Harbor View Hotel, ca. 1891
Elegant and proud as any schooner that sailed the neighboring waters, the Harbor View Hotel stands imposingly on the most fashionable street or historic Edgartown.
 
This grand old lady of Vineyard re­sort hotels celebrates her 100th anni­versary this year, and in keeping with her history, the hotel will honor the oc­casion with music, sport, skits, exhib­its, sumptuonus meals and high tea. The Harbor View will open the doors wide to all — the public as well as hotel guests — on Oct. 4, 5, and 6.
 
The founders of the Harbor View, were Dr. Thomas J. Walker, the lead­ing physician in Edgartown, and the Rev. Luther T. Townsend of Watertown, a summer visitor. Each assumed 50 per cent of the $5,000 cost for putt­ing up the building. Later they doubled the shares of stock and sold them to investors in Edgartown.
 
“The project caught the imagina­tion of the public as nothing had done since the launching of the Martha’s Vineyard Railroad,” Henry Beetle Hough, Gazette editor, wrote in 1946. A contest to name the hotel was held in the newspaper. Leonard C. Bliss, grandfather of E.J. Bliss Jr., suggested the name Harbor View. Dr. Walker chose this as his favorite and rejected other proposals which included Ocean Zephyr Resort, Acme and Hygeia.
 
The winning name captures the real spirit of the hotel that fronts the great harbor of Edgartown and gives a broad view of the many boats, com­mercial and private, that course past the lighthouse on Starbuck’s Neck. On clear days from the hotel’s front porch, guests see Chappaquiddick ris­ing like a nearby paradise set in the clearest of water.
 
The festivities for the centennial cel­ebration will begin Friday, Oct. 4, with a five-course Victorian dinner from 6 to 10 p.m. The hors d’oeuvres herald the elegance of the meal. They are pate campagne, moutarde, canapes of smoked breast of duck and quail eggs ala russe. This last appetizer is so tradi­tional that New England has its own quail farms, says Thad Hyland, hotel director. They are served with a light cream dressing with caviar.
 
The soups include lobster con­somme with tarragon dumplings and baked bisque of acorn squash. Eight entrees, each delightfully comple­mented with sauce or garnish, present an imposing choice for diners. Among them are lobster Americaine, sauteed lobster meat mixed n it h vegetables and returned to he shell. Porterhouse steak griller with fried oysters and onions is another. This recipe goes back to the days of Diamond Jim Brady and was formerly know as a “carpetbagger steak.”
 
The desserts are bombe of raspberry and pralinee. crepes Suzette and choc­olate marquise with strawberry sauce. “I’m beginning to think reservations are a good idea,” Mr. Hyland said as he described details of the menu. The five-course dinner can be as low as $19 or as high as $30, depending on the entree. Tax and tip are included. The Victorian dinner will be repeated on
Saturday and Sunday from 6 to 10 p.m.
 
The Harbor View’s past will be brought to life with three professional actors from the Vineyard Playhouse. The trio will be there each evening of the celebration wearing authentic cos­tumes of the Victorian period. Each will assume the character of former Harbor View employees, the first man­ager, a former desk clerk and a con­cierge. The Dukes County Historical Society has helped provide informa­tion for this, Mr. Hyland says, as well as for the recent extensive renovation. In gratitude, a portion of the centenni­al’s proceeds will be given to the so­ciety, he added.
 
A barbershop quartet will perform Friday and Saturday during dinner­time and at the games exhibition on Saturday afternoon. The singers, called the Prime Alliance, performed at Carnegie Hall and are the northeast champions among barbershop quar­tets.
 
The presence of performers at the Harbor View is a tradition as old as the inn itself. At the formal dedication of the hotel in the summer of 1891, Mattie Josephine Atkins of the Emerson College of Oratory presented “an entertainment” and music for dancing was supplied by a quartet from the Fitchburg band. In succeeding decades wandering minstrels, lyric tenors, classical pianists, chamber groups, musi­cal comedy performers and swing bands have delighted all ages of guests and the public. When First Winthrop Corp. bought the stately hotel in 1989, the management added the popular mystery weekends for their guests’ amusement.
 
The chamber music group imported for the Sunday celebration of the Harbor View’s centennial is the award-winning Fenway Ensemble of the Bos­ton Chamber Society. Lest anyone think that other Victorian pleasures are shortchanged, note that Reid Flem­ing, national croquet champion, will give an exhibition game on Saturday for the edification of those who would improve their croquet and contin­uation shots. The demonstration will he on the beautiful new green behind the Harbor View. Here, too, celebrants may try their hand at another turn-of-the-century favorite — bad­minton.
 
The new green replaces, the enor­mous parking lot that served the Harbor View in recent years. “I never feel better than when I see people take asphalt out,” Mr. Hyland says of the recent change. In addition the renova­tions to the property have replaced the asphalt roads that served the cottages with brick walkways. Parking is now behind the cottages in small lots cov­ered with crushed stone. Only one small asphalt parking lot remains, con­cealed by a thick hedge.
 
The Harbor View Hotel of 1991 is grander than she was in 1891. The porch extends further along the sides and front of the building than before. In 1967, 51 units were added to the ho­tel behind the main building. In the 1980s, the Harbor View’s imposing lines were enhanced with gables and turrets. And now the soft gray of her shingles suits both the formality of her gardens and the wild, natural growth across the street.
 
It is hard to imagine that the Harbor View Hotel was once the sole structure in this area, then called Starbuck’s Bluff. North Water street had to be extended to accommodate the hotel. The Starbuck’s Bluff Land Company laid the surrounding property out in ave­nues which had many desirable lots for sale, the Vineyard Gazette noted in November of 1890. Today the Harbor View is bounded to the sides and to the back by a sea of summer homes, white picket fences and green privet hedges. On Saturday, Oct. 5, in the beauti­fully planted surroundings of the ho­tel’s yard, antique cars will be on display from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Many are coming from the mainland. From 12 to 3 p.m. on the same day, there will be a poolside barbecue to feed cen­tennial celebrants. From 3 to 5 p.m. nickel hot dogs, ice cream and lemon­ade will be sold near the croquet dem­onstration. Those who want more formal treatment can have high tea at 4 p.m.
 
On Sunday, during dinner Island fa­vorite David Crohan will play ragtime piano. Among his renditions will be music by Scott Joplin that has charmed Mr. Crohan’s audiences for years. In the first floor hallway visitors can enjoy a display of historic memorabilia that will be on exhibit for the entire weekend. Here will be photographs from the last century, at a time when people marvelled that 100,000 shingles for the hotel were imported from New Brunswick. Among a fine collection of Wampanoag portraits is a detailed photo of the steamer Martha’s Vine­yard landing at the wharf in Gay Head. Also on exhibit is a dramatic picture of the train and steamers at Cottage City. It sets the tone of a time when people looked for these first-rate qualities of a hotel, as described by the Gazette of 1949: “hair mattresses, woven wire springs, electric bells in every room . . . lighted with gas throughout, drainage good and sanitary arrange­ments of latest improved patterns.
 
“It was, at that time, the most splendid hotel on the Vineyard. The rates were $2.50 to $3.00 per day.” Some things endure in kind. Centen­nial celebrants will find good rates for room and board prevail for this cen­tennial celebration as well.