After the years following the recession that began in 2008, when the Vineyard as well as the nation remained mired in day-to-day survival, 2012 felt like a shift in a new direction. There was a slight uptick in economic optimism and a move toward planning for the future. Questions of character and big house debates revealed that the main topic was no longer unemployment and how to make ends meet, although these issues still remain, but how Vineyarders define themselves and their community.
But even as Vineyarders debated the character of their Island, part of the character in question was rapidly disappearing. The Island was spared the full force of Hurricane Sandy and a subsequent northeaster, but high winds and powerful surf left severe erosion in its wake. Lucy Vincent Beach in Chilmark was a changed place the morning after Sandy; Wasque Point on Chappaquiddick remains closed, and a handful of homes along the south shore are now only a few feet away from the edge of the cliff.
And just as nature continues to prove that the only constant is change, amid the birth of several new businesses there were closings, too. Perhaps most significant to Islanders was the announcement in late November that radio station WMVY, for over 29 years the sound track of the Island at 92.7 on the FM dial, would sell its broadcast signal to WBUR.
Trying to pin down a year is a difficult task, but 2012 seemed to begin and end in Chilmark, where town leaders spent a year developing a new bylaw aimed at regulating house size after a large home-building project on Nashaquitsa Pond sparked townwide debate. The planning board presented its first draft of the bylaw this month, and it is expected to come before Chilmark voters at their annual town meeting in April.
The big-house issue was also a topic for heated debate before the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, but beyond matters of size came a deeper discussion about community character, as part of a broader review of the commission’s development of the regional impact (DRI) checklist.
In an election year, when the role and size of governmentwas debated furiously, Hurricane Sandy was a potent reminder of the essential role of government services in the aftermath of a tragedy.
Sandy and a fierce northeaster immediately following drastically altered the Vineyard’s south coast: Lucy Vincent lost large swaths of cliff, beach and dunes; the Squibnocket Beach parking lot was severely damaged; a large portion of Lobsterville Road in Aquinnah washed away; large chunks of clay fell from the Gay Head Cliffs spurring more urgent discussion about a timetable for moving the lighthouse there; part of East Chop Drive in Oak Bluffs remains closed due to severe slumping along the cliff’s edge; and Vineyard Haven suffered serious structural damage to town docks.
The six Island towns and the county are seeking a total of $14.2 million combined in property and coastline damages, with $13 million stemming from repairs in Oak Bluffs alone.
Erosion left several homes on the brink of falling into the water. One home on Stonewall Beach lost 26 feet of cliff in the past year. Plans are under way to move the Schifter House on Wasque Point on Chappaquiddick back from the edge of a rapidly eroding cliff.
And erosion wasn’t the only environmental concern this year. Water quality in the Vineyard’s Great Ponds was at the forefront of discussion in Chilmark where voters debated whether to fund the town’s share of the Massachusetts Estuaries Project for Chilmark and Menemsha Ponds (the answer was yes), and in Edgartown and Oak Bluffs, where state environmental officials issued a report calling for aggressive action to reduce nitrogen loading in Sengekontacket Pond.
There was good pond news, too. In May, Sengekontacket opened to summer shellfishing for the first time in five years after a series of state-mandated closures due to bacterial contamination.
Dramatic weather events notwithstanding, it was a mostly mild year for weather, with little snowfall, a noticeably early spring and nearly picture-perfect summer.
Warm weather extended the growing season this year and helped put a spotlight on the small farm renaissance on the Vineyard. State agricultural commissioner Greg Watson paid a visit to the Island in July and hailed it as a model for the commonwealth. New farm ventures sprouted from Chappaquiddick to West Tisbury. The historic Tea Lane Farm in Chilmark welcomed new tenant farmer Krishana Collins, who plans to convert the rolling hillside off Middle Road to vast fields of flowers in the years ahead.
Thimble Farm, 37 acres of rich farmland in the center of the Vineyard, was saved for a second time, thanks to generous donations from Eric Grubman and Allan and Shelley Holt; the Island Grown Initiative is the new owner. Meanwhile, Whippoorwill Farm, home to the Island’s first community supported agriculture program, returned to its roots by relocating to its original location off Old County Road in West Tisbury.
On the waterfront, the annual Martha’s Vineyard Bass and Bluefish Derby saw 15 per cent more participants than last year. More than 3,000 fishermen young and old, participated in the competition and over 21,000 pounds of fish were weighed-in during the monthlong competition.
