob Renear in conversation:
PR: "I remember the ladies that worked there. Claire Drew used to work there, and Evelyn Norton. Flossie Curry."
BR: "The story goes that somebody wrote on the bottom of a postcard, 'Flossie will probably read this.' And she wouldn't speak to that person for two months! … And then Herbert Norton worked at the post office. He was a mail carrier. In those days he did the whole up-island… He would bring the mail from Vineyard Haven."

Jackie (Lair) Baer on Flossie Curry: "I always remember she'd open up… Remember? You'd come in to get your photographs if you happened to send them off, and she'd tell you what she liked! And what she didn't like."

Postmaster Arthur Mayhew died suddenly in February 1953 while driving his car to a Masonic lodge in Marion. In April 1953 Assistant Postmaster Milton L. Welch was sworn in as Acting Postmaster.

One of Milton Welch's first changes as acting postmaster was in May 1953 when he increased the box rental rates from 60¢, 75¢, and $1, to 90¢ $1.10, and $1.50. In December 1953 there was a rumor circulating that the post office was planning to move its location.

Welch's appointment was only temporary, and in February 1954, after civil service examinations were held, Benjamin Elliot Norton was sworn in as postmaster.

In December 1954 post office expanded into the former store of the Martha's Vineyard Art Workers Guild and an area in the rear, and in doing so occupied the entire floor of the building.

In April and May, 1955 the front of the post office was remodeled. Bricks and red cedar covered the old clapboards in a false front. New double doors and double windows were added, and a gold eagle was installed over the entrance. The Gazette reported, "anyone can see the likeness to a California villa in the High Sierras." The interior now boasted 1438 letter boxes.

In December 1957 Malcolm O. Welch was appointed Assistant Postmaster in Vineyard Haven, after serving as a postal clerk for seventeen years.

By November 1958 Hector Asselin was working as a postal clerk. In April 1963 George A. Costa of Vineyard Haven took over the RFD route of Herbert R. Norton, who retired after 40 years on this route. Costa had been a postal clerk for fifteen years in Vineyard Haven.

Melinda Costa writes about this photo taken outside the post office: "The girl scout troop from Vineyard Haven used to do what was called the "The Mile of Dimes"; it was done every year for benefit of the March of Dimes, when Violet Rego was the Vineyard chairman. A line was chalked out and squares made for people to put in their dimes. This photo I guess to be anywhere from 1954 to no later than 1959. The girl on the top step is Judy Snowden and on the bottom is Carol Hall; the other girl I think is Carol Duarte. Our troop leaders were Annie Campbell, Edna Zeppernick and Lois DeBettencourt. The "Mile of Dimes" was always in that spot, I believe at the time Tisbury had the easiest place to hold it, Main street was always busy because of the stores that were there, and the sidewalks were wide enough so they could have The Mile Of Dimes and people could still walk by."

By February 1966 the average rental cost for a post box was $3.60 per year.

In July 1967 S. C. Luce Jr. sold the building and lot to Michael Fontes Jr. for about $35,000.

In July 1971 George King Jr. became postmaster. In February 1972 Postmaster King instituted door-to-door mail delivery for house within a half mile of the post office, and in 1973 proposed house numbering in Vineyard Haven.

In October 1975, Lawrence A. Mercier, the owner of Vineyard Haven IGA supermarket, offered to sell his building, located at Five Corners. In December of that year the post office announced their plans to move to the former IGA location. By this time the post office served 10,000 patrons in the summer, and 3,500 in the winter. The post office moved to the new site about 1977-78. By June 1979 the postmaster had become Joseph R. Fragosa.



The new post office, located at the former IGA supermarket, 1979.

April 1939 ad in the Vineyard Gazette

Cape and Vineyard Electric Co. (1929 - after 1968)

Gratia Harrington interview (1885- ) said in 1980: "They had, between the electricity and the kerosene lamps, they had acetylene gas. Did you ever hear about acetylene gas? Well, I don't know what it was, but anyway they formed a company and some people had it in their houses, we didn't. And they had a place where they made it on this road that goes up to Tashmoo there, you know Woodlawn Avenue? Well the continuation of that. Right up there on the right-hand side, not too far up, they have this acetylene gas place. And a lot of people had it. But then it wasn't very long - that didn't last very long - then the electricity came in, and we had electricity quite soon, I think, after people, and I think probably about 1900 that would be my guess."

