Originally published in the Dukes County Intelligencer, vol. 55, no. 1, pp. 32-58. Copyright 2013 by the Martha’s Vineyard Museum; further distribution without the express written permission of the Museum is prohibited. To purchase printed copies, or request permission to reprint, please contact the Museum at www.mvmuseum.org
On a warm summer day in 2005, a group of neighbors gathered on the beach in the Lagoon Heights area of Oak Bluffs to enjoy the water, the sunshine, and the company of their friends. They had been doing this for many years; in fact, some had known each other from childhood. On this particular day, as they reminisced about past summers, they began to talk about the need to preserve the history of their small community, or “the colony,” which had been settled more than a century ago. There were only a few people left who still remembered the story of those early years, and they felt it was important to record the history while there was still time.
A group of people agreed to write their memories, and what follows is a collection of their stories about their beloved island.
First, though, a bit of history on how the colony began. The following appeared in Arthur Railton’s article, “The Summer of 1874,” published in the February, 1986, issue of the Dukes County Intelligencer, a publication of the Martha’s Vineyard Historical Society:
“It was a watershed summer. There would be no turning back. The nation, in 1874, discovered our Island.
“For two years, real-estate speculation had gone beyond the wildest imaginings of Vineyard residents. Spreading out from Cottage City were subdivisions of all sizes: Lagoon Heights, with 400 lots, sold in a few weeks; Oklahoma; West Point Grove and Cedar Bluff on West Chop; Ocean heights; Hines Point, all had their start at this time. Developers had grabbed over 2000 acres, dividing them neatly into tiny rectangles, eight lots per acre.
“Buyers rushed to the Island, eager to get a spot before it was too late. . .”
Although not in the original plans, it was decided to build a hotel in the Lagoon Heights area. The following excerpts are from an article titled, “The Prospect House Offered a Clear View to Tisbury, Easy Access to the Trolley,” written by Douglas Ulwick, which appeared in The Dukes County Intelligencer, May 2009:
“The land development created by the Oak Bluffs Land and Wharf Company that became the heart of the future town of Oak Bluffs was so successful that it spawned many imitators–but none as successful. One of the also-rans was Lagoon Heights. Created with north and south sections in 1873, based on a survey by Richard Pease, it was bounded by Lagoon Avenue, Pennsylvania Avenue, County Road, and Winne Avenue. Most of Winne exists only on paper today, running parallel to and between Lagoon Avenue and Worcester Avenue. The other streets are still well known.
“The original layout of streets and parks made no provision for a hotel, but at some point it was likely decided that a hotel would bring potential buyers to the neighborhood. A location in the south section was chosen at the corner of “New York Avenue” (later renamed Hudson Avenue) and Beacon Avenue, the site taking up a modest area of approximately 100 feet by 100 feet. . .
“In addition to the view, another major selling point was accessibility. The electric trolley line had opened up to Lagoon Heights, traveling up Wing Road, turning onto Alpine, then turning onto Hudson, passing the Prospect House on its way to the Lagoon, ending up at the present day boat launch at the foot of Hudson Avenue. An 1894 advertising brochure touts its new management (it was sold in 1888), its accessibility, its view, its size–accommodations for 200 guests–and its rates at $2.50 per day.
“The Prospect House suffered a fate similar to the other notable Oak Bluffs hotels, the Sea View House (burned 1892) and the Highland House (burned 1893), as it burned in 1898 in the off-season and there was no reason to rebuild. The rest of Lagoon Heights lay dormant for decades. It had been the victim of poor timing. The “boom” years in Oak Bluffs had passed just as it was getting off the ground. It would be for another generation to settle in and develop the homesites. . . .”
Thus, our little colony began.
MEMORIES OF SUMMERS PAST
by FLORENCE OBERMANN CROSS
The first in this collection of memories are those of the Obermann family, Anton, Florence and Beryl, who are third generation residents. Their mother, uncle, and grandparents had spent their summers in Lagoon Heights since approximately 1904, starting as renters, and then as owners.
