Union Street, Water Street, Beach Road, and Beach Street

Union Street, Water Street, Beach Road, and Beach Street

as remembered by Stan Lair
May 16, 1979

Transcribed by C. Baer, 1995.

[The following transcript was made from a thirty minute tape labeled 'Union St. Water St. Beach Rd. + Beach St. / May 16 1979 / Stan Lair']

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May 16, 1979. This is Stan Lair again, and now we'll try going down Union Street.

The first house I recall, set way back from the street, just in back of Lane's Block, and a man by the name of Earl Wade and his mother lived there. Later it was Josiah Mayhew and his family. That'd be Arthur Mayhew, Emma Mayhew, and there was quite a few boys. And Bill Shannon lived there for a while. Then it became a law office. Harry Pearlstein was there, lawyer, and John Nichols. That was located where the present drive-in bank is. It was moved from there to Andrews Road.

And next on the left was Armsby's Plumbing Shop, and then it was Willis Hancock's Plumbing. That was there for a long time.

Next was the George Swain Building. It was a pool room at one time, operated by Clarence Ward. Later the American Railway Express. I believe Allen's Express was in there first, then American Railway. The office was run by Laura and John Johnson. Now it is a bike shop.

Next was Fisher Brothers' Store, run by Albert Fisher. It carried marine supplies and hardware, also had a gas pump. That was there for a good many years. He had two old International Harvester cars, about 1911 vintage, and both were painted dark brown. They had big wagon wheels and truck bodies. They were cranked from the side, and what they looked like was a converted wagon.

Next was a building, about opposite the intersection of Union and Water Street, on what is now the Steamship Authority parking lot. It was then owned by Mr. Fisher, and he used it at that time to pack salt codfish. It was packed in one-pound wooden boxes, and called Boat Brand, I believe, Boat Brand Salt Codfish. Frank Cleveland worked there for a good many years. Also later it became the Doubledecker Restaurant, and then a candy shop operated by Roy Luce and his wife. Also one section at a later date was a fish market. It was operated by John Conroy. This building was later moved up the street to the Armsby Plumbing Shop location. I believe the Armsby Plumbing Shop was torn down - I can't quite recall actually what did happen to it. But anyhow the building was moved to that location. It was once George Anthony's Radio and TV Shop, also the Yankee Bazaar, and it is now the Great American Ice Cream Company, and the Hungry-U short-order restaurant, run by Cora Medeiros, I believe.

Then, the next area there was a boat yard. That was operated by a Mr. Hamilton. Mr. Hamilton was from the Marine Hospital and he did operate this boat yard, but he was very, very badly crippled. He did build boats there, though, and seemed to get along okay that way. I remember seeing him with his - he had a big 'steam chest,' he called it, which was a long thing made of plank wood, and underneath of it he had a fire going, and pushing steam up in this so-called chest. It had the wood in there, and when it was steamed enough, he would take it out and put it on a form and bend it. And then when it dried out, why it stayed the shape of the form. What else was there? Oh - there used to be, before that there used to be a lumber yard, I believe it was Tilton's Lumber Yard. That was the first location of the Tilton Lumber Yard I believe.

Next we come to the wharf. The man in charge in those days - he was called a wharfinger - was Ed Jones Smith. He was father of the famous Iceberg Smith, the man that charted the icebergs for the Coast Guard several years ago and got the name of Iceberg Smith. He was a gruff old man. Well I don't think he liked kids too much, as he used to chase us off the wharf. We used to like to get on there and leapfrog over the spiles that were in from the edge of the wharf, and he would come out and chase us away. So he wasn't too popular with the kids.

The steamer ticket office then was in the right-hand side of the freight shed, which is down near the end of the wharf. The building about half-way down on the right-hand side was a fish market. It was run by Art... [brief tape interruption]

Okay, coming back up Union Street, from the wharf, on the south side now. First is the Seaman's Bethel, run by Madison Edwards, later by Austin Tower. They would take their little craft, the Helen May out into the harbor and bring sailors in from the sailing ships, and have religious services and sings, and good times, I guess. They had this society called the Hold Fast Society. This was Mr. Edwards. If you belonged to this society you got a little pin and it was given to sailors who travelled all over the world and he used to hear from them that they were still 'holding fast.' I suppose that Hold Fast was tied in with the religious part of it.