Steven Carey Luce Jr. said in 1972:
"Now if you want to go the electric business a little bit. Years and years ago there was a company in Oak Bluffs known as the Cottage City Gas Company. They made acetylene gas, had a big tank over there, and I think they had a generator and made a limited amount of electricity that they sold around town there. And a man came to the Vineyard and his name was Eugene Carpenter, came from [Newton?]. And he bought that company. In the meantime there were three streetcar companies that operated between Vineyard Haven and Oak Bluffs. One began at the steamboat wharf down here near the Bethel, and ran over to the bridge, Lagoon bridge. The tracks didn't go across the bridge. You got out and walked across and got into a streetcar line owned by another company. And there you rode to a place, well it's near Mr. Robert Hughes' house, there was a turnout there, and got out, and got into another car, and that company took you to Oak Bluffs. They only ran in the summer. The electric power for this thing was generated in this station at Oak Bluffs over there. Well Mr. Carpenter built a power house - he had to have more juice - and he built a power house over in Eastville. It's where Eastville Avenue turns into Beach Road there not far from where the hospital is being built. And of course it only ran in the summers. Then he begun to extend his lines all over the Vineyard. That only operated summers, so in the winter, we were back to kerosene. Except in this town, there was a little acetylene gas plant known as Vineyard Haven Gas Company. And they piped it around the streets here but it wasn't very satisfactory. Well Carpenter bought that and demolished it and eventually began furnishing current year-round. He was a very smart man, way, way ahead of his time. He did not have a college education, he was just a smart man.
"Mr. Carpenter went over on the Cape and built a power house in Falmouth. And his idea was to go up the shore of Buzzards Bay headed to New Bedford, and get a franchise in each of the towns as he went along. All this requires a lot of capital because all these lines and equipment, engines and power houses and things cost money. Well there was another group that got interested in it too and they kind of beat him to it. And he only went up along the east shore of Buzzards Bay right to the south side of the canal, and then he turned and went down the Cape, and took on those towns down there. Along the line he began to get a little tight financially. In the meantime he went up into New Hampshire and Vermont and bought a lot of water power, and he was going to generate electricity up there with water power and he was going to bring it out down at Fall River and he was going to plan to buy the Fall River company and the New Bedford company, and all the juice would be made up there. Well he collapsed financially, and nervously too - he really lost his mind. In the meantime these people in Boston they got me into it to see what we could do to straighten this thing out. There was a committee consisting of myself - I was the chairman - and a gentleman named Oscar C. Nickerson who was in the lumber business in Chatham, and a man named John H. Clark, and the three of us are on this special committee to straighten this thing out. And we were able to hold it together, run it, and get it straightened out and we bought in to the New Bedford company. Then had the juice, all made the electric, the electric all made over there. And a lot of it's made there now and distributed around. Then the thing of course has gone on now, we have this power plant over in Sandwich, Sagamore. These things are all kind of tied together. One company buys from another and hopefully there isn't supposed to be any blackouts or brownouts. … So much for the electric business, but the whole thing all started on that fellow Cottage City Gas Company over there."

Steven Carey Luce Jr. said in 1979:
"There was a powerhouse over in Eastville as you across the bridge out of the first corner there was a powerhouse there with a dynamo and that made the juice for the electric cars. When the summer was over, then why they shut the plant down so we'd have to go back to kerosene. Then Mr. Carpenter bought over where it is now, where the plant is now where the wharf is, Packer's establishment over there. They ran that summers. Mr. McDonough, J. P. McDonough, he was an engineer there I remember.

The Cape and Vineyard Electric Co. was organized in 1920 through the merger of the Vineyard Lighting Company (which had been in operation since 1889) and the Buzzards Bay Electric Company. During the winters of 1921-22 and 1922-23 the company office moved to Vineyard Haven over L. E. Briggs' Jewelry Store (See Site #31.) Ralph W. Coffin was the superintendent in 1921-22, and T. J. Rabbitt became superintendent in 1922. The company reorganized in March 1923 and placed under the control of the J. G. White Management Corporation of NY. Stephen C. Luce Jr. was on the new panel. In May 1923 the main office of moved to Falmouth, and that fall they had no presence in Vineyard Haven.

