In 1881, it came as a shock to the residents of the brand new Cottage City that they apparently did not own the beautiful parks built by the Oak Bluffs Land and Wharf Company. Its execution of the construction of the world’s first wholly-built seaside resort was only exceeded by its ability to sell the lots of land profitably — and the company was in deep financial trouble. Hoping to stem the losses from their aggressive growth, they offered the parks (and nine streets) to the town at no charge.
Three years of inaction caused the Oak Bluffs company investors to revise the offer of a sale of Ocean, Waban, Hartford and Pennacook parks for $7,500 over 25 years, and interest-free at $300 per year. Impatient at the lack of response, a deadline of Dec. 1, 1884 was given to the town and the town did nothing. In March 1885, George C. Abbott, an attorney from Boston, and his financial backer Alvin Neal paid the $7,500 and indicated that they planned on dividing the parks into home sites and selling building lots. Taking the parks hostage, Mr. Abbott upped the ante — first offering to sell the parks back to the town for $60,000, and when that was summarily rebuffed, he offered to sell Ocean Park for $1,000 each to the 38 wealthy homeowners bordering the park, with another $7,500 from the town. In Sept. 1891, following a protracted number of lawsuits from both parties, the court decided that the parks had been dedicated to the public from the beginning and that while Mr. Abbott could continue to own them, he could not sell building lots or prevent the public from using them. The moral of the story? Public open spaces we are entitled to are entitled to be protected by us.
Last week I saw Billy Reagan up on the roof of one of the Pratt houses over on Samoset. We’re both Pequot avenue kids, but Billy spends a lot more time in the old neighborhood lovingly caring for 140-year-old homes. Restoration is his specialty. He restored my family’s house some years back and removed the siding our dad had put up in the 1960s to save on shingle painting. We’re glad we listened to Billy. Since we had to replace the shingles anyway, it made sense to obtain them already stained the yellow color everyone liked, and we save on repainting. The Reagan family has been here for generations, Billy since infancy 56 years ago. His mom and hers before her operate the Attleboro guest house in the Camp Ground, facing Oak Bluffs Harbor. I think Billy has worked on more of the Pratt houses than anyone, but he is too humble or too shy to say for sure. If you own one of those treasured homes in the Cottage City Historic District, Billy Reagan loves them as much as you. His sister Casey is more knowledgeable about Oak Bluffs than either of us. Casey told me that there’s still another park near deBettencourt’s gas station where she works part-time: Orange Park, alongside Highland avenue. One of the Reagan ancestors was Joseph Farland, a former Oak Bluffs fire chief who Farland Square is named after. His wife was the one who would blow that whistle at noon — I miss that. Farland Square is at the center of town where Circuit avenue, Lake street and Oak Bluffs avenue intersect.
I was pleased to meet the Cummings at the library last week, who said they like the column. They had volunteered to help out with the voting process for the election. Thanks to all who helped out with that.
The big news from this week’s special town meeting was the applause at our new financial health.
Congratulations to Entertainment Cinemas. The Edgartown movie theatres are digital as of today with the screening of the last Twilight movie. Rumor has it that the Island Theatre will go digital in the spring (yay!!), and that the Strand, to the surprise of no one, will not. I’d be happy with the ‘T’ and ‘R’ back.
Stop by for the 10th annual Holiday Gift Show preview at Featherstone this evening from 7 to 9 p.m.
Inspired by the weekly quotations on the front page of the Gazette, I thought I’d share with you some of my favorite poems. Let me know what you think.
“Don’t talk to me of solemn days/ In autumn’s time of splendor/ because the sun shows fewer rays/ and these grow slant and slender./ Why it’s the climax of the year/ the highest time of living!/ Till naturally its bursting cheer/ Just melts into Thanksgiving.” –Merry Autumn by Paul Laurence Dunbar.
Keep your foot on a rock.