But despite the success of the derby, the waters around the Island did not reflect only blue skies. In September, the New England groundfishery was formally declared a federal disaster due to severely depleted stocks of yellowtail flounder and codfish. Catch allotments are expected to be cut drastically in the coming year, although the council charged with managing stock held off on any cuts at a meeting this month. The council meets again at the end of January to confront the difficult decision that will affect the livelihoods of many fishermen.
In other government affairs, a long-awaited health care contract for Vineyard veterans was finally inked in October between the Veterans Administration and the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, allowing veterans finally to obtain health care services close to home.
In March the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) announced it was getting back into the casino game with plans to build a casino in Southeastern Massachusetts, touching off a wave of complicated dealings with Gov. Deval Patrick and filings in federal court that remained unresolved at year’s end.
West Tisbury native and professional poker player Jesse Sylvia had far better gambling odds this year, taking second place in the World Series of Poker and winning $5.29 million before an adoring crowd of hometown friends and family members.
Although still considered a haven for a simpler way of life, the Island had its share of violence and tragedy. Aquinnah resident and longtime town employee Amanda Hutchinson died from exposure after a fall during a snowstorm in January. In the same month an Edgartown flight instructor and student were killed in a plane crash in the icy waters of Cape Cod Bay. In March, a West Tisbury woman shot and killed her estranged husband in self-defense after he first shot her at their Skiff’s Lane home. A few days later, a freak car crash on the Kennedy property in Aquinnah left two dead. And tragedy visited the Island on the Fourth of July when two people died in a two-car accident on Barnes Road. Criminal charges followed.
The Vineyard said goodbye to many friends, some notable beyond the Island, including CBS news anchor Mike Wallace, a longtime anchor of summer life on the Vineyard, Martha’s Vineyard Shipyard owner Tom Hale, cartoonist Al Hurwitz, artist Richard Lee, and Nobel prize-winner Dr. Joseph Murray. Tisbury assistant fire chief Arthur Dickson, Oak Bluffs fire chief Nelson Amaral, tribal chairman Gladys Widdiss, West Tisbury teacher Priscilla Fischer, Nantucket Steamship Authority governor H. Flint Ranney, former fishing derby chairman Don Mohr, and community members Todd Follansbee, DeDe Hagen, Gary Zwicky and his wife Elaine, Preston Harris, Robert Hughes, Harry Duane, Michael Renehan, Ralph Case and John Mayhew were also mourned and remembered.
In the down-Island business community, there were flickering signs of new life.
Four years after the original building burned down, Cafe Moxie re-opened its doors in October. The Bunch of Grapes Bookstore downsized by relocating to the former Bowl and Board space across the street, and books began flying off the shelves. Midnight Farm moved its high-end clothing and home store into the bookstore building space in the heart of Main street. And Edgartown Books was saved in a last-minute buy by new owners, ensuring that the familiar white rocking chairs on the front porch would remain for readers and passersby.
The real estate market remained stubbornly flat, a steady reminder that the national recession was far from an end. But then at year’s end a sudden frenzy of sales and transfers swamped local attorneys and appraisers as people rushed to beat the clock on tax code changes taking effect in 2013. The flurry of activity brought a windfall of more than $1 million in revenues to the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank. Most brokers and real estate attorneys agreed that it did not represent a dramatic turnaround in the market.
Vineyard public schools got high marks this year, with six of the seven schools earning top state rankings on the MCAS. The greatest success story was seen at the Oak Bluffs school, which saw a turnaround after four years of failing to meet yearly progress goals. Principal Richard Smith, who took the reins two years ago, deflected credit from himself, instead praising teachers and students.
On the fields and in the gyms, it was a banner year for high school sports. The Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School boys’ tennis team won the state division 3 championship, their first state title. All the spring and winter teams at the high school made the playoffs for the first time in history; girls’ hockey made the playoffs for the first time, and boys’ basketball went 21-3. The football team beat Nantucket in a stunning 27-26 come-from-behind win.
The Island continued to be a stage for political fundraisers. Although in a busy election year, President Obama decided not to vacation on the Island, a fundraiser for his re-election campaign brought together the cast of HBO’s The Wire. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney flew in briefly for a fundraiser at Farm Neck.
