In one fast-moving day, the Smith house on the corner of South Summer and High streets in Edgartown was torn down and trucked away. A new house will take its place.
The tired old house was built after the Civil War around 1870, give or take a year.
In the days before the demolition, paint peeled inside and outside the house. Window panes over a hundred years old were wavy. Wallpaper almost as old draped off the walls.
Like so many old houses in a maritime or a farming community, the inside smelled of another century. Depending on the spot, every room had its odor. One bedroom smelled sweet and cozy, another smelled of mold and a third smelled of wood rot. A lath-and-plaster ceiling in one first-floor room was collapsing from errant rain.
An aging foundation brought shifting floors. With no basement under at least half of the house, there was a damp crawl space. The house had settled into a full state of abandonment.
But what became known as the Smith homestead was once alive and vibrant. Stanley Marcus Smith and his equally energetic wife Marguerite Gertrude Simpson Smith bought the house in the 1930s. The two raised nine children. Over a span of 30 years, the house was alive with the shouts and drama of youngsters going about their lives. Add to that visiting relatives over a span of decades.
Mr. Smith was an Edgartown police chief. He was a commercial fisherman and a commercial farmer; wearing many hats in the Vineyard tradition. His wife was active in town affairs. The two were a pair. He started doing clambakes for summer people and she helped in the kitchen making clam chowder.
Later that prescription for fun and shoreside celebrating was taken up by their son Billy. The ingredients of a Bill Smith Martha’s Vineyard Clambake arose from within the family kitchen. Bill Smith died five years ago, though the business still goes on.
The Smith house had no insulation and no central heat. Though the house could be cold in winter, the warmth was found in three simultaneously working free standing coal stoves. As the family grew older the coal was changed to kerosene and then to gas. Stoves stood in the living room, another in the dining room and a third in the kitchen.
Because of the huge size of the family, Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners were held at tables in the dining room and in the kitchen.
The wallpaper over the fireplace mantel stained by the years of fire and smoke, and a stove pipe in the hearth were the last evidence of those warm winter days and nights.
The electricity in the house dated back to the earliest years and was never upgraded. And in the bathrooms, cast-iron tubs stood, their insides covered with fallen paint.
On a windy day in September, every breeze rushing through town brought an eerie sound in the old house. The wind penetrated rattled windows and penetrated through broken panes. Rooms were vacant, except for a couple of chairs, a dining room table and a piano in poor repair.
In a second-floor bedroom, a table stood with two books. One was an illustrated Bible dating back to 1848. A second book, Great Men and Famous Women, was published in 1894.
Locally, the Smith family is famous. The Smith clan claims to have arrived on the Island before the original Mayhew and the Pease settlers.
In recent times, Bill Smith rose to the stature of familiar and locally known sibling. Add Mary Larsen, a former executive secretary to the Chilmark Board of Selectmen, and the wife of one of the fishing Larsens. There is her sister, the late Carole E. Larsen, another Chilmark icon.
Capt. Nelson Smith, the eldest of the nine, carries on the family legacy of his father, of fishing Vineyard waters and making a living at it. His son is Nelson Smith, a county commissioner. And there are others, all of them contributors to the towns where they lived.
When Marguerite Smith, 94, died in 1998, she left 23 grandchildren, 33 great-grandchildren and three great-great-grandchildren.
Beyond the house, the legacy and the family continues to grow.