[On the] corner of Water and Union Street [was the] Captain St. Croix Oliver Store. On the roof, in large letters, was painted 'SAIL LOT.' Now I don't know what they did in the sail lot. I presume they manufactured sails. Probably laid them out and sewed them, and all that. Anyway, it said 'SAIL LOT' on the top of this building. The trolley line from Oak Bluffs ended here too, right on this corner.

The corner lot across the street was empty. It actually was part of the property of the next house, which we'll describe in a minute. This corner lot at one time was a miniature golf course. I believe it was operated by Barton Mayhew. But it didn't last too long, and it finally was discontinued.

Then came the Ed Jones Smith House. He was the man that was a wharfinger on the wharf we talked about. It is now the 1785 house, and at one time it was Flora Jordan's house. Right at the present it is owned by Mrs. Frank Johnston. It is still there today. That is own house that wasn't destroyed in the 1883 fire.

Next house was the Ralph Look House, which is now the Sea Chest. It's a gift shop now. The Looks lived there for a good many years.

At a later date, Brooks Carter built a small building which was a fish market. It was operated by my father, Captain Lair, and then a little later by Ralph Look. That is, young Ralph Look. Then it became the Tisbury Police Station. After that it was a barber shop, and now it is a French restaurant.

Well, that about covers Union Street. Now we'll go on to Water Street. We'll start at St. Croix Oliver's store on the east side. We are on Water Street, heading south, on the east side. After the St. Croix Oliver Store was the Crowell Coal Office and Coal Yard. It was operated by Benjamin Crowell for a lot of years, then later by Phil Mosher, who was his nephew. Coal was a big thing then. Of course there wasn't that much oil around, and when oil started to come in and became popular why the coal yards went out of business.

Then there was another coal and wood office operated by a Clarence Cleveland, right next to the Crowell Office, and the two of them operated the same business. The Crowell Coal Office was demolished, and the Cleveland Coal Office was moved back of the Black Dog Bakery to make room for the Steamship Authority staging and parking area. The Bethel also was moved back at that time from close to the water, it moved back nearer to the corner of Water and Union Street. Oliver's store had long since gone.

Well after the Cleveland Coal Yard was a large garage operated by Legrand Lockwood Aldrich. The sure is le grand name! It later became Dukes County Garage owned by William G. Manter. Now Mr. Manter had several projects, businesses, going at that location. He had a contracting business, he had a house painting business, along with his garage work and dealership in Buicks and Chevrolets. Walter Ripley was his foreman for a good many years on the contracting end of it. Well this garage, there was a large front storage area. It was made of concrete, with a metal roof. Had a parts department, an electrical department, a car painting department, and a repair department. So it was quite a large operation for that time. They also had a wharf there, called Dukes County Wharf.

Crossing over to the west side of Water Street, right on the corner the lot was empty. That is where the bike shop is right now.

The old house next, and still there (we're heading north again) belonged to a Mrs. Gifford. Mrs. Gifford was a very religious person, and I believe she was related to the Bensons, that'd be Norman Benson and Elmer Benson. She could have been Mrs. Charles Benson's mother. I'm quite sure she was.

Next was a small building that was occupied by Ben Cromwell, young Ben Cromwell, or the second Ben Cromwell 'cause there was three of them actually. It was a small house, and it set right about where the Harbor Light is at the present time, the small restaurant there.

And the next few houses set way back from the street, up on the hill. They're up in the area where the present police station is today. And directly back of what is now the A&P was the Captain Benjamin Cromwell House, a nice big old house. I don't know why they tore it down, but they did. In fact, all those houses are gone, and they were al very, very pretty houses, I thought.

There was the Captain Cromwell House, and going north from there, about where the police station is now, would be what the called the Great House, which was moved from there. That is one they did preserve though. They moved that one down to West Chop, almost across from the lighthouse, a little further down the road. It's still called the Great House, I believe. It belonged to Mrs. Warner for a number of years. I believe her daughter, Mrs Trotter[?] owns it now.

