By Leonard M. Robinson, longtime Tisbury resident and sometime contributor to the Vineyard Gazette. From the Vineyard Gazette editions of May, 1951:
I live on Frog Alley. I often wish that the town had kept the name. It is now known as Owen Little Way, whatever that means, but when I was a boy everybody knew it as Frog Alley, and that had a meaning.
It was so called because in it there was a good-sized pond, or marsh, where the frogs lived and where they made the nights unforgettable by their merry love songs. Why only yesterday one of the poor souls that live “up to the head” was down calling. She heard the frogs, evidently for the first time. “My,” she said, “the peepers — how glad I am I came down. I’ve been dying to hear them.”
Speaking of “up to the head,” I’m afraid I’ll have to explain a little or I will not be understood. Years ago, in the days when there were only schooners and sailboats, this section where I live was known as “down the neck.” The only large wharf was here, and a little cemetery up in back where they buried the poor homeless sailors from foreign ports who happened to die in this hospital. The cemetery is now overgrown and has been built on, but there is still a gravestone lying flat on the ground — in memory of one Ferdinand Weinreick, who was born in Prussia AD 1836, who was instantly killed by falling from the mainmasthead to the deck of the Sch. Chas. H. Rogers of Newburyport, John Langley Master, on July 19, 1855 about three miles ESE from Block Island.
Well, this is getting away from Frog Alley, but I can’t get back to Frog Alley until I have made clear about “up to the head.” As I have said, this Frog Alley section was the most populous and main part of the town, long before the village we now know was thought of. The business, and it was largely done with the many schooners that came into the harbor in those days, was all done here, mostly because it saved the sailors a long trip “up to the head of the harbor.” The coming of the steamboats changed all this and so now the head of the harbor is the whole thing, and poor Frog Alley is all but forgotten.
Now I not only live on Frog Alley but I live in the Old Hatch House. I have never been able to find out the age of this house, but it’s an old-timer. Who lived in it before the Hatches I don’t know. But what I do know is that the Rev. Mr. Stevens lived on the bluff and maintained a service there very similar to that which Mr. Edwards did for so many years at the Sailors’ Bethel “up to the head.”
Just to show you the difference in land values here in this section in my lifetime when Mr. Stevens died, his home was in the market for several years. Nobody wanted to live on the waterfront. They would be considered “beachcombers.” The choice section for living was up on William street; the “quality” lived there. Well, finally father bought “the Stevens Place,” home, chapel barns and a lot of land for $3,500. We lived there for years. He sold it for $10,000, and I guess you would have to pay four times that much if it came into the market today.
Dr. William Clark also lived on Frog Alley. The “Dr.” was an uncontested honor given him by everybody even though he never went to school. He manufactured and put into bottles for sale what he called Clark’s Balm. There was some advertising on the bottle. “Use Clark’s Balm and Join the Saints.” What he meant I don’t know, but I am likely to think that it was not the only balm that has been advertised, sold, and drunk that has aided poor humanity saintward.
Father, when he was only a boy of 13, went whaling, was gone three years. He told me that the captain, who aboard ship was doctor, lawyer, merchant and chief, had, on starting out, a box of medicines and they were all numbered and charted. Say No. 1 for headache; No. 2 for toothache; No. 3 pain in stomach; No. 4 dysentery; No. 5 constipation; and so on. If the captain thought the sailors’ symptoms called for No. 3, and No. 3 was all gone, the man got whatever No. was the handiest.
A whole colony of Clevelands, Charlie Chase, Seth Morse, and many more of the old Vineyarders lived in Frog Alley. They are all gone now, good old Yankee Vineyard stock. True upright men for the most part, each with a distinctive personality, but I am thankful that I knew them. No one has been able to take their places. Gone as we soon will be, the places that knew them, know them no more. Gone, all gone — no not quite — Frog Alley is till here, and on warm evenings the peepers still sing on.
(Note: This house, owned for years by the late Leonard Robinson, is one of the oldest houses in the town. The homesite itself was occupied by John Holmes, said to have come over in the Mayflower. John lived there, established himself in business as a blacksmith, became a pilot, and passed on the property and business to his son, grandson, and great-grandson. It has been strongly suggested that the name of Holmes Hole was derived from this family.)
Compiled by Eulalie Regan