From a story published May 6, 1966, by G. William Arnold:
About fifteen years ago, not so very long ago, I grew up a boy in Edgartown. And part of the remembering of it all (at the ripe rip-snorting old age of 28) comes when I remember what isn’t anymore.
Once there was a different steamboat wharf in Edgartown, one that had a low peaked roof with grey gulls on it — and not that thing with a flat, boarded, picket-fenced, widow’s walk atop. Then it was crumbling, unpainted and yellowish, and there was coal dust in the air and scallop shells in the lot and not too many people around.
And where that black and white striped macadam lot now stands at the foot of Main, there used to be another scallop-shelled lot, and a day and night diner, and a row of low grey-shingled scallop shanties. Commodores coming to and from the yacht club, then, walked over puddles, through mud, and passed holes, lots of ruts and mounds of smelly, steaming empty shells.
Sam Osborn had a bike shop in a small building there, and behind a tall board fence he sold kerosene which you could pump yourself by hand from a barrel in the shed out back. Down Dock street Johnny Nevin fixed cars in a big garage, and across from the ferry slip Manuel Swartz made boats — by hand. It was something to see those ribbed boats partly done, the floor littered with piles of wood curls and sawdust. Now they sell paintings there. And they’ve paved that lot, too.
Across the harbor stood a lighthouse on an island with a rickety boardwalk out over the water; but sand has done that in. Sand erodes all, I guess.
On Main street, in the middle of the block between South Water and Summer streets, stood the old Edgartown Playhouse. Every summer night it was packed with people. And the fun and laughter emptied into the street, once at 9, and again at 11. Up behind two tall elms on the second floor stood a small window, with a lowered shutter, and if you looked at the right time between shows you could see Joe Crawley, in tee shirt, the projectionist, just standing there, looking out across the street, catching a breath of fresh air and smoking a cigarette. It was summer.
And I remember summer mornings going through the theatre aisles and cleaning up the bits of paper, gum wrappers, empty boxes, jumping to the thrill of finding a lost dime, a quarter, and — occasionally — a single crumpled green dollar bill.
Ice cream cones were a nickel, and a double seven cents. And big candy bars weighting a pound — less than four cents?
What about across the street? That was the post office with the Red Men’s Hall upstairs. Downstairs, right there in the right half of the hardware store (before they broke the walls through), where it was dark and narrow, and went way back in into the back and made you think going to the mail was like going on a real adventure, almost like a visit to distant relatives, because people stood in there in the semi-dark and whispered, waiting for the mail to be put up.
Some time later someone moved all the grain out of Averill’s feed place on North Water, washed the grain dust from the glass, put up partitions and fresh paint, and forever destroyed my quixotic trip to the post office.
Dana sold antiques across from Hall’s Insurance, and in back was a weed grown field — and now? A park! The barber pole in Main street meant Gentle’s, and Riley and Santos sold meat across from the town hall. The courthouse was all red brick, there were no parking places on Summer street in a field, and Bill O’Neill visited Benny Lumsden’s on the corner — and what they talked about I can only guess. The old, old days? On North Water Manuel Jordan cut hair, and next door, as sure as it was Edgartown, there was a fish market. But nobody minded the smell. And it must have been nice to look in through that window pane at all that crushed ice, and to see those fresh cod, mackerels, blues, stripers, flounder — all of them looking up at you. Now everything’s under cellophane.
Ah, yes, Mildred’s was still there — on North Water street between the fish market and liquor store. Mildred sold postcards, souvenirs, painted shells with “Edgartown, Massachusetts” inside, knickknacks, skeined yarn and ball, leather goods, wallets, thread, needles, bobby pins, thimbles, toys, a shelf of rent-out books (2 cents a day), and strings and strings of toenail shells from Chappy beach, knitted sweaters, scarves, hats, socks, brassieres, buttons, ashtrays, games, nylon stockings, get-well cards, birthday cards, anniversary, Easter and Christmas cards — there wasn’t anything but Cadillacs she didn’t sell.
She opened at 9 (sharp!) and closed at 6, and with a half-hour run up Main street for lunch, a sign — BE BACK AT ONE — scotch taped on the door. If she wasn’t in during the day — and the door was wide open — you could be in your fishing boots you could find her at the Coffee Shop, gabbing with Sissy, George M., or Jean, Mack or Melba, and there on the counter a cold cup of coffee forgotten in the talk.
Compiled by Alison Mead