In the second block of Circuit avenue between Park, now Healy Way, and Narragansett avenues, postcards give a glimpse at the street scene a century ago.
The Metropolitan Hotel, one of the town’s landmarks, filled the corner of Circuit, Park and Kennebec avenues. Postcards show not only the exterior of the 75-room hotel with its tall clock tower, but also its first-floor retail shops, Norton’s Pharmacy and Rausch’s confectionary.
The interior of Rausch’s ice cream parlor, with its marble top soda fountain and bentwood chairs is seen in a rare postcard. Rausch, a caterer and confectioner from New York city, was famous for his “Hungarian punches.” Both Rausch’s and Norton’s were fixtures of Circuit avenue for at least 40 years.
A Chamberlain black-and-white postcard pictures buildings between the Metropolitan and the Wigwam Block. Both S.E. Bryant, a jeweler, and L.J. Towne, owner of a dry goods business, boarded and worked at the Oakwood, a hotel adjacent to the Metropolitan.
S. Ishikawa’s Japanese Bazaar was farther along the avenue. Ishikawa, from Taunton, warned potential buyers in his advertisements that “many oriental goods are oriental in name only.” He encouraged customers to buy from natives of Japan, of which he was one.
Further along the avenue was the Herald building, home of the Martha’s Vineyard Herald, formerly the Cottage City Star. The Herald was later purchased by the Vineyard Gazette in 1922.
The Wigwam Block, a single structure constructed around 1900, housed Marshall’s department store. F.A. Marshall, who lived on Kennebec avenue, advertised “artistic postcards” along with a vast array of other items, many of which are displayed in front of the store. Signs promote other goods and services, including the dental office of Nassau dentist Henry W. Watkins.
George L. Emerson’s china shop, featured in a black-and-white postcard, occupied a small cottage next to the Wigwam Block. A porch was added to the shop’s first floor level in order to display an impressive array of china on shelves and in windows.
The right side of Circuit avenue from the Arcade building to Narragansett avenue was a continuous stretch of commercial buildings punctuated by occasional pathways leading to the Methodist Camp Ground. The Arcade, a prominent landmark designed by Samuel Pratt in 1871, provides an entrance to Montgomery Square and the Methodist Camp Ground beyond. The Maine Ice Cream Company of New Bedford and Eldridge’s insurance business occupied the first floor of the structure.
Between the arcade and one of the Camp Ground entrances is a diverse group of business enterprises. The grocery store of Look, Washburn & Company, the Oak Bluffs Candy Company and Mrs. A.C. Smith’s dry goods store can all be seen. Smith’s featured ribbons, embroidery materials and neckwear. According to its advertisements, it was the largest dry goods store in Oak Bluffs. Nearby was Asian merchant Y. Miyanaga, who imported lacquerware, trays and silks.
A 1907 Chamberlain card provides a “Birdseye View” of the next series of shops. A branch store of J.F. Murphy News Company of Boston is housed in a small one-story building next to the Frederick W. Smith Auction House. Nearby was the grocery business of Timothy S. Smith and the office of Walter E. Sanford, who specialized in real estate and jewelry as well as postcards, prominently displayed in a front window.
The Oak Bluffs post office with folks posing for the photographer is the subject of another card. The avenue’s two-way traffic consists of a horse and carriage and an early automobile going in different directions.
Some of the most eye-catching postcards of Circuit avenue, most of them by John Chamberlain, feature parades. His studio was conveniently located at the intersection of Narragansett and Circuit avenues, and from a nearby vantage point he captured some memorable images of parades between 1905 and 1910. The Brockton, Taunton, Mansfield and Fall River cadets are standing at attention in one card. The Governor’s Day procession in 1913, with a car of dignitaries and the Fitchburg marching band, is featured in another.
A century ago many resorts along the Eastern seaboard were vying for the summer tourist trade. The Island of Martha’s Vineyard with its six different towns and diverse natural landscape was a magnet in itself. The town of Oak Bluffs attracted the large majority of summer visitors and its main street, Circuit avenue, had a perpetual feeling of festivity night and day. No wonder the resort was a great success a century ago — and still is today.
Pat Rodgers lives in Boston and Edgartown and contributes occasional history pieces to the Gazette. This is the second of two parts.