Vineyard years are easily demarcated by the seasons. Crocuses and pinkletinks signify spring followed quickly by the osprey and crowds of summer. Come winter, Islanders decorate their lighthouses for Christmas.
The year 2013 on Martha’s Vineyard was further punctuated by visits from a president and right whales, the arrival of a roundabout and a reality television crew. Pieces of the past were restored and given new life while other parts of the Island changed irrevocably.
More than anything perhaps, the last year could be measured in feet. Attention turned to the receding shoreline — a reminder that living on the ocean is beautiful but inherently risky. From Aquinnah to Oak Bluffs to Chappaquiddick, the Island grappled with the impact of coastal erosion. Homes were moved or demolished and towns debated what to do about threatened roads and beaches.
The Gay Head Light, long an Island beacon of safety for mariners, has also become a symbol of the impact of the changing coastline. With the Gay Head cliffs about 46 feet away from the lighthouse, the 1856 brick tower must be moved.
The Save the Gay Head Light committee began an effort to raise some of the $3 million needed for the moving, and Aquinnah is taking steps to acquire the lighthouse, which has been declared surplus property by the federal government. In June the National Trust for Historic Preservation named the lighthouse to the 2013 list of American’s Most Endangered Places.
“This is an opportunity to do something that is not political. We all want to keep the light. It’s something relevant to the whole Island,” Elise LeBovit told an Aquinnah town meeting.
Erosion also demanded the elaborate attention of Richard and Jennifer Schifter, whose 8,300-square-foot Chappaquiddick home was moved more than 250 feet back from a rapidly eroding bluff last summer, turning remote Wasque into a giant work site with piles of sand surrounding deep trenches.
Several homes on Stonewall Beach in Chilmark were also perilously close to the edge. One cottage was razed, while this fall moving plans were approved for several others.
There was rising concern in Oak Bluffs about one of the Island’s most scenic roads. The long-threatened East Chop Drive was further undermined after a winter of storms, causing the town to limit traffic to one-way for most of the winter and close the road completely after a February snowstorm. In late summer, selectmen voted again to restrict the road to one-way traffic. They did not go far enough, said East Chop homeowners who wanted complete closure of the road to prevent further damage. The town is now looking at taking ownership of the bluff from the East Chop Association in hopes they can qualify for federal funding for repairs.
As the profile of the cliffs at the beloved Lucy Vincent Beach slowly changed shape, thoughts turned to the future. A Vineyard Conservation Society report found seas around the Island are rising slightly faster than the global average. Island planners should prepare for significant sea level rise by the end of the century, the report warned.
Concerns about coastal erosion were ranked number one in a public opinion poll commissioned by the Vineyard Gazette this year. The Gazette Harris Interactive poll found that seasonal and year-round residents alike place a high value on the Island’s outdoor lifestyle, natural beauty and community, while their chief concerns center on the environment and the economy.
The Gazette commissioned a similar poll about 25 years ago. Islanders today are more content and optimistic, the new poll found, and most feel the Vineyard is headed in the right direction.
Topics for Debate
A long awaited and often-vilified project was completed with little fanfare and the first cars drove through a new roundabout at Edgartown-Vineyard Haven and Barnes Roads in late April. The Island quietly lost its lone traffic light in the process, but it went to good use: the old blinker light fetched $8,600 at the Art Buchwald Possible Dreams auction in July, a key fundraiser for Martha’s Vineyard Community Services.
Other projects moved to the forefront of Island debate. Public hearings began over the summer before the Martha’s Vineyard Commission about Stop & Shop’s plans to build a new, larger store at their Vineyard Haven location. The plans have sparked widespread debate about the size of the store and potential traffic impacts.
There was Islandwide furor over new, larger utility poles on Vineyard roads.
Reality television cameras arrived on the Island for filming of the ABC Family reality docu-soap The Vineyard. The show was billed as a look at the lives of several 20-somethings living together at an East Chop house and working at the Black Dog during a Vineyard summer. Filming took place in May and June. The show was roundly criticized for how the Island would be portrayed.
The controversial idea of a casino on the Island emerged in November when the chairman of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) said the tribe was cleared to convert an unfinished community center into a class two gaming facility. The news made headlines, but Island and state officials maintained that the tribe’s casino plan could not come to fruition. Gov. Deval Patrick filed a lawsuit with the state supreme judicial court to block the plans.
