From the Vineyard Gazette editions of 1934:
The Seaman’s Bethel, located on the waterfront at Vineyard Haven, is one of those institutions peculiar to the coast and to comparatively few towns and cities. Established and maintained by the Boston Seaman’s Friend Society, the Seaman’s Bethel is managed by Chaplain Austin Tower, who at once constitutes a clergyman, sea-going ambulance driver, harbor master, life guard and general friend in need to all who venture upon the water.
The Bethel is operated chiefly for the benefit of seamen, who, landing from long passages at sea, seek recreation, entertainment and comfort, and who, in many places, are induced to frequent questionable resorts where robberies and worse have taken place. It was to guide these men, many mere boys, away from such harmful influences, that this Bethel and others were established.
The Bethel is equipped with a cheerful assembly room, where there is always a large and varied assortment of reading matters, writing materials, games and general good cheer. Religious services are held there whenever a group of men congregate on Sunday, but always, whatever the day or night, sailors are assured of entertainment. Plenty of music, singing, readings and jokes are the order of the day, for the theory of the management is that while religion is of primary importance, a mixed cargo pays best, and that if the Bethel were simply a church, it would not be patronized daily any more than other churches. So the sailors gather, spin their yarns, and listen to those of others. They sing, eat ice cream and cake, get a laugh or two and return aboard their vessel refreshed in mind and body.
At Christmas time there is always a large tree, kept prepared for weeks, because many vessels will not make port on Christmas Day, but will touch either before or after. And the tree is waiting, with a gift for every man who appears.
It is not left to these men to come ashore as best they can. The port of Vineyard Haven is a roadstead, where the vessels lie at anchor a mile or two from land. Schooners, coal-barges and other types of sea-going craft make port here for shelter, this being the only harbor between New York and Boston where such shelter may be found. For this reason the Bethel maintains a large, seaworthy launch, completely housed in, which makes a circuit of the harbor. There is no sailing through windswept waters, or pulling for hours in an open boat. Aboard the Bethel launch, the men may sit in comfort in the dry cabin, warmed in cold weather by a coal stove, lashed to the deck to prevent its rolling over. There are few days or nights in the year when the Bethel launch does not make this trip if there are vessels in the harbor.
There is a marine hospital on the Vineyard,, where injured and sick seamen are taken. Regular visits are made to this institution by the chaplain. He takes entertainments to amuse them, carries them gifts of tobacco and other things and watches over their welfare in general.
He handles mail for scores of men who never know when or where they may make port, and his office thereby becomes a post office as well. He supplies vessels with daily newspapers, with bundles of books and magazines, and often brings ashore injured men. Children make the Bethel their headquarters, playing in the boats which are always to be found there, reading the books in the reading room, and playing games, this during the day when there are no men about the place, and the chaplain keeps a watchful eye over all. Many a skipper has taken his first lesson in sailing under the eye of the Bethel chaplain, and scores of children sail or row about the harbor, confident that if disaster overtakes them the Bethel launch will come to their rescue. The number of lives and boats saved by the Bethel launch and its chaplain skipper is too great to estimate and probably no record has been kept.
Occasionally there is a shipwreck, and wearied, exhausted men, half-starved, soaked with the wash of the breaking seas, and robbed of all their possessions are landed at Vineyard Haven. The Bethel is equipped to care for such cases, with a dormitory called the forecastle, where warm, comfortable beds are always ready, and there is always clothing to be given these victims of the sea.
Compiled by Cynthia Meisner