50 Years Ago:
From the Vineyard Gazette editions of November, 1957:
The Beatrice House, a landmark for a hundred years dating from the time when Oak Bluffs was called Wesleyan Grove, is being razed by Leonard Jason of Menemsha, who plans to use the materials to build a fish-house and shop at Menemsha Creek, a dwelling for himself, and possibly “a couple of camps” in his own community. The land on which it stands belongs to the Martha’s Vineyard Camp Meeting Association, and it is believed that the association will convert the land, once it is vacated, into a parking lot.
The last days of the Beatrice House as a hotel, about three seasons ago, were a far cry from what they had been in the early days when Wesleyan Grove was converting itself rapidly from a tent city into a city of fantastically romantic cottages. Then it was the largest permanent building built by individual enterprise in the area.
It was a structure of two and a half stories, built for a Mr. Dunbar of New Bedford. It contained thirty-one rooms, intended to rent for fifteen dollars. The time was one of fast growth, and it is reported that one or two of the rooms were occupied before the carpenters had finished their work. Its name eventually came to be the Central House, which was particularly appropriate before the building became swallowed up and tucked away in the maze of buildings that now exist between the Arcade on Circuit avenue and Trinity Park. Later the name was changed to the Beatrice House. A period of great popularity for the old hotel within the memory of a great many Islanders was when it was operated for a number of years by the late Fred G. Huss of Newton Centre, who also managed the former Narragansett House, and later by his widow and his son Frederick Jr.
The meals served in the hotel dining room were known for their excellence. Many people who knew the Beatrice House fifty years ago, will recall its great dining room with its deal tables seating a dozen of more people in rows, the hard seats and general absence of frills in this plain, unfinished room. But they will also recall the excellence of the meals, the courteous attitude of the hosts and their help, and the gay and friendly atmosphere which pervaded the whole.
The tide of change has caught up with the Beatrice House and we can imagine that there has been a convocation of ghosts in Montgomery square looking on at these proceedings. It is just possible that among the spectral gallery, for such moments of curiosity as he could spare, has been the ghost of President U.S. Grant. That was one of the highest moments of the famous old hotel when Grant dined there in 1874.
In the great days of the Martha’s Vineyard Camp Meeting, which is to say in the crowded seasons of boom and popularity, just following the Civil War, Mr. Dunbar built this hotel at a cost of between $2,000 and $3,000. There were not many permanent structures on or near the Camp Ground in those days, and Mr. Dunbar’s hotel made a sensation. Everyone who looked at it could feel sure that in this spot a summer resort had come to stay. By 1874 the name had become Central House which was a good enterprising and appropriate name. Still later, some of the camp meeting people thought it would be a good idea to rechristen the establishment as the General Grant House.
The history of the hotels in Oak Bluffs, past and present, would fill many pages; the life of many and many a summer was reflected in them, and only to speak the names of some of them is to relive the past.
If the mammoth half million dollar project being agitated for the rebuilding of the Vineyard-Edgartown road should go through, what would happen to the Dodger Hole, the home of the myriads of silvery-tongued pinkletinks? This may sound like a frivolous question, but it really isn’t. The road in question, a mere seven or eight miles of it, is finally attaining some real beauty of its own, after years of anonymity and recovery from repeated roadside cutbacks. My Island memory goes back just far enough to recall the real adventure of motoring over the “Back Road” in the days when it was just a sandy way made for horses, without a thought of the automobile. You were lucky if you didn’t get stuck in the sand, or maybe mud, when you had to turn out for another car. Obviously, that condition would not be tolerated long after cars became the rage, and it was hard-surfaced.
I note the news story says that nothing has been done to the road in years, thus the desire to do something drastic. Now I have driven carefully and slowly over that road since the proposal was first made, and be darned if I can see a thing the matter, either with the up-hill, down-hill route and its occasional curves, or with the condition of the road surface on every part of it.
I, for one, don’t want to have it widened and tamed, and smoothed out and straightened. I like it the way it is, and suggest that there are many ways this state and this nation could put half a million dollars to better advantage. Here goes my vote, and it’s no!
Compiled by Eulalie Regan