Four of the six men (Shubael Lyman Norton, Ira Darrow, Grafton Norton Collins and William Bradley) who formed the Oak Bluffs Land and Wharf Company that built Cottage City were whaling captains. They, along with William S. Hills and Erastus P. Carpenter (the two non-Islanders), were able to finance the $300,000 it took to build the town from 1859 to 1869, the equivalent of just over $8 million in today’s dollars.
Their well-meaning plan was to invest the money they made in whaling in our great watering place by developing it and selling off parcels for vacation homes. By 1885 they had lost their investment and were forced to sell their interests for $32,000. In perspective, Oak Bluffs was founded on the success of Massachusetts’ third largest industry of the time, whaling.
Records for five of the whaling trips taken by Shubael Norton and Grafton Collins alone over an 18-year period from 1833 to 1859 were relatively easy to obtain. Averaging about three and a half years each, the two captains were responsible for about 7,200 barrels of sperm and whale oil with a value of $232,000 ($4.4 million today). The barrels of oil came from an estimated 160 whales they would have had to have killed during this period of time. Their voyages to the Pacific Ocean where many of the whales were caught took four months to get there and four months to return, with the balance of the time spent on the harvest. What turned out to be a failed financial venture for them back then has certainly wound up as one of extraordinary vision when viewed through the prism of history.
If the height of the season lasts from Memorial Day to Labor Day, I reported on 105 events that took place during that 102 day period in Oak Bluffs. None of those included the beach, exercise, work or sleeping in this, the Great American Watering Place. Hope you enjoyed it because many are looking forward to fewer.
Michael Johnson’s photo essay is available for viewing at Season’s on Circuit avenue, quite the elegant display. It provides something substantially better than a vacant window and bridges the divide between the Camp Ground and downtown, while highlighting Ocean Park and East Chop. It’s a nice model — and maybe worth replicating in the Island Theatre’s unused poster displays.
Ocean Park’s annual Wind Festival is tomorrow with kite making at 10:30 a.m. and kite flying until 4 p.m., staggered by age group. From 4 p.m. to dusk is kite flying for everyone, and there are several categories of potential prizes. Frisbees and model boats are encouraged, and the rain date is Sunday. Tivoli Day is Saturday, Sept. 13.
School’s back in session and the weather is still good enough for bicycles and skate boards, watch out!
Thank you, author Tom Dresser, for the Songs of Martha’s Vineyard, the sheet music for several of band leader Will Hardy’s songs written specifically for the Tivoli dance hall from 1916 to 1938. These are waltzes similar to the music you hear on HBO’s Boardwalk Empire. The live music at the Tivoli (stands for "I Love It" backwards) wafted throughout Circuit avenue in those halcyon years. I have only heard one of these songs (Tivoli Girl) and am looking for someone who can read music and play some on a piano in return for a really nice bottle of an adult beverage. Wouldn’t it be amazing to hear some of these songs on Tivoli Day?
Keep your foot on a rock.
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