Their family members were:
Albert H. Buck, 1868-1956 and wife,
Florence E. Harrison Buck, 1868-1937
Harold A. Buck, 1899-1968 and wife,
Myrtle McLean Buck
Marion E. Buck Obermann, 1900-1997 and husband,
Anton Obermann, Sr. 1893-1971. Their children,
Anton, Jr., 1930-2008; Florence, 1933- ; Beryl, 1935-
The Obermann children’s happiest early memories are of the colony, a group of small cottages located near the lagoon. The cottage their family visited each summer belonged to their grandparents, Albert and Florence Buck, who were among the earliest settlers of that area. The Bucks had bought the cottage, located on Springfield Avenue, in 1906, when it was just two small rooms and a porch. This small cottage was typical of the ones built at that time. At the time of purchase, Marion Buck Obermann, their mother, was five years old and her brother Harold was a year and a half older. Their cottage was a pre-fab, which had originally been located in Worcester. It was disassembled, shipped by rail and boat to the Vineyard, and rebuilt in the late 1800’s in its present location. The Bucks had purchased it from an art teacher, Fred Daniels, who taught in the Springfield, Mass., school system. Fred Daniels bought the property from Olive Holt, who bought it from Daniel Wing, October 12, 1871. The Buck family would spend from early July to the end of August at their cottage. Mr. Buck would commute on weekends. During those early years, he was known as “the mayor” of the colony.
Mr. Buck worked for the City of Springfield, also in the school system. The following quote from an article in the Springfield Union, dated Sept. 19, 1936, at the time of his retirement, tells about his employment:
“Mr. Buck was assigned to install the electrical equipment at Classical High School when the building was under construction in 1897. He was then employed by Plumber & Ham Company, a Worcester electrical concern. Together with another man, he put in the electrical equipment and the job was the first modern electrical job in Springfield, the armored conduit rather than the open wiring system being used. Mr. Buck remained at the school in the employ of the Worcester firm for several months after the building opened to operate the electrical system and in October, 1898, entered the employ of the city as engineer of the building.”
One other item of interest about Mr. Buck is that he and Fred Belcher, who were both mechanically creative, invented the camshaft for motorcycles. They never patented the part and, some time later, they received a letter from the Indian Motorcycle Co. of Springfield telling them they could no longer make the part because Indian Motorcycle had patented it.
NEIGHBORS AND COTTAGES
Fred Belcher and his wife Grace were neighbors of the Bucks in Springfield, who owned the cottage now owned by the Zahns, on the corner of Newton and Springfield avenues. The Allens–Emeline, and her son and daughter-in-law, Harry and Nellie, of Worcester Avenue –were also friends from Springfield. Grace Belcher was Emeline (Grandma) Allen’s daughter. The Allens, whose cottage was later owned by the Flodstroms, also acquired the cottage next to theirs, which had been built by A.G. Weston of Worcester, circa 1920, and later purchased by the Duffs.
During those early years of the colony, there was a communal hand pump located between the Buck and Allen cottages, which provided water for the immediate neighbors.
The cottages in the colony in the 1930’s that the Obermanns recall were the Gay and Brown cottages, which were on either side of them on Springfield Avenue; the Allen and Duff cottages, which were on Worcester Avenue; the Reid, Amy Day, Fletcher, and Lida Oliver cottages, which overlooked the lagoon; and the Father Duffy, Belcher and Davey cottages, which were on Newton Avenue. There was the “red roof cottage” off of Fitchburg Avenue, which was owned by the Cox family, and “Doc” Watkins’, which was on the lagoon just off Lagoon Road.
The Fletcher family cottage was built in the 1920’s by Gardner and Madeline Fletcher of Springfield, and remained in the family until it was sold in the summer of 2009.
We could see across the fields to Hudson Avenue and the cottage of Miss Lillian Chignall, or Chiggie, our mother’s friend, who would stop by for a visit now and then. She had been a governess to a family in New York City and retired to the Island. Her cottage was near the site of the former Prospect House.
There was a ramshackle cottage, abandoned for many years, which sat across Springfield Avenue from the Buck and Gay cottages. The story was that the owners lived in California and no longer visited. It was such an eyesore that one day several men tied a rope to an old Ford, attached it to the cottage, and pulled it down. The only sign that the cottage had ever been there was a pipe that, for many years, stuck several feet above the ground.