The casino news anchored a tribal election and chairman Cheryl Andrews-Maltais lost her seat to Tobias Vanderhoop, a former tribal administrator. Some called it the beginning of a new era.
For the fourth time in five years, President Obama and his family vacationed on the Vineyard, this time at a new location in Chilmark. There was outrage from some residents and nearby businesses over security measures that closed part of South Road.
But the Vineyard loves to welcome its presidents and this year was no exception. On August 10 crowds gathered on roadsides and at Alley’s General Store to wave and watch the president’s motorcade upon arrival. And then, following a familiar routine, the president settled into some down time with no public events. He played basketball at the Oak Bluffs School, had friend shrimp and oysters from Nancy’s and mussels and blueberry cake at the Beach Plum Inn. He spent a lot of time on the golf course, watched the Oak Bluffs fireworks from Valerie Jarrett’s rental home in Oak Bluffs and addressed the nation about ongoing violence in Egypt from outside his Chilmark rental home.
While the president made headlines, it was a relatively quiet year in Island town governments. With the state voting last fall to legalize medical marijuana, Island towns puzzled over where dispensaries should be located. As the year came to an end, four applicants were in the running to open a dispensary on the Island.
Oak Bluffs voters backed a ballot initiative to make all shark tournaments in town to be catch and release, casting a doubt over whether the annual Monster Shark Tournament will continue to take place at the Oak Bluffs harbor.
After two years of financial struggles, Oak Bluffs was back in the black. Town leaders have turned their focus to revitalizing the downtown area.
In Chilmark after a year and a half of planning and wide-ranging debate, voters approved a bylaw that will limit house size.
A $44 million project to rebuild the Lagoon Pond drawbridge entered a final stage, and construction began on a new Coast Guard boathouse in Menemsha to replace one destroyed in a 2010 fire. The Steamship Authority, too, began to look to the future, looking at replacing the freight ferry Governor and beginning a study of how to renovate the Woods Hole terminal.
Government cuts hit some Vineyard programs, among them Head Start and tribal services, and other Island organizations battled financial hardship. ACE MV is looking for funding to continue its adult education programs. At the end of the year came the news that the Vineyard Nursing Association was on track to end the year with a large and unsustainable operating loss.
Goodbyes and Celebrations
Some Island mainstays bid adieu. Season’s Eatery and Pub, a Circuit avenue institution, shut its doors in February after 27 years. In January, Aboveground Records will close its doors for the final time. Lattanzi’s Restaurant in Edgartown was sold in late November, but will reopen in spring with new ownership.
There were changes at the Gazette too, with the end of the Tuesday print edition as more readers get their news online. The extra summer edition was started by the late publishers Henry Beetle Hough and Elizabeth Bowie Hough in 1929 as the Vineyard was becoming a popular summer destination.
Island police were kept busy with a steady stream of drug arrests. Ovando Eghill of Aquinnah pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to seven years in prison in the 2011 stabbing death of Michael Trusty.
In June Allen P. Spaulding, 70, was killed when his small plane crashed on takeoff from his private landing strip on Cuttyhunk. Mr. Spaulding was a member of a prominent Cuttyhunk family.
There were other sad goodbyes: Linda Marinelli, a former longtime Oak Bluffs selectman and character; farmer and longtime Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society president Elisha R. Smith; journalist Anthony Lewis, Dorothy Bangs, a tireless Island volunteer; former West Tisbury postmaster and selectman James Alley; journalist and author Penn Kimball, and children’s book author Carol Carrick; Don Patrick, the grill master of the Dock Street coffee shop; former Life magazine editor Ralph Graves; Beatrice Gentry, the first president of the Aquinnah Wampanoag tribal council of Gay Head; lifelong Islander Karen Berube; the painter Ray Ellis; and Sheldon Hackney, a noted historian, humanitarian and academic.
There were celebrations and milestones. Wedding bells rang in May when Cynthia Riggs and Howard Attebery married at the West Tisbury Congregational Church. The bride, 81, and groom, 91, reconnected 60 years after they first met.
