The second annual Cooke and South Water streets house tour will be tomorrow, Wednesday. August 13, from 2 to 4 p.m. The tour will include five historic homes in Edgartown, all within walking distance of each other, followed by tea and refreshments. At each home, guests will be greeted by a docent who will share information about the history of the home and answer questions.
Tickets are $35, available during the tour at the Federated Church, corner of South Summer and Cooke streets. The tour is a benefit for the church steeple fund. Parking is available at the Edgartown School and the Upper Main street Park and Ride.
Here’s a short guide to the homes, including what to look for at each.
The Meeting House of the Federated Church: When the Meeting House was built in 1828, the parishioners paid $5,000 (over a million dollars in today’s money) for the structure. They raised money by selling the rights to individual pews, and took 112 years to pay off the rest of the debt. The Church faced Main street, and had a large open common between it and the road. Frederick Baylies Jr. served as the architect and builder of this Georgian Church, well known for its ideal acoustics and that 500 people can sit in close proximity to the pulpit. Mr. Baylies went on to design and build three more churches in Edgartown, including the Whaling Church.
The Timothy Coffin, Jr. House at 30 South Water street: Jared Coffin, a master builder in Edgartown, built this house in 1828, for Timothy Coffin, Jr. who came here from the Nantucket. Jared felt this was one of the finest houses he ever built. Notice the “flat-corniced” portico above the front door. Timothy and his wife Velina had seven children before his untimely death in 1838 at the age of 42. One of these children, Zoraida, married Samuel Osborn, Jr. and eventually inherited the house. After 137 years of Coffin/Osborn family ownership from 1828 to 1958 (possibly the longest single family ownership in town), it was sold in 1959.
New owners Samuel and Ruth Mays owned the Charlotte Inn. In 1997 Russ Oasis purchased the house and did a major renovation with the help of Gerrett C. Conover. Coal-burning fireplaces were changed to wood-burning. The antique fireplace tools by the downstairs bedroom fireplace are unusual.
The small chair in the front hall dates back to the 1930s, and the needlepoint was done by Russ’s aunt. The Karen Larson Turner portrait of the house is hung over the fireplace in the study. The kitchen has been updated. Notice the brick over the stove in the kitchen with 1829 engraved in it, found during the recent renovation. The back sitting room on the first floor was added in the 1940s. The back staircase (can you find it?) was changed to accommodate a larger kitchen area. Notice the window in the upper right bedroom with “Robert Coffin 1848” scratched into it (in the upper part of the window which faces South Water street).
The Abraham Osborn House at 42 South Water street: Built in 1834 by Abraham Osborn, this house remained in the family through three generations of Abraham Osborns. In 1930, the house was sold to Arthur Hillman, the president of the Edgartown National Bank. The first two Osborns were sea captains. When the first Abraham retired from the sea he turned his large house, which had previously housed his eight children, into a hotel called the Ocean View. One of the guests was Raphael Semmes, the Confederate Naval Captain, who during the Civil War had captured Osborn’s ship, the Ocmulgee. Osborn had been taken from the ship in irons and forced to watch his ship burn. He and his crew were then left in the Azores to find their way home. Another famous guest at his hotel was Alexander Graham Bell, who was here to study the extensive deaf population on the Island. Mark and Helen Lapman purchased the house later and did an extensive restoration.
The Thomas Fisher, Jr. House at 62 South Water street : Built in 1925, this house was purchased by Thomas Fisher in 1813. After he was lost at sea in 1827, his widow Catherine continued to live in it. Another widow joined her, and then that woman’s 16-year-old son Hiram also died at sea. The 1920s were dark economic years for Edgartown, and during that time the lot between this and the church was divided off and sold to raise money. Recently, the house underwent a major renovation, with work done by Gerrett Conover and decorating by Paula Conover.
Benjamin Worth Whaling Co. at 14 Cooke street: This house started as a commercial building in 1832. At the time, Cooke street was called Commercial street, and was the site of much Edgartown commerce. It was the office of Captain Benjamin Worth, who lived two doors away at 74 South Water street. He owned shares in the following ships: Vineyard, Splendid, Europa, Mara and the Almira. He built the building on land owned by his father, who was lost at sea when the younger Benjamin was six years old. Peter Marchant purchased the house in 1880 for $900, and had a grocery store there. In 1894 the house was sold to David Pease for $800. David, his wife Ida and their daughter Parnell lived in the house until the early 1970s when Parnell was no longer able to manage. Arnold and Joy Anderson did a serious renovation after that.
Next, April and Hap Hamel owned the house for many years and renovated it to their liking in 1991. In 2003, Susie and Jay Kaufman purchased the house and did a thorough renovation with architect Patrick Ahearn, incorporating the house next door on Cooke street. They moved the fireplace in the living room in order to open the living room and study into one room. Sitting on the shelves to the right of the living room fireplace are a collection of old tools and memorabilia which was found during the renovation.
The Grafton Norton House at 69 South Water street: Rosalie and Jim Shane are only the fifth owners of this house overlooking Collins Beach and Edgartown Harbor. It was built in 1842 by Grafton Norton, a wealthy entrepreneur who partially owned the ship Vineyard and sold spring water to ships at Collins Wharf. The house stayed in the family for over 100 years. Collins Beach is named for the family.
The Reading Room, a private club, sits on the pier in front of the Shanes. The beach is public, and mostly used for a boat launch. The house was built with a standard “four over four” plan, with four rooms on each floor. The original front door was on the water side. More recently, the Shanes purchased the house and filled it with paintings and photography from Vineyard artists. Rosalie, an accomplished artist in her own right, did many of the paintings throughout the house. The portrait of the house in the living room is by Fred Messersmith. Karen Larson Turner did the portrait of the house over the mantle in the study. Ruth Mead (upper painting to right of fireplace) and Alan Whiting paintings (lower painting to right of fireplace) adorn the living room wall, as well as a painting of Old Sculpin Art Association by Ray Ellis. The beach scene was painted in the 50’s by Frances Chapin of Old Sculpin Gallery. The Rez Williams painting over the sideboard in the dining room provides an interesting contemporary touch. Peter Simon portraits of the growing Shane family are scattered throughout the house. The Brovita painting with the nautical chart in the front right study has Rosalie in it, at the front of the house.
Tea and refreshments are at 75 South Water street, at the old Mayhew Homestead on the water, weather permitting, or in the parish hall of the church.