In the 1930’s, Dorothy Gay Fullerton, her daughter Gay, and mother, Mrs. Mary Belle Gay, were regular summer residents. Their cottage, which was next to the Buck cottage, had been built by Dr. Henry W. Watkins, a local dentist and father of Dr. Eugene “Doc” Watkins, and had been owned by the Gay family since around 1916. Florence remembers Mrs. Gay as a dignified, matronly, Southern lady. She was the wife of a clergyman from Cambridge, Mass., who ran a boarding house for college students during the winter. She would take her children to their cottage for the summer during the children’s growing-up years.
Anne Madeiros purchased the Brown cottage, located on the other side of the Buck cottage, in the 1930’s. She was an Islander who grew up in Edgartown and taught at a school for special education children in Worcester. She entertained many interesting friends there over the years. After her retirement, she married her longtime friend, Albert Kent. When Anne died in 1981, Beryl and Matt Stephens, who at that time owned the Buck cottage, became the new owners of her cottage and named it the “Anne-X.”
One night in the summer of 1937, the Reid House, a guesthouse run by Mrs. Alexander Reid, located at Worcester and Newton avenues at the top of the path to the beach, burned to the ground. Our mother, having heard the fire trucks during the night, got us up early the following morning to view the ruins, which were still smoldering. According to David Fletcher, the fire was caused by a burning cigarette. A guest at the time was Walter Damrosch, musician and conductor of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, who escaped safely. The foundation is still there if one knows where to look for it.
FLORA AND FAUNA
There were few tall trees in the area in those early years. The growth was mostly scrub oaks, new-growth pines, huckleberry and beach plum bushes. Along the beach could be seen pink and white rosa rugosa. Side roads consisted of two sandy tracks that criss-crossed the fields. There were lots of cottontail rabbits, and in abundance were chewinks, or towhees, with their calls of “chewink” or “drink your tea.” They would kick up leaves as they hopped through the underbrush looking for food. Quails nested in the underbrush and their call of “bobwhite” was heard in the evenings. The incessant call of the whippoorwill could also be heard in the late evening. The wind soughing through the pines was a comforting sound as we were dropping off to sleep.
On a warm summer day, the smell of sweet fern permeated the air, and fields were dotted with orange butterfly weed swaying in the breeze. The fields and roadsides were sprinkled with Queen Anne’s lace and chicory. There was a large patch of pink lady slippers growing in a nearby field along with pipsissewa scattered here and there. With the exception of the songs of birds, the chirps of crickets, and the humming of bees, all was quiet–no sounds of traffic on the roads or commercial jets flying overhead. Life was more peaceful, less hurried, less complicated in those years.
ENTERTAINMENT IN THE EARLY 1900’s
For entertainment in the early 1900’s, neighbors and friends would visit in the evenings. The young people would play board games, such as parcheesi, chess, and checkers; play tennis, walk to the standpipe (water tower), or into town; ride the merry-go-round, known as the Flying Horses, hoping to catch the brass ring; and attend dances at the Tivoli. They also would hold swimming races from Reids Point to Hines Point; walk around the lagoon at least once a year, carrying a picnic lunch; and families would get together for beach parties.
LIFE IN THE 1930’s
In the 1930’s, our family made the trip to Martha’s Vineyard in the family car, our parents and we three children, driving from Westerly, RI, through Providence, Fall River, MA, and New Bedford. We would dress in our best summer clothes, full of anticipation and excitement. The trip was an all-day affair because there were no interstate highways then. We had to drive through towns and cities, and probably our top speed was 45 miles per hour on the open road. In New Bedford, we took the steamer through Woods Hold to Oak Bluffs, where we were met by our grandfather. Florence says, “I could hardly wait to get to the cottage so I could get out my toys, my old friends from previous summers, and play with them.” We children and our mother would stay for an extended visit, but our father, who was a linotype operator for the local newspaper, The Westerly Sun, could only stay for short visits.
Back in those days, there was no running water or electricity. We had a hand pump in the kitchen and used kerosene for cooking and lighting. If we wanted hot water, we heated it on the stove. Our grandfather had built a small, indoor bathroom off the kitchen and rigged up a flush toilet with a tank several feet above the toilet. When someone flushed the toilet, he or she was responsible for refilling the tank. This involved screwing a cap on the kitchen pump, which redirected the water into the toilet tank, and then pumping until our arms felt like they were going to drop off!
Anton’s morning tasks were to fill the kerosene lamps and stove and to help fill the toilet tank. At mealtimes, he liked to get the butter and milk from the well, which was located under the back of the house. It was a deep, dry hole, lined with stone and always cool, covered by a wooden door. The food was stored in crocks, which were raised and lowered on ropes.