Then right along next to it was the Dr. Roth House, which was there for a good many years. Now all those houses lined up right along there, including the 1785 House. They were all right in a row. At one time of course the water - they tell me this - the water was almost up to the front of these houses, and at one time a sail ship during a storm did put her bowsprit through the Great House. Hard to believe, but that's the story they tell, and they say the scar is still there. That must've been a long time ago! Now we're on the Roth property, Dr. Roth. On the lower part of his property there was an old barn that was just about ready to fall over, for a good many years. It was leaning way to the southard, there. Ready to collapse. I think in it was an old car, 1903 Rambler was in there for a long time that belonged to the old doctor. In one corner of that building was a village lockup. It was a small room with a barred window, high off the ground. I never saw it being used, but I imagine it was used at some time.

Okay, the next was the grain store. The grain store was owned by the SBS Company. It was operated by Ed Dahill for a good many years. Curtis Athearn was employed there. He was there a long time also. Now Curtis thought he was a great bass singer. I guess he did have a fairly decent voice. He used to sing in the Baptist Church choir, and all sort of plays. They would always get Curtis as part of the chorus. Anyhow, he grew a beard, and he always claimed it was to protect his throat. In his business, why a beard was sort of a detriment, because in a grain store there was always a lot of dust. Poor Curtis' beard always had sort of a grey tinge to it. But anyhow, in those days a bearded young person was a rarity. Of course today it is quite common. He was a strong person. He could throw those big bags of grain around like they were full of air. He was pretty rugged.

That concludes Water Street, so let's move to the Beach Road, and we'll start with the Dukes County Garage on the east side of the road.

Okay. Now we're on the Beach Road, and we're heading towards Oak Bluffs, and we'll take the east side, which is the left hand side of the road, starting with just beyond the Dukes County Garage.

The next - it was mostly a vacant property for a long, long time -until they moved in a large building, it's now a restaurant. This building originally was just in the rear of the Martha's Vineyard National Bank, and was called the Luxemoor Building. It was built by Leander Owen as a leather novelty manufacturing plant, which never did work out too well. I don't think it lasted too long, as I recall. Dukes County Garage used it as offices and showrooms. They had showrooms for Buick and Chevrolet cars. The second floor was leased to the Navy Department during the war years to house Navy personnel. Incidentally we used to play basketball in this building when it was behind the bank in the old location, and we had to shoot the ball over the supporting beams which ran across the building. It wasn't an ideal place to play but we had to play there because there was no gyms in those days. Also on each end, so the spectators wouldn't get hurt, there was chicken wire put up there. I don't know how many people got hurt on that chicken wire, with cut fingers and so forth. But, we used to play there, and enjoy it and had good times.

The next building was Prentiss Bodfish Blacksmith Shop. He and his son, Frank Bodfish, operated from there for a long time, shoeing horses and that was there biggest revenue, I guess, was horseshoeing, and general blacksmith work. It is now Hancock Hardware. I believe some of the old blacksmith shop was still preserved in one of those back rooms. At one time I know the forge was there. I think that is since gone, but the anvil and all that sort of thing, I don't know how much of it is still there. But that was the location, right where Hancock Hardware Store is today.

Between the blacksmith shop and the bend in the road was absolutely nothing but beach grass and beach It was used during the war by Bill Colby and Bill Dugan - they were building barges for the Navy, and they had quite a crew working there. But in the old days there was nothing there but beach. Most of that property was owned by Captain Benjamin Cromwell. Eventually on the next corner was a building used as a garage. It was used by a succession of people. Let's see there was Howard Chadwick, Jesse Oliver, Bob West. A Nantucket firm operated it for a time. There was others, I believe, but I can't remember them all. It is now the corner service station.

Well, we've gone around the corner, now were heading more of a easterly direction, and the next building along that road was a large black building constructed by Harry Peakes. We called it the cold storage plant. He manufactured ice there, and delivered ice all over town. This is before electric refrigerators, of course. It was quite a sight to see the old ice man arrive, and always had a bunch of kids trailing along behind to get the slivers of ice as he would cut a cake in half with his ice pick. Kids always followed the truck around and got the slivers. They also stored frozen fish here. John McDonnough was engineer there for a long time. Then later came the Standard Oil tanks and building at this spot.