In August 1929 work was begun to transform the old telephone office into the island offices of the Cape and Vineyard Electric Co. which formerly had their office in Oak Bluffs. They also held branches in Falmouth, Hyannis, and Chatham. That fall they moved in. By April 1930 Cape & Vineyard advertised Frigidaires in the Gazette, and in January 1934 electric heating pads.

Miss Clara Luce was working here in October 1930. In November 1930 Miss Elizabeth Easton resigned to return to her home in West Somerville. In March 1934 it was reported that Forrest M. Eaton, the superintendent of the Cape & Vineyard Electric Co. was being transferred from the Island district to Falmouth, and that James M. Lumbert, who had been the superintendent here several years earlier, was to return to the Vineyard. In April 1935 R. M. Miller was described as the general manager of this company.

In April 1935 Walter Besse was recognized for twenty-five years of service with Cape and Vineyard Electric Co. At that time he was foreman of the line crew. He had also once served as the motorman of the local trolleys, that served Vineyard Haven and Oak Bluffs. After discontinuance of trolley lines, Besse went into electrical department of the same company. He was described as one of the pioneers of electrical development on island. He stood 6' 2" tall.

Stan Lair said: "Okay, Walter Besse. Now, Walter Besse was one of the early employees of the Vineyard Electric Company, before it was Cape & Vineyard. Walter was also quite a athlete. He was quite a basketball player, I believe he played baseball, too. He would run the... he was motorman on the trolley cars in the summer. That'd be a summer job. And there are a few stories told about Walter, too. He was quite a strong man. And there have been a few stories told about him."

Basil Welch and Stan Lair in conversation:
SL: Walter Besse. Remember him at all?
BW: Well, I guess we both do. I remember Walter when he worked for the electric light company. He lives over in Oak Bluffs on New York Avenue, or did live.
SL: What amazes me today is to see the light truck with about fifteen men on it.
BW: Right.
SL: In those days it was just Walter and one other man, doing the same jobs as they do today.
BW: Boy, he was a big man, too. And he was strong as an ox. But I guess you… I don't know if you remember or not but I know we have pictures of before he worked for the light company doing lines and wires and stuff, he worked on the trolley line over in Oak Bluffs.
SL: Yeah, he worked summers on the trolleys as motorman. He also was quite a sportsman. He played basketball in the old days, his younger days, along with Clarence Ward and a few of those old-timers. He was always interested in baseball, and sports.
BW: I'd hate like hell to have him run into me! He was a big man.
SL: (Laughs.) Yeah. I think I have a picture of him somewhere, with a basketball team.

October 1941 Gazette ad

The Vineyard Haven Cape & Vineyard Electric Company store included a business office where people came to pay their electric bills, and they also sold electric appliances. In 1936 the store advertised stoves, in 1937 refrigerators; in 1938 lamps, Frigidaires, and electric ranges; and in 1940, washers.

Bob and Polly Renear said:
BR: "Appliances."
PR: "You went in there to pay your bill."
BR: "Their offices were all in there. In the back was sort of a parts place for the repairmen - appliance repair."

Elmer "Mike" Athearn is remembered to have worked here, as well as a Mr. Leonard. Judy Cryer is remembered to have worked at the Cape & Vineyard during the 1950s or 1960s, and Jim Lumbert was still the manager during that period. George "Kilowatt" Santos worked here from 1944 until 1984.

In May 1954 the Cape & Vineyard Co. announced their plan to move some employees from the Main Street office to their Beach Road plant. However the large showroom and office on Main Street was maintained.

Between the Post Office and the Phone Company

It's not certain when Luce partitioned off and leased out the store between the post office and the phone company. The store certainly existed by the 1920's, and evidently lasted until the enlargement of the post office in 1954.


Holmes, Luce & Co. (c. 1920-21)

In August 1920 the Holmes, Luce & Co. store was advertising its business as "next door to the Post Office." They sold furniture, shoes, bathing caps, rugs, and talking machines. In January 1921 Mr. Crowell was listed as an employee. In May 1921 they advertised mattresses, chairs, and hammocks.

In the summer of 1921 Franklin H. Swift acquired the Holmes, Luce & Co. business, and he announced his plans to conduct this island household furnishing business under new management. (See Site #28.)


Whitney's Variety Store? (1923)
L. E. Briggs Furniture (1923-?)

