That Stockbridge Crowd

From Gazette editions of May, 1984:

Tom Thatcher of West Tisbury signed papers that officially sold the Lillian Manter Memorial Youth Hostel on the Edgartown-West Tisbury road to American Youth Hostels, Inc. of Washington and the Metropolitan New York Council in New York city. Mr. Thatcher has owned the hostel since 1968, and had managed it since 1964.

The first Island hostel chartered by American Youth Hostels was started in 1947 under the auspices of the Home and Community Services of the West Tisbury Grange. Mrs. Daniel Manter was chairman of the committee that sponsored it, and the first summer the hostelers stayed in the old school house which is now the town hall. The next summer the hostel headquarters were moved to the former bachelors’ quarters at the airfield which had been a navy air base during the Second World War. The building at the airport was needed by an expanding commercial firm in 1954, and the hostel was to be evicted. The Manters decided to make a hostel on land they owned on the Edgartown Road. In 1955 the first hostel in America to be designed and built as a youth hostel opened at its present location.

Mr. Thatcher recalls the summer of 1963 when the house parents were Bob and Nancy Smith, and Ray and Alice Brock. The Brocks were later famous as proprietors of Alice’s Restaurant, celebrated in song and movie, but on Martha’s Vineyard they were controversial. “They brought Arlo Guthrie and that whole Stockbridge crowd with them,” Mr. Thatcher says now, “and both the young hostelers and Betty Kenniston, the manager, were upset.”

The running dispute over Steamship Authority service to Oak Bluffs erupted in a wild shouting match between Alfred (Freddy) Ferro, Vineyard governor to the boat line, and Robert Morgan, Dukes County commissioner, following a special meeting called to ease the scheduling controversy. The angry collision between the two political leaders spilled onto the steps of the Oak Bluffs town hall and into nearby streets. Insults were traded and charges and counter-charges hurled back and forth in the presence of a crowd of spectators that had gathered.

Mr. Morgan and county commission chairman John Alley had voted to direct Mr. Ferro to support boat line schedule changes, specifically to divert three evening trips on the weekend from Vineyard Haven to Oak Bluffs. Their vote was in direct contradiction to the position held by Mr. Ferro. Mr. Ferro followed Mr. Morgan out of the meeting with repeated and strident calls, and they engaged in heated argument. The argument shifted when Doug Abdelnour tried to intervene and told Mr. Morgan: “You’re wasting your time with him [Mr. Ferro].”

That brought Mr. Abdelnour and Mr. Ferro into a face-to-face confrontation, with glares and further hurling of insults. “I’m not talking to you,” Mr. Ferro said. “I’m not talking to you, either,” Mr. Abdelnour replied.

Mr. Alley made repeated attempts to step between the feuding parties and to act as a moderator to prevent the possibility of punches being thrown. At times his efforts appeared to be of no avail. He was to say later that he had never seen anything like this in all his long years of political leadership.

Like the Mill Pond and the white steepled church, the Old Mill is a landmark in West Tisbury. And now the mill has been named to the National Register of Historic Places.

Owned by the Martha’s Vineyard Garden Club, the rich history of the Old Mill dates back to the time of the earliest settlers on Martha’s Vineyard. By 1809 the building was purchased by David Look, who decided to change its function from a grist mill to a factory for carding wool and weaving cloth, the famous Vineyard “satinet.” The wool cloth “satinet” had such remarkable virtue that it never wore out: Once a man bought cloth for a suit, he didn’t need another. The last advertisement for the mill’s products appeared in 1873, and in 1879 the machinery and looms were sold for junk.

West Tisbury has been the part of the Island given over to farming. But things change and references have been made to West Tisbury as a bedroom community for the down-Island towns. Anyone doubting its true nature had only to stand in the center of downtown West Tisbury this week. First a pair of riderless horses ambled by Alley’s store, and presently came a whole fluid, baaing herd of sheep. They turned sharply right at Alley’s, as if on a signal, and perhaps seeking a spring-cleaning, marched directly into the car wash. Then along came Robert, the Whiting border collie, who neatly rounded them up and herded them home again to the Whiting farm. It was a pleasant pastoral scene and not a bit like a bedroom community.

Compiled by Cynthia Meisner