Café Moxie was, ironically, in the first building to be rebuilt after the devastating Vineyard Haven fire of 1883.

Ben Dexter, an extraordinary woodcarver and ice cream entrepreneur, was hard at rebuilding by November, just a few months after the August fire swept through Main street. He was back in business for the 1884 season.

Chris Baer knows that fact and many other historic fine points about Main street because he’s spent years painstakingly recreating its history through research and photographs.

“It’s pretty clear that Ben’s shop was the first rebuilt and that Ben, who was quite a colorful personality, added what is now Bunch of Grapes about 10 years later,” said Mr. Baer, a computer graphics and design instructor at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School.

Mr. Baer’s grandfather, Stan Lair, a Vineyard Haven plumber who also collected photographic memorabilia of the town, was the catalyst for Mr. Baer’s research.

“Initially, I was just trying to organize his photos, then I got interested in the history and I’ve probably spent five years putting it together,” he said.

Mr. Baer’s work can be seen at

The Café Moxie site was originally the home in 1800 of whaling captain Elisha Dexter, father of woodcarver Ben Dexter.

The building that housed Café Moxie was home to many enterprises in the 125 years since the 1883 Vineyard Haven fire.

While ice cream stores seem to have been the favorite choice of business, Café Moxie was also a harness shop, a cobbler shop, an early version of the Portuguese American club, and briefly, the home of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union.

While Vineyard Haven has been spared from another fire like that of 1883, “many more buildings, including historic buildings, have been lost to demolition,” Mr. Baer said. “It just proves how important it is to record and save historic buildings.”