Oscar Edward Denniston was born April 5, 1875 in Kingston, Jamaica. Appointed superintendent of the seamen’s mission there, he met and cared for Madison Edwards who had taken sick on a vacation. Edwards was a chaplain at the Seamen’s Bethel in Vineyard Haven. Becoming friends, Mr. Edwards convinced Mr. Denniston to come to Martha’s Vineyard in 1901, where they worked together.

Susan Clapp Bradley had established the Oakland Mission on Masonic avenue in Oak Bluffs in 1895 to help Portuguese immigrants become naturalized citizens. Mr. Denniston began working with her and the mission became a place for Portuguese and Cape Verdeans to attend religious services and learn how to pass the American citizenship test, arithmetic, reading and writing English. After Ms. Bradley died in 1907, Reverend Denniston renamed the Oakland Mission the Bradley Memorial Church in her honor. Parishioners from several ethnic backgrounds — Portuguese, Cape Verdean, Wampanoag and African American — attended services at the church, which was recognized as Baptist. Oscar Denniston’s first wife died in childbirth here but they had two sons, Osmund and Madison. Mr. Denniston was remarried to Medora Curtain from Jamaica in 1907 and they had five children, all of whom were born, lived, attended school, died and are buried here in Oak Bluffs. The family lived in the building that housed the Bradley Memorial, where a part of the downstairs was devoted to the church.

The Dennistons were a highly educated family. Madison (born 1902) went to Suffolk Law School in Boston; Olive (born 1909) went to Gordon College of Theology and received a master’s degree from Boston University; Dean (born 1913) earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Boston University; Baron (born 1916) received his bachelor’s from Boston University as did the youngest, Gerald (born 1919). Dean Denniston in particular was an active contributor to the Oak Bluffs community, having served as vice president of Union Chapel and a member of what is now the Martha’s Vineyard Museum. Thanks to the museum, Dean’s is one of the oral interviews left to posterity in the book Vineyard Voices published by Linsey Lee in 1998.

At times during busy summers, the family used the old Noepe Theatre on Circuit avenue for church services. In 1956, Bradley Memorial was relocated to Pequot avenue (opposite Cottagers’ Corner) until 1966 when it closed for good.

The Bradley Memorial Church building on Masonic avenue was purchased by Island Affordable Housing in 2007. The organization tried to incorporate the old church into a multiuse project, but that became untenable and the property was sold.

Today, trees felled on the property signify another story is poised to begin at the site of the old church — and for the second time our Oak Bluffs Historical Commission has mounted an effort to save it. Two weeks ago there was a unanimous vote to designate it for preferable preservation, to slow, if not prevent, its demolition.

As a scribe devoted to the history of Oak Bluffs who happens to be black, I might be expected to opine on this, particularly on the eve of the end of Black History Month. Regretting your disappointment, it’s the stories that have more significance. From 1907 to 1956 this was a building that housed dreams; those immigrants looking to share our way of life, those seeking spiritual guidance, those considered less than equal and a humanitarian refuge for them all. Thanks to the foresight in particular of Ewell Hopkins, its executive director at the time, in 2008 Island Affordable Housing gifted the Martha’s Vineyard Museum with a host of records, Bibles, books and other material used by the Bradley Memorial Church, along with correspondence and papers of the Denniston family from 1833 to 1989. Those stories will be retold beginning April 10 when the Martha’s Vineyard Museum debuts its exhibit, Bradley Memorial Church Records and the Denniston Family Papers.

In a March 1942 editorial, Vineyard Gazette editor Henry Beetle Hough wrote, “One does not have to look far away to find things to be proud of when considering the career of Rev. Oscar E. Denniston . . . he helped bring into reality in his generation the conception of America as a land of opportunity, brotherhood and democracy, not by coming here to become rich, but by coming here to build a church.”

The ACE MV spring classes start Tuesday and registration is at the regional high school between 5 and 6:30 p.m. Some classes are fertilizer safety, financial planning, women’s history, the history of Cuba, pesticide licensing, ServSafe food handling and others. Call Sarah Monast for information at 508-693-9222.

Even if the building doesn't make it — the hopes and dreams live on.

Keep your foot on a rock.

Send your Oak Bluffs news to: sfinley@mvgazette.com.