Then there was a boat yard way, way back. They called it the ship yard I believe because they did haul out real large ships, fairly large ships. But they called it he boat yard. It was operated by a lot of people. Captain Cromwell had it for awhile. In fact, he was one of the early ones I guess. Then there was Jim Vincent, Bill Colby, and there were others. I can't recall them all. It's now owned by Tom Hale.

The Texaco plant - that came in later. It was owned by Captain Ralph Packer, and is now owned by his son, Ralph.

Next was the Vineyard Electric Power Plant. It later became the Cape and Vineyard. Percy Howes from Oak Bluffs was the chief engineer there for a long time. That's where the electricity was made for the whole island. This is before than ran the cable across the sound, which we have now, and all electricity was made right there. Of course it wasn't as much used in those days either. But that's where it was. There was nothing between there and the bridge, not a thing, except the wreck of an old lime[?] schooner that caught fire and was beached there. That was there for a long, long time. I've seen several pictures of the thing. I've even seen postcards of it.

Now we'll shift over to the south side of the Beach Road. This is from the bridge. The present bridge, this is the second bridge. The approach to the first bridge ran directly in front of the house that is now there. The previous building was called the Tea House, run by Eagleston, a man by the name of Eagleston. They called it the Eagleston Tea House. It had different owners after that. But eventually it was washed away in one of the early hurricanes. The electric cars ran over this route, right over the old bridge. It was much lower then - it was much lower than the present one, but it was a drawbridge, it still was a drawbridge, and it had to be cranked up by hand. That must have been quite a job!

Coming back toward town, there was nothing on the south side of that road until the electric car barn, where they used to store their trolley cars, almost across from the electric plant.

Hines Footbridge, which ran from Hines Point terminated right near this area. That was a footbridge Mr. Hines built on his own, right across the water there so he could get over to town a little faster, I presume, although I don't see how he gained much time. It isn't much shorter, in fact I think it'd be a little longer! I don't know why it was built, to tell you the truth, unless he wanted to catch the trolley car or something. But he had a bridge across there, just a footbridge. I think it is just about all gone today.

Next building was Captain Cromwell's Blacksmith Shop. This was later Elmer Chadwick's, but around the bend in the road again, and it was right across from where the corner service station is now, about the location of what is now called Duart Village.

I recall a carriage painting shop being in this same area too. I think it was operated by a Mr. Gale. Also there was an old collapsed car barn, just completely collapsed - the roof was right on the floor. That was about where Hinckley's Lumber Yard is located now.

Next was a Humane Society building, painted red. It had a ramp in the front and inside they kept a boat, a lifeboat. I believe it was on wheels, on sort of wagon wheels, and it was stored there to rescue sailor from wrecked vessels. This is before the Coast Guard arrived, of course. It was later Manual Maciel's Plumbing Shop.

The next building was Willis Hancock's Plumbing Shop. It is now Nadish's[?] TV Shop, right on the corner.

Now we're back to Lagoon Pond Road, formerly Howard Avenue, and also was called Chicken Street. Now, continuing up Beach Street on the same side, and we have first what was called the Nye House - an old lady by the name of Lucy Cooper lived there for awhile, I think it was called the Cooper House at one time. The roof blew off of that house in a hurricane, and the house was torn down. It was located about where the present U.S. Post Office Building is.

Then there was a series of homes, there was Prentiss Bodfish, Clem Cleveland, Wallace Lindsey, Fred Norton, and the Burley House. The latter three of these are still there. The others were torn down about the time the new fire station was built.

Okay, now we're up at the corner of the Mansion House corner again, and now we'll head back down Beach Street, on the north side of Beach Street. After the Mansion House, of course, was the Ritter House, then came the Curtis Athearn House, then there is that little lane that runs through there, and then the Seth Daggett House. It is now owned by the Williamsons, and is called the Makery.

Well, this concludes the tour of the business portion of Vineyard Haven in the early 1900's. These building and businesses on Union, Water, Beach, and Beach Road are all I can remember of the past seventy years.