Soon after the demise of the Martha’s Vineyard Railroad, The Vineyard Gazette reported “Edgartown is in the swim with the other resorts. The first horseless carriage is here. The first to appear is the Locomobile of Elmer J. Bliss, of the Regal Shoe, who brought the vehicle down from Boston Saturday night.” On Saturday, August 4, 1900, it probably took Mr. Bliss 12 hours to get from Woods Hole to Boston, limited by roads built for carriages and horses. While the first in Edgartown, Bliss’s car was not the only car on the Island as this column (called Cottage City then) reported another unidentified car that had left the Island after an extended stay that September.
In 1903 a Mr. DeWolfe of New Bedford and 30 Narragansett avenue opened the first Automobile Stable, as they were called, on Seaview avenue in Cottage City. Soon after that, H.J. Green, the treasurer of the Vineyard Oak Grove Company, announced in an advertisement, “Stabling for automobiles, Central location” for his dealership, also located in Cottage City. After the first automobile-related fatality in 1901, Vineyard Haven selectmen instituted a six mile an hour speed limit in 1902. There was another serious accident in 1904 (also in Vineyard Haven) and the editor of the Cottage City Herald urged the town to adopt speed limits: “Automobiles should barely crawl through the avenues of Oak Bluffs and the Camp Ground. We are not sure that it would not be wise to have a flagman proceed [sic] the machine. Speeding ‘autos’ on our concrete avenues is dangerous. Roaring lions are not to be more dreaded.” The board of selectmen decided that after August 31, 1905, “Notice is hereby given that after this date no automobile will be allowed to be driven at a greater speed than five miles per hour on any portion of Circuit avenue between Lake avenue and the Catholic Church.”
In 1906 the Vineyard Gazette reported 175 cars on the Island and by 1912 there were three automobile dealers selling cars to Islanders. It took until 1919 for people to complain about the roads, largely due to the “suffocating dust” cars created. Few streets were paved: most were covered with crushed scallop shells and wood ashes. In 1920 Oak Bluffs real estate impresario Eben D. Bodfish (more on him later) decided to open a restaurant near the Gay Head Lighthouse — and with customers getting there by car, he created the Island’s first parking lot, thereby completing the trifecta of today’s most popular conversations about cars: how many, how expensive and the roads they travel.
Based upon the most recent census numbers, with 4,737 people in Oak Bluffs we own about 4,853, or, 28 per cent, of the estimated 17,248 cars on Martha’s Vineyard, all of which find reason to traverse our colorful streets. The hospital, the high school, the YMCA, the skate rink or park, the Camp Ground, the harbor, the ferry, the fireworks, the parks, beaches, Flying Horses and, oh yeah, Circuit avenue! Congratulations to us all that town meeting approved the article to reinvest almost a million dollars into the repair and maintenance of our well-used streets — and hearty thanks to the highway department for drafting and executing a much-needed plan due in the fall. Here’s hoping that the roundabout turns out to be the success we’ve kept our fingers crossed for — and until after Memorial Day, you may want to plan other routes.
Last Monday the price of gas apparently dropped by a quarter per gallon. With the Our Island Club discount at Jim’s Package Store, pretty soon gas will cost less than $4 per gallon, still a dollar more than in America but cheap enough that we might be able to afford a trip to Aquinnah.
Tomorrow Vanessa Kent will be doing a free mixed level Kripalu Yoga class at the Library at 2 p.m.
Edgartown selectmen recently took to task the owner of Oak Bluffs’ theatres — who evidently has property in Edgartown’s historic district in similar disrepair. I think our Sand Theatre would make a great bowling alley. Maybe it could be leased to one of those companies that offer bowling, food, drinks and music?
Maybe winter is over. “A Blue-Bell springs upon the ledge, A lark sits singing in the hedge; Sweet perfumes scent the balmy air; And life is brimming everywhere. What lark and breeze and blue-bird sing, Is Spring, Spring, Spring!” (Spring Song, Paul Laurence Dunbar)
Giordano’s is opening on Thursday for its 83rd season — this year punctuated by a full moon.
Keep your foot on a rock.