Electricity came in 1938, but we did not have it installed until about 1950. We used a kerosene stove until 1957, when we put in gas. Town water was not available until the mid-1960’s. There were no modern conveniences in our cottage. Much of the charm of being there came from the simplicity of life and lack of amenities.
Mornings were spent on the beach. Anton enjoyed playing with his homemade boats. We all had fun playing in the sand and learning to swim. We watched, and sometimes caught, the marine life: hermit crabs, horseshoe crabs and several other varieties of crabs, scallops, quahogs, soft shelled clams, periwinkles, starfish, mussels, and minnows that would nibble at our toes. A large patch of eel grass, which we didn’t like walking through, grew in front of the Fletcher cottage, so the favorite gathering spot on the beach was at the foot of the Worcester Avenue path, where Rosa Ragusa bloomed and beach plum bushes lined the path.
The Vineyard Haven 12 o’clock fire horn was our signal to head home for our noon meal. We would rinse off the salt water and sand in pails of water that had been set out in the sun earlier in the day to warm (no outside shower in those days). In those early years, we were actually small enough to fit in the pails.
Sometimes, before the noon meal, we were sent cross-lots with a few coins in our hands to Grandma Sylvia’s farm on County Road for fresh vegetables. Her farm was visible from our cottage and we could see her, dressed in a long, dark skirt and bonnet to protect her from the sun, bent over, working in her garden. She kept a horse, which was housed in the barn. It wasn’t a riding horse, but one used for plowing and chores. On our arrival, Grandma Sylvia would pat us on the head in greeting and say, “God bless, sweet child.” She always sent us home with a bouquet of fresh flowers from her garden.
We would return to the beach after the noon meal and an hour’s rest (so we wouldn’t get cramps from swimming too soon after a meal); we would stay all afternoon. Our mother loved to swim and would dive into the water at Reids Point, where there was a steep drop-off.
Occasionally in the afternoon, particularly if it were not a beach day, we would go for a ride in our grandfather’s car, a ‘38 Oldsmobile. Anton recalls that our rides up-island usually included a stop on Middle Road at a big tree with a large horizontal limb, which had a dip in it. We would take turns sitting in the dip and pretending we were riding a horse. We often stopped for homemade ice cream in North Tisbury at a little general store with gas pumps out in front. The ice cream, which was homemade, was so rich that it coated our tongues and the roofs of our mouths.
When our mother went into town to shop, we would stop at Ocean Park to paddle in the wading pool. When we got older, we would occasionally swim at the town beach pier on Sea View Avenue.
In the evenings, the adults sat on the porch while the children played outside. Florence remembers Doc Watkins driving through for evening visits on one of the sandy roads in the triangle in front of our cottage with Mrs. Watkins, a tiny lady, whose head barely reached above the car window.
Across the street from Grandma Sylvia lived her son and his family, Mr. and Mrs. John Sylvia, and sons, Johnny, Philip, and Bobby. Occasionally, we would walk there in the evening with our mother for a visit. They had a sail-go-round (a whirligig with sails) that Mr. Sylvia had made. Beryl was small enough to be the perfect size for it, though we all looked forward to riding on it.
In the quiet of the evening, sounds would come floating across the water–singing from the sailing camp, a motorboat on the lagoon, a band concert in Vineyard Haven, and the mournful sound of the foghorns from the East Chop, West Chop, and Nobska lights, as well as passing ships.
Anton (whose field as an adult was marine electronics) offered an explanation of how the foghorns operated to warn the sailors. He recalled many foggy nights lying in bed, listening to the foghorns as they broke the silence with their different sounds, the blasts about ten to twelve seconds apart. Blasts consisted of one or two tones. The dual-tone blasts were different sequences of high and low pitches, the first part of the blast being higher in pitch and the latter, lower, and another lighthouse using an alternate pitch of a two-toned signal horn. The different pitch levels were unique to each lighthouse and familiar to ships’ pilots traversing Vineyard Sound.
We don’t recall when we started attending the Wednesday night Community Sings at the Tabernacle, which began in 1904, but Beryl remembers that it became a ritual to walk into town to attend the Sings. We were each given a nickel to buy popcorn at Darling’s–the best popcorn we’ve ever eaten. (They also made good saltwater taffy and fudge.) We could make that popcorn last all the way home.
