Back in the mid 1800s Hebron Vincent had a healthy opinion of Oak Bluffs once writing, “‘Vineyard’ simply means the Camp Ground and its surroundings including Oak Bluffs, Highlands, etc. Persons have been quite surprised to learn that Edgartown, Vineyard Haven and other localities are all on the same island...” Of course, I’m partial — especially when it comes to Oak Bluffs and abolitionists such as Mr. Hebron. Indeed, due to its long-held tolerance, Oak Bluffs has a special place in black history, and there is some evidence that this will be nationally acknowledged in the near future.
Celebrated as a vacation spot for many whose contributions are highlighted during Black History Month, Oak Bluffs is also proud of lesser-known black entrepreneurs who established successful businesses. Some of the earliest were ladies like Georgia O’Brien, Louisa Izett and Mrs. Anthony Smith who opened guest houses on Circuit avenue for black visitors in the early 1900s. There is a bench in Hiawatha Park near their homes — one of which is today’s Tivoli Inn — commemorating them with a bronze plaque. Founded in 1912, many notable visitors stayed at Shearer Cottage, which is still owned and operated by descendants of founder Charles Shearer. Like the landladies’ bench, the cottage is on the Martha’s Vineyard African American Heritage Trail. The heritage trail, largely developed by Elaine Cawley Weintraub and Carrie Tankard since the late 1980s, is a rich source of Island black history. Many people are not aware that students at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, under Mrs. Cawley and Mrs. Tankard’s leadership, have delved into black history, producing facts and art as projects of learning and love.
There was an article in the Jan. 15 Vineyard Gazette with further interesting findings by students at the high school. Robert C. Hayden’s book, African Americans on Martha’s Vineyard & Nantucket is a fascinating treatise that tells the stories of George Frye’s cobbler shop (1920-1968), Ambler Wormsley’s garage (1928-1946), Pollard’s Dining Hall (early 1900s), and many more that, if not for the Heritage Trail and books like Mr. Hayden’s, would be lost.
I have faint memories (and am looking for comments from those with better recall) of Jimmy’s barbecue on Circuit avenue in the early 60s, which may or may not have been related to Harlem’s famed Jimmy’s Chicken Shack from the 1940s. Today, Zita Cousen’s Cousen Rose Gallery, where the elite meet and greet on Fridays during the summer for art and book shows, remains on Circuit avenue, along with Roger Schillings’ gift store, C’est la Vie and Reynaldo Faust’s Fat Ronnie’s Burgers. Reynaldo also founded Muscle Discipline, which is B. Strong today. Someday these folks will be written about in books featuring successful black history makers.
Computer classes continue with Miki Wolfe at the Oak Bluffs library on Tuesday at 2 p.m. and again at 6 p.m. Folks can attend either or both at no charge. These sessions explain how to use email and Microsoft Office.
Next Thursday the library invites kids age 3 and older to bring their parents to make and decorate valentines from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m.
If you haven’t been out and about lately, note that Nashawena Park’s dual street is now one-way (east to west) on the right side towards Circuit avenue, and west to east going towards Waban Park — as it should have been forever. Counterintuitively, Chestnut street is now also one-way. That’s the street just past Sunset Lake off New York avenue that connects with Pacific avenue towards town hall. One can now make the second left onto it after Sunset Lake, not the first — there’s a sign indicating the new status.
The widely anticipated new bowling alley proposed to improve the ugly site of the laundromat that never opened at the base of Circuit avenue near Hiawatha Park and Uncas avenue is being appraised by the omniscience of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission. It will be interesting to see if the commission, which has never deigned to play a role in the view of our theatres, approves a project that seemingly has the support of not all, but almost every other stakeholder in town.
Concurrently, town leaders are implementing a plan to have zoning rules available for balloting at the town meeting in April that define minimum property maintenance of commercial and vacant property in our business districts. That means we might get a chance to vote in favor of a “T” and an “R.” Yay. Hearsay suggests still another looming vacancy next season — bye-bye, Side Car.
Keep your foot on a rock.