In March 1923 Whitney's Variety & Furniture Store advertised rugs, pictures, popcorn, and peanuts in the Gazette. It is possible that the store was in the post office block. In May 1923 Whitney's Variety and Furniture Store held a "Going Out of the Furniture Business" sale, and in June 1923 Whitney's Variety Store moved into a new store in Cronig's Block (see Site #33.) The business was run by Howard Whitney.

In May 1923 the Gazette announced that L. E. Briggs had bought the furniture business of Howard Whitney and planned to continue that part of the business in the Post Office Block. It's unclear when this store closed.

Carey Luce and friend. Notice the "Furnishing Goods" sign in the store next to the post office.

In October 1929 the Gazette reported that "L.E. Briggs is once more intent on making the island's largest store still larger. With the addition of that portion of the post office building that formerly housed the telephone exchange, he has been able to move his garden shop under the same roof with his other store." The new additions included a rug room and additional storage space. Their ad that month announced: "When the telephone office was moved from Main street it gave us the opportunity to annex to our store the large room which they had been using for their switch board operation. ... This room is on the same level with our balcony. We have built a covered connecting passage and in this room are to display our floor coverings, such as rugs, carpets and linoleum; also our cretonne, chintz and curtains; and our beds, springs and mattresses. … We have given up the Cottage & Garden Shop in the Lane Block across the street."

The Vineyard Shoe Store (before 1927? - after 1941)

Connie Leonard on Ed Lord's Shoe Store:
"That is part of where the post office was. That was rather a long building, and they divided it, and Ed Lord and his shoe store, which butted against the telephone business office. … Emma was Brad Clough's sister. She married Ed Lord. She was a tall, thin lady. Brad took it over. You know, we always patronized Brad. He hated doing it, I know. He was primarily a seafaring man. But I guess he thought, well, he should stay on land awhile. So anyway Brad took it over when Ed his brother-in-law died. And I remember going there once to get some shoes. I had an awful time trying to get them to fit. Finally Brad said 'Well, your left foot is three-quarters of an inch longer than your right!' So I had so much trouble getting fitted this foot at home! But after a while Brad gave up and went back to sea. He was happier."

In the summer of 1920 The Vineyard Shoe Store began advertising. Edward Clifton Lord (1858-1934)was the proprietor. The business had formerly been E. H. Manter's, and may have been on North Main Street, near Colonial Lane. In December 1922 the business was advertised as "Lord's Vineyard Shoe Store."

Ed Lord was born in July 1858, the son of Jeremiah R. and Sarah Lord. His obituary states he came "to the Vineyard at the age of twenty from Manchester, Mass., his native town. At that time he entered the employ of the late Howes Norris Sr., whose place of business was at Eastville, and later became identified with the ship chandlery business which he carried on at Vineyard Haven for many years. He supplied the great fleet of coastwise vessels with all supplies and stores and owned several vessels himself. In connection with this business he was Associated Press correspondent for nearly fifty years. Always interested in public matters, he was three times elected to the board of selectmen of Tisbury, once to fill an unexpired term and twice for the full term. The gradual decline of coastwise shipping caused him to dispose of his waterfront business and for a number of years he has conducted a shoe store, where the older captains of his acquaintance visited him whenever in port." His first wife's obituary adds that "Mr. Lord later became a reporter, and for years has been connected with the port, not only as a reporter, but as port officer."

He had married (1st) Eliza Coffin Smith (1855-1924), the daughter of Vineyard Haven boatbuilder David Merry and his wife Amanda Smith. Eliza died in 1924 of liver cancer. Ed married (2nd) Emma Downs Clough (1894-1941), the daughter of Benjamin Clough Jr. and Octavia Norris Crocker, in 1927. They had no children.

Ed was called a Cottage City "marine reporter" as early as 1885, and a Vineyard Haven "ship chandler" by 1897. He maintained the ship chandlery until at least 1915. Lord's chandlery was on the shore at the end of Grove Street, near Huzzleton's Head. It was originally run by John Holmes, and then by George Eldridge. The original store was destroyed by fire, and Lord erected a new one. Lord was the last proprietor of the chandlery. (In August 1927 an explosion wrecked the gas tank at "Lord's Wharf," but by this time the property was owned by the Riding family. For more information about this chandlery, see The Captain's Daughters of Martha's Vineyard edited by Eliot Eldridge Macy and the September 1926 and March 1933 articles in the Gazette.) According to Connie and Freeman Leonard, at one time Ed Lord and Capt. Stevenson were in business together under the firm name of "Stevenson-Lord." They owned a ship chandlery and sold marine supplies where Letton's(?) Garage used to be, in Oak Bluffs.