We all recall picking huckleberries for a real treat–huckleberry pudding, huckleberry pie, and huckleberry pancakes, and in the fall there were beach plums for jelly. The field across from our cottage was full of huckleberry bushes, so we never had to wander far to fill our pails.
WORLD WAR II
When World War II began, travel by car became difficult because gas was rationed. Our visits then were shortened to a week or two, because our mother had taken a job as bookkeeper at Bradford Dyeing Association, a fabric dyeing and finishing company in Westerly. We traveled by train and bus to Woods Hole, where we would catch the ferry to the Island. The war affected the lives of many of our neighbors, as well. Many of the cottages remained closed, year after year (in particular, the Gay-Fullerton cottage and Father Duffy’s). Warner Fletcher joined the Coast Guard and was stationed in Menemsha for a time. Johnny and Phil Sylvia joined the Army and both were sent overseas, Johnny to the Pacific and Phil to Europe. Martha’s Vineyard was a very quiet place during the war years.
For entertainment we would walk into town. The scent of the privet hedges in bloom on Wing Road is a memory that stays with us to this day. Besides the many hours spent at the beach, we also had great fun jumping off the bluffs at the lagoon. Anton built a 16-foot kayak in woodshop at school when he was in his early teens. He took it to the Vineyard and had many happy hours paddling in the lagoon before it was stolen one winter.
During the war years, Anton recalls going to the Gay Head cliffs with his friends, where they could see the dive bombers practice-bombing Nomans Land. The planes swooped so low that the boys could actually look down on the tops of the planes at the low point of the dive.
AFTER THE WAR
WEETAUQUA CORINTHIAN YACHT CLUB
Warner Fletcher organized the Weetauqua Corinthian Yacht Club after the war in 1946. Weetauqua was the Wampanoag name for “land at the head of the lagoon.” Membership consisted of all the young people who lived on the lagoon who were old enough to sail. John Duff was the first Commodore. The boats owned by some of the members were a hodgepodge of classes and sizes. It didn’t matter. The purpose of the club was to get the lagoon kids together to learn to sail and have fun. There were several small boats–the Moth class was one. Two other classes represented were Lightnings and Herreshoffs. Anton was a good sailor and won many races. The kids without boats would serve as crew during the races. Warner organized the raising of a flagpole at the beach so that we could fly our club flag on race days. The base of that flagpole is still standing, rusted, but a reminder of many happy days of competition.
The history of the flag pole dates back to July 18, 1911, when a gathering of neighbors helped to raise the pole. It was located in front of the Dr. Henry Watkins cottage next door to the Buck cottage on Springfield Avenue. On August 26, 1924, Florence Buck wrote the following entry in her diary: “We had a terrible tropical storm. It uprooted trees and moved homes from their foundations. It blew the end of our porch off. Also, flagpole was blown down . . .” The flagpole was stored in the basement of the Fullerton cottage (formerly the Watkins, then Gay cottage) all those years.
The Fletchers had several sailboats over the years, two of which were the “Surprise” and the “Pegasus.” Years before, Gardner Fletcher, father of Warner, David, and Harriet, had made a motorboat of copper, which was called the “Tea Kettle.” The Fletchers used a winch to pull their boats onto a cradle above the beach in the grass when not in use. The winch, a rusted relic, is still there. The Island was hit by a northeaster one summer that blew the “Pegasus,” keel first, into Reids Point. I remember the Fletchers trying to free it with the help of neighbors. The effort drew a large crowd.
Following is a list of the early yacht club members:
Warner Fletcher Clarence Davey Mrs. F. A. Child
David Fletcher Alan Davey Pam Foster
Harriet Fletcher Charles Newbury Hans Solmssen
John Duff Libba Newbury Dave Boak
Tom Duff Shirley Walker David Sisson
Anton Obermann Jean Walker Jay Boyle
Florence Obermann Gay Fullerton Nancy West
Beryl Obermann Pam Faulkner Jay Baldwin
Jane Hillyer Shirley Faulkner Arthur Lee
Jim Heeremans Sally Williams Peggy Korth
Carol Heeremans Carol Fleckles Joan Korth
Dave Gamble David Fleckles Jim Norton
Paul Chapman Bob Klein John Carnie
Sally Taylor Marvin Klein Mr. Griffith
Dick Hall Bruce Macintosh Mr. Sutton
Bayes Norton Karl Hider James Baldwin
Pete Rolland Ruth Harlow Berman Jerry Sullivan
Don Kahn Hal Berman Weir Goodman
Ruth Childs Bob Beaven Ed Luthrop
There was a raft beyond Reids Point that gave the lagoon children hours of fun swimming and diving. It was the perfect meeting place and is where we made many friends. One day Anton dove under the raft and came up too soon, raking his back on the barnacles that were on the underside. He had the scars all his life as a reminder.
