Saving Parsonage House

The old house is one of those places you drive by — nearly every day if you live up-Island and frequently if you live anywhere else on the Vineyard and come through West Tisbury on State Road. Probably you take it for granted, and that’s the way it is with the old houses and barns of the Vineyard that are so much a part of its architectural and living character and history.

We take them for granted until they are gone.

And they are disappearing. In Edgartown historic houses are being knocked down left and right to make way for the reproduction colonials that appear to be under construction on every side street downtown. In Oak Bluffs a request to tear down the Denniston house, the site of an early mission for Portuguese immigrants and later the first African American church on the Vineyard, is under review by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission.

The Parsonage house in West Tisbury sits overlooking the little pond with the same name where people go ice-skating whenever it freezes. The slightly sagging farmhouse with diamond-patterned window mullions looks as if it has seen better days. And it has. Now owners Tara and Daniel Whiting would like to tear it down and rebuild because they cannot afford the mounting and increasingly overwhelming repair bills that seem to have no end for an old house.

The West Tisbury historic district commission made it clear this week that it will not allow the house, whose original section dates to the 1600s and which may be one of the earliest houses on the Island, to be razed. Sighs of relief went around West Tisbury where alarm had greeted last week’s news of the demolition request.

But the story does not end there. The deterioration of the house, which is apparently in an advanced state, will continue. The Whiting siblings who inherited the property wish to be good stewards of their historic house but they do not have the money to make the badly needed repairs. Family tension over the issue has spilled out uncomfortably into the public arena.

Tara and Daniel Whiting are native Islanders who can trace their family history here back for more than 250 years. They are people of modest means, their old house that many consider a landmark is falling down around their ears and they need help. The town histo

ric district commission is right to step in and not only block demolition but explore solutions to the problem. The fate of the house remains very much in question.

Beyond the Parsonage house, the need for a better strategy to address architectural historic preservation on the Island is clear, critical and pressing. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, and the various town historic district commissions are left to man the barricades, often with bylaws that lack teeth. The Martha’s Vineyard Commission, with its powerful regional planning tools and an executive director whose background includes architecture, is the perfect body to address this problem and would be wise to move it to the top of its priority list.

Quickly, please, before any more old houses are lost to the wrecking ball.

Student Master Works

It stretches the memory to recall children being seen and not heard. Children are everywhere in society’s public and personal discussions; policy-making and parenting now demand that adults imagine what life is like from a child’s point of view. Still children’s own views are not widely seen, nor do most of us really listen attentively to what they have to say.

Thankfully this has not stopped them from having something to say, and a distinct way of seeing the world. And on the Vineyard, thoughtful adults — artists, writers, parents and perhaps most valuably, teachers — have encouraged our young people’s vision and self-expression. We all have been rewarded with youth who admirably, creatively and movingly make art. Their skillful and original writing and visual arts projects have been recognized with a swathe of awards in The Boston Globe Scholastic Art Contest, a presitigious, annual statewide competition that recognizes outstanding student achievement in the arts.

The Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School’s student visual arts awards surely reflects on the breadth and depth of the arts department education there, reinforced over decades. As well as art awards, the writing awards garnered by students at the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School likewise evidence a real and robust program encouraging good writing.

Some of these students’ works are showcased in today’s Gazette. Some will end up on exhibition in Boston, on display in Washington, D.C., on a stage in New York city. Some will generate scholarships. Some of the students, still discovering who they are, will find this recognition life-changing. They will have the confidence to see themselves as photographers, painters, writers, graphic artists. Student award winners join the roster of past winners such as Andy Warhol, Robert Redford, Truman Capote, Joyce Carol Oates and Richard Avedon. They will have new faith in themselves.

We have faith in them, and applaud them. But we also applaud the teachers especially, and others, who show their faith in young people consistently. Research shows that a student who receives thirty to forty hours of one-on-one attention a year is likely to see his writing ability raised an entire grade level. Such results challenge each of us, in this Island fertile with artists of all sorts, to find an hour here and there in our busy lives faithfully to see and hear and help some young person.

The results, as these award winners show us, can be stunning.