Lagoon Bridge, 1872

From the Vineyard Gazette editions of May, 1969:

The Lagoon, or Lagoon Pond as Islanders have called it from the beginning, cuts deeply inland from Vineyard Haven harbor, and in historic times it was used as an anchorage. There had been no occasion to challenge the effect of this indentation, even though it separated the town of Vineyard Haven from Eastville on the east side of the harbor where much of the business of the port was done in years when great numbers of vessels lay at anchor, until the camp meeting at Wesleyan Grove brought into existence an important, thriving, and populous summer community.

The camp meeting, and Eastville as well, belonged within the township of Edgartown, even though Edgartown was so much more distant than Vineyard Haven. Vineyard Haven merchants were prevented from taking advantage of their greater proximity because of the necessary and often inconvenient crossing of the harbor by boat. To reach the Camp Ground by road meant as difficult a journey in some horse drawn vehicle as that from Edgartown to the same place.

This is the background of the movement in Vineyard Haven for the Lagoon opening, and a direct road from that town to the resort which was evolving around the Camp Ground. Inevitable as the bridge and direct road now seem, the proposal that they be built was an arresting one in the late 1860s. Passages from the diary of Rev. Harold Russell Marshall, a Vineyard Haven pastor, originator of the bridge proposal, give a first hand account of the project.

Reverend Marshall: In 1868 we received a call from the Baptist Church in Vineyard Haven (at that time called Holmes Hole). Several times during my pastorate I had occasion to cross the harbor in great peril, or to hire a team to go eight miles around Lagoon Pond to visit or serve parishioners on East Side. I dreamed one night soon after moving here that a road was built along the low sand bar dividing Lagoon Pond from the harbor and the canal that was between the long strip of land and the east side as bridged for carriages to pass. As I thought over my dream, the fact appeared to me that all our merchants have quite a trade at the Camp Ground on the East Side with summer residents.

Suggesting the idea to them and other citizens as early as my second year there, I found them favorable but not enthusiastic about it, it was so new a thing. One more watering season passed, and every time any of these citizens went to the east side, the feasibility of such a road and bridge commended itself to them and they often mentioned it as very desirable.

As these waters (harbor, canal, and Lagoon) were inland or state water bodies, there must be an act of the legislature to permit building a bridge across the canal, and it must be a drawbridge too. I drew up a petition for the General Court to allow the building of a toll bridge, and this petition had the names of at least half the citizens and all the traders.

It was sent up to the legislature and in due time I was notified of a day for the committee on roads and bridges to consider the matter, and I went up to Boston to sustain the petition. I had the map of a coast survey to show the committee where it was proposed to build the bridge, what were the approaches, and what parts of the Vineyard it would especially benefit; but they were opposed to granting the privileges and inconveniences of an out of date toll bridge. And as I was not empowered to change the petition on the spot, I was allowed to withdraw it.

And so, a little disappointed, I returned home and reported my failure. But the friends of the project during the next season rallied again for another trial. So we got advice from experienced lawyers and ex-legislators as to how to handle a petition successfully. We got up a new petition and largely increased the number of names for a free bridge, the cost to be divided equally between the two towns divided by the canal, Tisbury and Edgartown.

The Edgartown people could not see any benefit to their town, but a large expense, although the town of Tisbury had by far the longer road to build, and accordingly the opposition to the bridge was strong from all Edgartown except just the East Side, and this we had to meet at our next visit to the legislature to lobby this thing through.

The committee room, when this petition and strong remonstrance were under consideration was the scene of a “strenuous debate” in which the officers of both towns with all the strength they could command took earnest part. But the petitioners carried the day and got a bill reported and it was passed to be engrossed.

But we had to provide against the discretionary powers of the county commissioners of which board two out of three were against the road. So we procured an injunction from the Supreme Court to take immediate steps toward laying out the road, and procuring bids for building both the road and bridge. This was done the next season (spring and summer of 1872)

At once improvements began. Building was begun in earnest. Real estate was receiving such a boom as never before. Vineyard Haven since that time has seen very great prosperity.