Anton worked one summer as a dishwasher at the Eastville Inn, one summer as a clerk in the produce section of the Reliable Market, and one summer as a mechanic at Bergeron’s Garage. During one of those summers, along with his regular job, he and an Island friend, Eddie Perry, stayed in the East Chop Highlands home of Mr. Gookin, an invalid, and helped prepare his meals and take care of him. Florence worked as a waitress at the Ahoma Inn on East Chop the summer she was sixteen. With the exception of the Reliable Market, which opened in 1947, all of those businesses no longer exist.
During the summer that Anton worked at Bergeron’s Garage, his Island friends, Eddie Perry, Bobby Sylvia, and George Packish, acquired an old Model T Ford four-door sedan. They cut the top off, making it an open car, and drove it up Circuit Avenue, tooting the horn, which sounded like “fish, fish,” to attract the attention of the girls. When the car needed repairs, Anton would take it to the garage and work on it in his spare time.
Teenage girls would spend hours in the sun in those years, slathered with baby oil containing a few drops of iodine, to get a beautiful tan. All those summers in the sun during childhood and the teen years without benefit of sunscreen have contributed to lots of sun damage to the skin!
A highlight of the week would be the “sings,” a sort of vesper service, which were held Sunday nights for the neighbors at the home of Ralph and Marion Harlow. Dr. Harlow would lead the sings with a brief talk and suggestions for hymns to sing. Marion Harlow would play the piano, their son-in-law, Dr. Harold Berman, would play the accordion, and the attendees would join in the singing. Dr. Paul Williams had a wonderful bass voice, and a favorite of everyone was his singing of “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho,” accompanied by Hal Berman. When Mrs. Harlow gave up playing the piano, her daughter, Ruth Harlow Berman, took over.
An event that is still taking place at the time of this writing is the reading of the Declaration of Independence each Fourth of July at the beach, followed by a picnic.
Beryl recalls Sunday evening band concerts at Ocean Park in Oak Bluffs and, with other children, skipping around the bandstand as the music played. John Sylvia, Johnny and Phil, all played in the band years ago. Those concerts continue to be held.
THE NEXT GENERATION
In 1952 Florence married John Cross, who, after college and seminary, became a Congregational minister. They would take their four children each summer to the Vineyard for a few weeks. John loved to fish, and quahogs and fish were abundant during those years. With a permit and a lobster pot, one could catch lobsters, too. A real Island dinner for their family would be quahog chowder with huckleberry pie for dessert. In 1960 they bought a piece of property across from the Buck property on Worcester Avenue, and a few years later, in 1963, built their A-frame cottage. Once their children were all in school, Florence worked as administrative assistant for many years.
Anton married Phyllis Ahern in 1957. He was starting a marine electronics business,which kept him very busy during the summers. He and Phyllis had four children, which kept Phyllis busy with both the children and helping with the business, so they had few visits to the Island in those years. In the 1970’s they did buy a piece of property on the corner of Barnes Road and Linden Avenue with a small cottage on it. They repaired and updated the cottage and furnished it with new things, but had little time to spend there, so they rented it for several years to college students. Unfortunately, the renters had parties and other activities that damaged the property and furnishings, and items that could be carried away were stolen, so they decided to sell. Sadly Anton died in 2008, leaving a large, empty spot in our hearts.
In 1959, Beryl married Matthew Stephens, who was teaching at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, and also studying for his Ph.D. at Wharton. Matt became a professor and later, Vice Dean of Wharton and Director of the Undergraduate Division. Beryl was an organist and choir director. She would spend her summers at the lagoon with their two children and Matt would visit whenever possible. They purchased the Buck cottage in 1969 from our mother, who had inherited it from her parents at the time of our grandfather’s death in 1956. Our grandmother died in 1936.