Cong. William Keating made several appearances on the Island this fall, campaigning and eventually winning, this time as a representative from the 10th district. U.S. Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren attended events in West Tisbury and the Old Whaling Church, and a scuffle between her cab driver and a conservative blogger attracted national media attention.
In West Tisbury, voters agreed to allow beer and wine to be served in town restaurants, making Chilmark the last dry town on the Island.
But what really captured the interest of West Tisbury residents, and the Island, wasn’t the wine list but dogs. The town selectmen adjudicated hearings on canines that killed chickens. A dog shooting in November sparked a new discussion about protecting livestock. Dogs even had their own special town meeting, as voters debated passionately whether to restrict dogs at Lambert’s Cove beach in the summer.
In April there was more passionate public debate when voters in all six towns overwhelmingly said no to the controversial roundabout project. The nonbinding vote failed to change the course of things in the end, and the project is expected to begin construction in March.
It was a year for openings, closings and revitalizing in the arts community. Nectar’s announced the stage would go dark at the former Hot Tin Roof location with Flatbread Pizza taking over full ownership of the space. In Oak Bluffs, Dreamland opened at the former arcade as a performance space for Vineyard artists and visiting performers. Across town on Dukes County avenue, Nina Violet and Willy Mason renovated a former garage into a speakeasy, all-ages outlet called the Pit Stop. The Vineyard Arts Project hosted the return of the world-renowned ballet company Dance Theatre of Harlem in August. It also provided a home for the second summer to the Pig Pen Theatre Company. What began as a workshop on the Vineyard is now a highly acclaimed show running at Judson Church in New York city. The Yard celebrated its 40th anniversary.
The Vineyard Playhouse closed its Vineyard Haven building for major renovations, but still had a stage for performances at various venues around the Island.
The A Gallery in Vineyard Haven transported Islanders off the rock and into a rocking art scene. The one-time Coca Cola factory-turned art space was filled with work by Island artists. But the gallery seemed to disappear as quickly as it arrived. The art space was only temporary, and after one season the gallery will now make way for a new grocery store.
But film is here to stay, and it became a lot more comfortable to watch movies this year thanks to Richard Paradise, creator of the Martha’s Vineyard Film Society. His new theatre in the Tisbury Marketplace in Vineyard Haven is dedicated to independent and foreign films and includes plush stadium seating, pristine sound and a stage.
The year marked an end of an era for a much-loved Island institution, WMVY. In November the station’s owner announced he would sell the broadcast signal to WBUR, a popular National Public Radio station in Boston that is looking to expand its presence in the south coast region. Loyal listeners from across the world lamented the change, and MVY launched a major fundraising campaign to stay alive as a nonprofit, online station. The new venture needs $600,000 by the end of January to succeed.
Through the sea of change there were also reminders of life’s constants. The show went on for Illumination Night as thunderstorms forced the Wednesday night tradition to be moved to Thursday, the first postponement in recent memory. The Oak Bluffs fireworks were saved by Black Entertainment Television (BET) and were as spectacular as ever. The 151st Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Fair saw the return of the racing pigs, plenty of blue ribbons and a marriage proposal on the top of the Ferris wheel. The Martha’s Vineyard Boys’ and Girls’ Club celebrated 75 years of dependable fun for Island kids. The Toy Box in Vineyard Haven celebrated its 25th anniversary of knowing just what every child looks for in a toy, and Clifford the Big Red Dog celebrated his 50th birthday.
And a West Tisbury writer reminded us all to never give up on love. Performing at a Moth story telling event in Oak Bluffs, Cynthia Riggs told her story of reuniting by a mysterious letter with a man she had not heard from in 62 years. After several exchanges with Howard Atterberry and the discovery of much in common, Ms. Riggs decided to visit him in California. Within two hours of seeing each other Mr. Atterberry, 91, proposed to Ms. Riggs, 81. The two will marry in March on the Vineyard and the whole Island is invited.
“Oh man, life is just amazing. Don’t give up hope. This is not what I expected at all,” Ms. Riggs told the Gazette. “I’m 81 years old and he’s going to be 91 when he gets here. Really, how much time do we have? But you know, it really makes that amount of time precious.
For more pictures from the year 2012, click here.
A previous version of this article inaccurately stated Arthur Dickson's profession. Mr. Dickson was a Tisbury town leader, an active member of the American Legion and an assistant fire chief in Tisbury among other roles. The Gazette regrets the error.