From the Vineyard Gazette editions of August, 1977:

The first of Will Hardy’s Songs of Martha’s Vineyard — this being the title under which words and music have now been collected and reprinted — was composed in 1911 and the last in 1928. That was quite a spread of years, crossing from one historic social era to another, from the final phase of the innocent age that ended in the First World War to the eve of the Great Depression.

The Tivoli dance hall which so exactly suited the period was built in 1907 and not torn down until, after having had seasons of summer stock theatre and wrestling bouts, the early nineteen sixties. The name, Tivoli, was derived from the Tivoli Gardens, a famous amusement park in Copenhagen.

It is hardly possible to equate Willy Hardy’s works with characteristic songs that swept their melodies in other and broader epochs — Meet Me in St. Louis, On the Banks of the Wabash — “across the meadow comes the scent of new mown hay” — or the imperishable In the Good Old Summertime, but there is in them an authentic Vineyard folk spirit, which interests even those who, for example, never felt the summer pulse of John F. McGrath’s Pawnee on Circuit:

We met last summer at the old Pawnee,

the old Pawnee

We danced together at the Tivoli, Tivoli

Such words with a lilt to them and scores marked Tempo di Valse or Moderato attracted to Oak Bluffs the younger sets of Vineyard Haven and Edgartown, not overlooking up-Island either, in a fusion one wished might be revived in the same genuine innocence. The sheet music, gathered diligently by Mrs. William A. Nerney, is now attractively published for the benefit of the Martha’s Vineyard history is the gainer also, for these songs, uncollected, might have strayed irrevocably into lost yesterdays. They belong in the record of our lives and times.

There I would waltz with my summertime maid

As proud as a duke or an earl

And she gave me her heart while the orchestra played

There I won my Tivoli girl

Why did the Island towns vote by a thumping majority to endorse what became Chapter 637 with the Commission as its operative center? Only because the Vineyard is a natural unit, an Island, which cannot in any state of dismemberment meet the challenges of growth and development. The mutual interdependence of towns and region cannot be ignored without inviting the destruction of all.

There have been early models of almost everything, even of development control and restrictions on building. The Island has some of its own instances of the state’s Supreme Judicial Court. Back in 1867, the Oak Bluffs Land & Wharf Company was selling lots under a restriction that no building should be erected within five feet of the property line of the lot, the restriction being, in the language of the court, “part of a grand scheme for the development of a residential neighborhood.” From today’s viewpoint the scheme was not so “grand,” but it seemed so at the time, and even a five-foot setback was a pioneering step toward what would become a zoning code.

Years passed until when, in 1920, the case of Rose F. Goulding vs. Lydia E. Phinney, both successors in title from the old development company, reached the high court. A master named by the court had found that the five-foot restriction had been generally ignored, and even that the plaintiff at one time had an outhouse, closer than that to their property line. Nevertheless, the court ruled that the restriction had been imposed for the benefit of all purchasers and grantees, and that it was still enforceable.

Similar restrictions in Oak Bluffs deeds limited any construction to “a dwelling house to be used exclusively as a residence for a private family.” Years and generations passed, and in 1908 and thereabouts, cottages on Ocean Park in Oak Bluffs were taking lodgers and boarders. Nothing happened until Albert H. Sayle brought suit against Evelyn M. Hill of 14 Ocean Park, and in 1911 the case reached the supreme court.

No matter what violations there had been, the court found, the taking of boarders and lodgers “on the average of 12 at a time and staying for periods of about two weeks” remained a proper ground for appeal to the law. The old restriction had come down intact.

The case of Samuel B. Hughes vs. Susan M. Smith in 1894 concerned the restriction in a deed of 1866 which limited building and use to residential purposes. Ignoring the restriction, “one Tanner” was using part of Lot 21 for storage, repair and letting of bicycles and “was probably building them.” The court found for the plaintiff against Susan M. Smith and her tenant, “one Tanner.”

An element in these decisions was the finding that the neighborhoods were still desirable and residential in character. These old instances are instructive to a degree, and at least they show that controls are not so new and innovative.

Compiled by Alison Mead