Surviving the Civil War and all of those afterwards and several local and national financial depressions, the town of Oak Bluffs has much to be thankful for and much to be proud of. We’re the biggest little town on Martha’s Vineyard, the largest unconnected island on the east coast. Oak Bluffs ranks number five in total area (8.7 sq. miles), number four in land area (7.4 sq. miles), number two by summer population and number one by year-round population; 4,527 of us live here according to recent census estimates. That is 22 per cent more than in 2000.
The 8.7 square miles of Oak Bluffs includes at least 34 official and unofficial neighborhoods. Nearly one-and-a-half square miles of our town is comprised of water; about 15 per cent of the town or 832 acres. Fittingly — as the only town one can drive from end to end and see water — whether we celebrate our Jan. 25, 1907 incorporation as Oak Bluffs or we celebrate Cottage City’s original secession date of Feb. 17, 1880, either way, our beloved town is astrologically an Aquarius. It’s ironic that the Oak Bluffs Land and Wharf Company’s seaside watering place would be the sign of the “water bearer.”
According to a Martha’s Vineyard Commission report from 2009, the 4,680 acres of Oak Bluffs includes 46 per cent that are developed, 24 per cent that are available for development and 30 per cent that are either protected from development or wetlands. Much attention is expected to be devoted to that 46 per cent in 2014, and hopefully some reserved for the other 24 per cent.
We’re joint owners of 46 named parks (and land bank sites), 16 ponds, seven cemeteries, six beaches, five islands, a school, a library, a senior citizen center, numerous trails, a bunch of places of worship — indoors and outdoors — a golf course, a carousel, a skating rink, a skating park, a private airport, a bridge, a lobster hatchery (of sorts) and the largest marina.
We share a high school, a hospital, a ferry dock and two bridges, one of which opens for nautical traffic. We have a roundabout and no traffic lights.
Oak Bluffs was the first Island town to have electricity, movies, a skating rink, a carousel, a bowling alley, a dance hall, horses, bikes, telephones, cars and airplanes. Depending on the will of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission and a local successful entrepreneur, we may get another bowling alley soon.
The activity of “bluffing” (moonlit, romantic walks along the shoreline) was coined here and the song Oak Bluffs Galop (sic) was named for the practice. Our Inkwell is the only Island beach a movie has been named after, and we are the only town in Massachusetts to have seceded.
A diverse town, particularly during the summer, Oak Bluffs is a bastion of Native American, Portuguese and black history with an extensive number of black history-making homeowners even today. While only 4.9 per cent of the year-round population is black, we who live in Oak Bluffs account for 43 per cent of all on Martha’s Vineyard.
We don’t take ourselves too seriously. Located within the county of Dukes County, we’re proud to have a park named Park Park; and a street spelled Pennacook at one end and Penacook at the other. Since 1790 we’ve enjoyed colorful characters as eccentric as our town like the escaped slave John Harry Monus John Peter Tobirus Peter Toskirus Peter Tubal Cain — or Old Harry for short. There was Jerry, Porter for the Pawnee, in the early 1920s, along with the Monkey Man, the Hurdy Gurdy men, Popcorn Harry and Shipwrecked Tallman who sold peanuts at the base of Ocean Park. Bon Vivant real estate mogul Eben Bodfish enjoyed defying the customs of the time and sold one of the first homes in East Chop to black people. There was Wayne Coutinho, perhaps the guy who invented and overused the word “pissah,” memorialized by a brick with his name at the bandstand. More recently there was Anthony J. Mendes Jr. — Junior for short — known by the moniker Daddy’s Caddy due to his exotically decorated car, said to have been autographed by over 10,000 folks and a U.S. president. We had the much-loved Johnny Seaview (Oliver Perry) until around this time last year when he died. Of course everyone knows Hamburger, now with Fat Ronnie’s Burgers named after him. Half of the 10 presidents who have visited Martha’s Vineyard came to Oak Bluffs; two of them have watched our fireworks and one of those, Ulysses S. Grant, stayed here overnight.
We have 68 parking spaces on Circuit avenue, cherished by kids with new licenses who search for the best place to show off new vehicles — some or all spaces of which may have seen their day in the sun as the town decides if we want Circuit avenue to be a walking mall in whole or in part.
Oak Bluffs has big and exciting plans for 2014: join the discussion.
As we say farewell to 2013 and welcome 2014, let‘s all be careful what we inhale, imbibe and ingest in celebration. Have a wonderful New Year!
Keep your foot on a rock.