It's not certain when Lord moved his shoe store to this location, although it was clearly here by 1931. In February 1930 the Vineyard Shoe Store was advertising "Enna Jettick" brand shoes for women.

In October 1930 Mrs. Lavinia F. (Brush) West (1886-1958) was working as a clerk at the Vineyard Shoe Shop. Mrs. Brush was born in West Tisbury, the daughter of Samuel N. Brush and Melvina Luce. She was the widow of West Tisbury house painter Charles Hardenburg West (1864-1916) and had formerly worked as a clerk for L. L. Aldrich (Site #23.)

In September 1931 the Gazette reported that Ed Lord had installed a "swinging electronic" sign in front of his store in the post office block. By 1931 Lord was also serving as a selectman of Tisbury.

Ed Lord continued the shore store until his death in October 1934, at the age of 76, of a heart attack. Lords' widow, Mrs. Emma Downs (Clough) Lord (1894-1941) continued the store of her late husband. She was born to Vineyard parents in Readville, Mass. and moved to Vineyard Haven shortly before her 1927 marriage to Ed Lord. In June 1935 she advertised both "Enna Jettick" Shoes and "Bass Moccasins."

By March 1937 Emma Lord's brother, Bradford Clough, had taken over the management of The Vineyard Shoe Store.
Mrs. Lord died in October 1941 at the age of 47.

Basil Welch and Stan Lair on Brad Clough:
BW: Yeah, I remember Brad. Back when I was a kid he ran a shoe store. Or worked in it, one or the other. Wasn't he in the Merchant Marine I think, wasn't he?
SL: He held ship's papers. Smart fellow. Any tonnage, anywhere in the world.
BW: I think when he got out of the shoe business, he went back to sea. And then I think eventually he came and worked on the island ferry line here for the steamship company for awhile.
SL: They lived right at the head of Owen Park, in the house on the right as you're coming up the hill going from the beach.

Brad Clough continued to advertise Enna Jettick shoes, and in 1939, Eldridge Tide Books.
In June 1939 Chandler Lord, the son of Arthur B. Lord, was employed as a summer clerk at the store.
In April 1940 Clough advertised Enna Jettick Shoes, Bass Moccasins, Tripletoe Hosiery, US Government Charts, and Tennis Supplies.

Bob Renear said: "It was a small store. I know he was a maritime man."

The store closed in 1942, and Brad Clough returned to the sea. According to his obituary, in his later years "he ran tank-steamers coastwise and to the African coast, still later skippering yachts in southern waters during the winter and taking over the summer command of the Boston excursion boat, which was his final command." He died suddenly after docking his boat in 1958.

In August 1946 ex-servicemen Edward W. Krikorian and George Costa opened a new shoe store in the Cronig's Block using the same name, "The Vineyard Shoe Store." It's not known whether there was any connection between these two businesses other than the name. (See Site #33.)

The Bike Shop (1943)
In the summer of 1943, the store next to the post office was occupied by the Bike Shop. The following year it was moved into the building next to Brickman's under the operation of Jack Levett and David Levine (See Site #16.)


The Martha's Vineyard Art Workers Guild (1944 - early 1950s)
In April 1944 the Gazette announced that the former Bike Shop store, somewhat reduced in size after post office expanded, was to be occupied by the Martha's Vineyard Art Workers' Guild that summer. It had previously been in the Calhoun House on Beach Street. The Guild carried on commission paintings, books, and other articles made by islanders in their homes.

In December 1954 the post office expanded into the former store of Art Workers Guild.

Later Stores

By about 1980 Rainy Day had opened a store in the former post office, and it still operates here today (2001.)

About 1980 the discount pharmacy Medi-Save opened at the location of the former Cape & Vineyard Electric and sold discount drugs and candy during the early 1980s. Today the art gallery Kennedy Studios is located at this location.

Rainy Day, Kennedy Studios, and Good Ideas, September 2001

Return to Centre Street to Church Street
Return to Tisbury History

Corrections? Additions? Suggestions? Comments? Contact Chris Baer <>