A noticeable change after World War II was the introduction of skunks to the Island by some short-sighted individual(s). These animals, which are not native to the Island, don’t have a single redeeming feature, in my opinion! They have wreaked havoc on the ground-nesting bird population, and the smell of their spray reeks from one end of the Island to the other. They have even invaded the towns. They have multiplied to great numbers and have few natural enemies, the great horned owl being one of the few. It has been years since we’ve heard the call of a bobwhite or a whippoorwill.
Another change is frequent sightings of deer in our neighborhoods in the spring and fall. With the addition of many homes being built, their natural habitat has been shrinking and they now venture into our neighborhoods, something that once was a rare sight.
During those post-war years, people spent many hours at the beach, both mornings and afternoons. Since a lot of the people who had been friends growing up were still spending summers at the lagoon with their young families, days at the beach were also a time for social gathering among the parents as they swam, sailed, and kept an eye on their children while they played.
The Weetauqua Corinthian Club was no longer in existence. New families have moved into the original cottages and bigger cottages and winter houses have been built, making what was “the colony” now a larger and much different community.
With the increase in both the summer and winter populations and the construction of more and larger houses, more cars and trucks on the narrow roads, and more planes flying overhead, the changes as we look back are many, varied, and irreversible. This makes our memories of a simpler time and our summers on the lagoon all the more precious.
by SALLY TAYLOR HOHENTHAL
We knew that summer had begun when we arrived on the Vineyard complete with bikes, suitcases, crab nets and tennis rackets. But, summer really began with the launching of the raft. It had been pulled up on the shore for the winter, and now its four oil barrel and splinter filled planks, complete with a narrow diving board, must be launched.
Families from around the lagoon gathered to push, drag, and scrape the cumbersome float out to the heavy cement blocks that would anchor it. The placement of these blocks was calculated carefully so that even the most exuberant individual could dive into the water at low, as well as high, tide without scraping bottom.
Once the raft was secure, the real fun began. First, there had to be the “swim out to the raft” challenge. Who would be allowed to swim out this year without a parent or older sibling swimming alongside? Would you be able to make it this year and be one of the “big kids?” If you failed, you would be left out of all the activity, including pushing, jumping, and generally messing around with the other children of the lagoon. The raft created a feeling of community among the lagoon families. It was a meeting place where “summer kids” could get to know each other and enjoy new experiences. Friends met and picnics could be planned. Fishing poles appeared, but I don’t recall any fish being caught. However, quahoging was organized and the art of digging with feet, compared to a rake, was debated furiously.
As long as the raft was out in the lagoon, the older kids could escape from the parents’ demands and younger brothers’ and sisters’ pestering. Only if you could swim to the floating club could you become a member.
It was always sad when the barrel and wood structure was headed for the shore; you knew then that summer had come to a close. Who would be able to join the select group on the raft next year? You hoped it would be you.
THE ZAHN FAMILY
by CARL ZAHN
Our Vineyard contact began with my first wife, BJ’s family, Edwin and Frida Woodrow. They lived in Somerville, New Jersey, and visited the Vineyard every September from the time BJ was eight or so, usually taking the Nobska from New York. They stayed with Bill Luce’s family in Vineyard Haven.
BJ and I were married in 1950, and she persuaded me to make our first trip together to the Vineyard in 1951, in the spring, I believe. We also stayed at the Luce’s (kind of an early bed and breakfast), but it rained every day (five) that we were there, and I swore off the Island.
We ended up vacationing primarily on the Cape, usually in Wellfleet. But BJ kept voicing nostalgia for the Vineyard, so in 1960 we rented a cottage from Varnum Mead’s sister, Priscilla, just up Barnes Road. The weather was better, and we came back the next four years, the last (1964) in the Williamses’ cottage, a couple of doors down from Priscilla’s. It was a cool August and we amused ourselves looking at real estate.
We settled on the house on Newton, which was owned by Lida Oliver (Earl Peters’ aunt) who had also owned the one across the street, which she had sold to John and Harriet Wayne (who later divorced, and she ended up with Danielson). They sold to Bill Fender.
N.B.: The Zahn house is on the corner of Newton and Springfield avenues, originally
built by Fred Belcher.