The Highland House Hotel opened on June 1, 1871. Built by the Vineyard Grove Company, it was established to compete with the Oak Bluffs Land and Wharf Company in the event the Camp Ground would have to be moved farther away from the less-than-religious new Cottage City development. Of course, the Camp Ground Association refused to invest in the plan. Backed by additional shares sold to members of the Methodist community, the Vineyard Grove Company had acquired 300 acres of today’s Highlands neighborhood and built its own wharf at the base of East Chop for the Methodists to use to avoid that of the Oak Bluffs Land and Wharf Company. This caused ferries to make two stops in Oak Bluffs roughly 1,000 yards apart. In rapid succession the VGC also built the four-story, mansard roofed, majestic Highland House Hotel at what is now the East Chop Beach Club. The magnificent new hotel had 150 rooms and accommodated travelers with a horse-drawn trolley that delivered boat passengers to the heart of the Camp Ground. They also built a 3,500-foot boardwalk that extended from the hotel to the North Bluff, across the then-closed Lake Anthony (they called it Squash Meadow Pond). Guests used the boardwalk for access to the beachfront that had 200 bathhouses with a goal of economic competition to the fabled Sea View Hotel on the other side. The Highlands development — like Bellevue Heights, Oakland, Prospect Heights, Central Place, Forest Hill, Oak Grove and Lagoon Heights — missed the wave of prosperity the developers anticipated, and by 1880 all of these areas were incorporated, post-secession, into the town of Cottage City. The Highland House was owned by John D. Flint, Clofus L. Gonyon and Augustus G. Wesley (owner and manager of the Wesley House) when it burned down in the fall of 1893, apparently by an arsonist who plundered the empty hotel before the fire. Interestingly, the Wesley House is the last remaining dedicated hotel of the 14 or so great Oak Bluffs rooming houses, several of which mysteriously burned down.
I’m pleased we made it into 2013 and know it will be a happy new year; I’ll certainly try to keep it interesting through the column, and if you have any thoughts please send them on, my e-address is listed. I also hope you enjoy the bits of Oak Bluffs history.
If you were wondering about the new construction on the Vineyard Haven-Edgartown road just past the Chapman Cole and Gleason Funeral Home, it is the new MVTV studio, which is making good progress.
Henry Norton wrote the following poem describing the Pilgrims and Vineyarders:
From out of thy rude borders have spread far and wide
Thine own sturdy sons, once thy joy and thy pride.
To fell the thick forest, to plough the rough main,
To gather bright laurels of glory and fame
Keep your foot on a rock.