Years ago, in the latter part of the 19th and early part of the 20th centuries, some houses were given names in Edgartown. These names feature in old Gazette ads for summer rentals. I have written earlier about Quiet Corner ( the home of Sol Smith Russell, and later the Vose family.)
But Blow Out Villa takes the cake for a name as far as I am concerned. The Ewing family currently owns this small and very old cape with the front porch right beside Lucky Hank’s. Harvey Ewing, who was the Vineyard bureau chief for the New Bedford Standard Times and later Cape Cod Times, loved the name and named his real estate trust after it. Anyone who knew Harvey, who loved to roam the streets of Edgartown telling jokes of varying degrees of humor from subtle to slapstick, might think that it was he who named his house. But this is not so.
The Ewings have owned the house for over 50 years now, but the house is much, much older. It was the homestead of Josiah Smith, who was born at Pohogonot Farm in 1804, the son of Samuel Smith, the grandson of the first John Smith on the Island who came to the Vineyard from Watertown. The Smith family owned vast tracts of land on the Edgartown Great Pond. The name Blow Out Villa is probably not as old as the house, which may have been moved from Pohogonot Farm to its present location. Josiah was the Register of Deeds from 1850 through his death in 1864. His move to town may have coincided with the building of the new Dukes County courthouse, as previously the registry was located at Pohogonot.
When Josiah died, the house passed to his three children, John A. Smith. Ivory Smith and Caroline Smith Alden. Ivory was a veteran of the Civil War and suffered from what we now would call PTSD. He was in and out of various asylums, and died at the new facility in Medfield in 1896. All of the Smith children and their families used the house until they sold it in the 1890s. I discovered the Aldens referring to it as Blow Out Villa in the Edgartown town column in the Gazette in the 1890s. I was researching Frank Alden, the grandson of Josiah, who became a famous architect in Boston and Pittsburgh, Pa. He and his mother and father, Francis and Caroline Smith Alden, may have been the ones who gave it the name. Frank named one of his own houses in Sewickley Red Gables, and most of the houses he designed for Pittsburgh’s new millionaires had names.
Frank’s final house in Edgartown at 67 North Water street was named Killcare by his daughter, Constance. The name of the Ewing villa may have derived from the nautical term used to describe the tearing of a sail when carrying too much wind, i.e. blowing out the sail. Frank was a convivial fellow according to all reports, as were his parents. Ivory was a mariner, and the combination of nautical terms and good times may have been just the thing!
It certainly pleased Harvey.