Donations poured in to save the popular Island radio station WMVY to continue as an online station after it lost its FM signal in February. Even better news came in November: WMVY will return to the airwaves in the spring.
Camp Jabberwocky celebrated 60 years of Callooh Callays! Captain Robert Douglas celebrated his 50th summer as skipper of the topsail schooner Shenandoah. At high school graduation time, a generous community gave out nearly $1 million in scholarship money, the largest amount in the history of the scholarship program.
High school sports teams had much to cheer about. The boys’ basketball team went to the state semifinals. The boys’ soccer team finished the season undefeated, and then saw a heartbreaking loss in the semifinals. The high school football team was victorious again in the Island Cup, defeating Nantucket for the 10th consecutive year.
The high school boys’ tennis team made history when it won a second consecutive state championship, a triumphant send off for tennis coach Ned Fennessy, who retired after 23 years with the program.
The Martha’s Vineyard Sharks, the Island’s future collegiate team, were league champions.
Few shark sightings were reported in Island waters this year, but other creatures of land and sea were the talk of the Island.
Shellfish may be the way of the future. Two new oyster projects got underway: in Tisbury Great Pond, the Nature Conservancy paired with Chilmark and West Tisbury to cultivate 250,000 juvenile oyster in an oyster reef. A million baby oysters came to Sengekontacket Pond in a joint project by Oak Bluffs and Edgartown that will promote pond health and add more oyster production on Island.
Katama Bay oyster farmers weathered a setback when the state closed the farms for almost four weeks in the fall following reports of two people getting sick with Vibrio parahaemolyticus. The naturally-occurring bacteria appears in warmer waters and has been on the rise around the country.
A rare hot pink katydid was found on private property in Aquinnah. In early December, snowy owls landed in large numbers here. Right whales were spotted near the Vineyard in late February, March, and again in July. With only about 450 of the endangered whales remaining, speed restrictions were put in place for vessels.
Property Sales and Preservation
Some rare pieces of land were put up for sale; others were preserved in perpetuity.
The Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank purchased 40 acres of land at Flat Point Farm, saving it from development. The family of the late Edwin Newhall Woods gave 500 acres of rare and unspoiled oak forest in West Tisbury and Chilmark to The Nature Conservancy.
The Nature Conservancy preserved one of the last undistributed frost bottoms on the Vineyard, 100 acres in West Tisbury.
At year end, the Strock family donated a key 1,000-foot stretch of beach on the Lagoon Pond to the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank.
Other land went on the market. The Caroline Kennedy family listed for sale a large tract of secluded oceanfront land in Aquinnah, purchased by Ms. Kennedy’s mother, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis in 1979. But as the year came to an end the Kennedys also made the early Christmas present list when they donated 30 acres on Moshup Trail in Aquinnah to the Vineyard Conservation Society.
In West Tisbury, a 314-acre property owned by Gerald DeBlois, one of the largest contiguous privately-owned properties left on the Island, was listed for a record asking price of $118 million.
A key word this year was restoration. At the Old Whaling Church in Edgartown, artist Margot Datz recreated the trompe l’oeil mural that graced the back of the church in the mid-19th century. Boatbuilders at Gannon and Benjamin built a 28-foot replica wooden whaleboat, one of 10 built around the country, to accompany the restoration of the last remaining whaleship, the Charles W. Morgan. Currently at Mystic Seaport, the Charles Morgan is scheduled to visit the Vineyard in June 2014.
Around the Island, old homes got new owners. The circa-1668 Old Parsonage house in West Tisbury was bought by filmmaker Eric Burns before it could go to auction, while the Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation has restoration plans for the Mitchell house at Quansoo, one of the oldest homes on the Vineyard.
The long-languishing Warren House in Edgartown, a circa-1790 home that was bought by the town in 2004 for a library expansion, was sold to private owners for $1 million less than the town paid for it.
In August, the Martha’s Vineyard Museum presented its annual Martha’s Vineyard Medals, honoring Sheldon Hackney, artist Olga Hirschhorn and the well-known Murphy family.
A month before his death, Mr. Hackney wrote a speech read at the ceremony by his son, Fain.
“We need to understand who we are to become who we want to be,” he said. “History is the future — onward!”
More pictures from 2013.