Not so long ago, it was commonplace for Vineyard towns to have multiple blacksmith shops: thriving places of commerce that sold items such as bolts, hinges, horseshoes, cooking utensils and iron gates.
But as the all-consuming age of the machine took hold, the old village smithy went the way of the horse and buggy. The last blacksmith on the Island was Orin Norton, who operated a shop in Edgartown for sixty years until his death in 1961.
So when Oak Bluffs resident Jamie Rogers first approached selectmen on Oct. 23 about acquiring a home business license for a new blacksmith shop at her home at 7 Pondview Drive, some neighbors and town officials were clearly caught off guard.
Understandably, since it was the first time in more than forty years on the Island anyone had expressed interest in opening such a shop.
Selectmen unanimously voted to grant Ms. Rogers’ a license for the shop at their regular meeting on Tuesday, but only after several neighbors voiced opposition to the proposal in recent weeks through public hearings and letters sent to town hall.
Ms. Rogers explained to selectmen last month that she had just graduated from college where she studied metalworking, and was interested in starting a small blacksmith shop to make what she called functional art: items such as jewelry, paper towel racks and fire poker sets.
“I know [a blacksmith shop] may sound scary at first, but it’s really a small-time operation . . . you probably won’t even know it’s there,” Ms. Rogers explained to selectmen.
But a group of neighbors from the Vineyard Hills subdivision near Ms. Rogers’ home complained they knew little about the proposal, and raised concerns about noise, smoke and pollution.
Doren Voeth, a member of the Vineyard Hills Homeowners Association board of directors, said he supported the idea of the blacksmith shop, but not in the proposed location.
“[The homeowners association] encourages such activity, but not in the middle of a residential neighborhood,” Mr. Voeth said. “We have questions about metal accumulating on yards, about welding machines, about traffic. We worry this will set a bad precedent for industrial operations in the middle of neighborhoods.”
Grovedale Road resident Maureen DeLoach said she worried because the shop would be located close to a school bus stop shelter.
Pondview Drive resident Geoff Rose said bringing a blacksmith shop into the neighborhood could affect property values. “Let’s not forget there is land value to consider . . . we don’t want to see our property values depreciate,” he said.
Ms. Rogers patiently addressed each concern, assuring her detractors the operation would be small in scale and hardly noticeable. She said she would not be selling items out of her home, would use only a single forge and work only during the day. She also said she planned on installing fencing and a filter system to suck harmful particles out of the smoke.
“This is not, by any means, an industrial operation . . . there will be no power hammers, no outside storage, no parking lot . . . it will not be a threat to children and it will not disrupt anyone’s life,” she said.
Selectmen didn’t vote on the home business license on Oct. 23, but instead asked Ms. Rogers to meet with neighbors to try to resolve some of their concerns. Since that meeting, the selectmen’s office has received several letters in opposition to the project.
“We purchased our home as a residential property in a private community — not an industrial metal yard . . . Ms. Roger’s business could disturb an entire community’s way of life,” wrote Pondview Drive resident Patricia Kindregan.
When Ms. Rogers appeared before selectmen again on Tuesday, she reported the meeting with her neighbors had borne little fruit.
“It was a little scary,” she said of the meeting. “It seemed [the neighbors] had already made up their minds. I don’t think a lot was accomplished.”
Neighbors once again urged selectmen to deny the home business license.
“[Ms. Rogers] has a limited financial investment in this and can still move this, we cannot move our homes,” Mr. Voeth said.
But other residents in attendance lent their support to Ms. Rogers.
“We’re talking about an Island-born girl who left to go to school and then decided to come back here to start a business,” Chip Mitchell said. “We should be looking for ways to help Jamie, not stop her. If we keep driving away our young people we are going to have a dead Island.”
“What she does on her property is none of our business,” added Otis Burt. “Let them live their lives.”
“Having spent 31 years teaching the young people of this Island, I have heard too many times from kids who said they couldn’t wait to get off this rock,” selectman Duncan Ross said. “But here we have someone saying they can’t wait to start a business here on the Island; and I, for one, support it.”
Selectmen and Ms. Rogers agreed to a list of conditions which, among other things, will require all items to be sold off premises, the forge and workshop to be shielded from the road and the hours of operation be limited to between 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. from Sept. 15 to May 15.
Following the meeting, Ms. Rogers said she was relieved the selectmen had supported her. “I’m excited to get started,” she said.