By Land and By Sea

From Gazette editions of February, 1984:

Clarissa Allen, the owner of the Chilmark farm known by her family’s name since Revolutionary times, will not have to give up an interest in the land to a man who knew nothing of its existence four years ago. So concluded a Massachusetts appeals court judge in a decision handed down Friday on the claim of a Winthrop man, Ross F. Batchelder, that he owned part of the land. Mr. Batchelder did not know of the land, or his alleged claim to it, until he was approached in 1980 by William J. Devine of Duxbury. Mr. Devine financed the three-year legal battle on the basis of a contract promising him a significant percentage of legal winnings.

Mr. Devine has described himself in the past as “a Robin Hood of the land court,” but Judge Rudolph Kass said he “appears to be a bounty hunter in troubled titles.” The court ordered Mr. Devine to pay Miss Allen $5,000 in damages and expenses for her trouble in fighting the appeal Judge Kass called “so untenable as to be frivolous.” Wrote the judge, “This is the third occasion within a year in which we have come across the same pattern of a title challenge induced and financed by Mr. Devine.” Judge Kass added that the courts may examine the issue of champerty, the maintenance of a legal action in consideration of profit, in the future.

State Representative Salvatore F. DiMasi, Mr. Devine’s business partner, is working on legislation to limit the land court’s discretionary powers. Both Mr. DiMasi and Mr. Devine refused to discuss the details of the decision.

A new boat will appear next summer in Vineyard waters. It’s called the Tashmoo 15, and for its creator, Nathaniel E. (Dan) West, it is a new experiment in classic boat design. Mr. West, who manages and owns the Machine and Marine business in Vineyard Haven, recently began production of a 15-foot skiff which he hopes will fill a need on the Island.

“Every summer I have people come up to me looking for a low-maintenance, small boat. They want a boat that can go along the shore on a breezy day. They want something that is sea-going, sea-kindly. While driving along a side road in Wiscasset, Maine, I saw a boat for sale off the road, and paid $100 for it,” Mr. West said. It looked tired and some of its ribs were broken. He told the owner that he planned to clone the boat into an edition of fiberglass copies. “When the man heard what I was going to do, he told me he’d be interested in one.”

Mr. West is a descendant of George W. Eldridge, founder of Eldridge’s Chandlery. “You see that spit of land out there,” Mr. West said, pointing from his shop to West Chop. “That’s where Eldridge’s Chandlery was. Our business is not that different from what he did there.”

This spring the Martha’s Vineyard Commission may again become an agency serving all the Island, not just four of the six towns. Officials in both Edgartown and Tisbury are planning to ask voters at town meeting time if they want to rejoin the regional land use planning and regulatory commission. Both warrant articles, endorsed by the selectmen, reflect a changing attitude toward the commission in recent years and a recognition of the need for commission services. Edgartown voted itself out of the commission in 1979, and Vineyard Haven in 1980, by wide margins. In 1982 both towns voted on proposals to rejoin the commission; both articles were defeated by slim margins.

But some voices that were strongly against the commission two years ago are strong supporters today. In Edgartown county commissioner Robert Morgan, who led the move for Edgartown to leave the commission, is urging a return. In Vineyard Haven, selectman Cora Medeiros and businessman Abraham Brickman have had a similar change of heart. Fred Morgan, an Edgartown selectman, said, “Going back is imperative. I think we’re missing out on a lot of important services. Look around this town, look at what has happened to this town since we left the commission.”

“Except for a rather low wood of oak, shaped by the winds with more grace than mankind ever achieved, Katama lay as bare as it was level, a tract of the Great Plains where plain, bay and ocean met. The terrain was gently undulating, with creases and furrows of the subglacial streams from long ago. From Katama Bay to Edgartown Great Pond was about a mile, and here, parallel to the dunes and sandy shelf of the South Beach was the Mattakessett Herring Creek through which alewives swam from the saltwater to the fresh.” So runs an old description of Katama where a development company planned a cottage community. A series of natural disasters frustrated the developers, and with good fortune for posterity, preserved 190 acres of Katama grassland to be acquired for $2,000,000 by the state and Edgartown, 100 years later.

Compiled by Cynthia Meisner