From the August 5, 1959 edition of the Vineyard Gazette:

The Menemsha of today presents a curious contrast with the Menemsha that Ralph B. Potter of Cranston, R. I., knew sixty summers ago. But this contrast has not been reached abruptly, as Mr. Potter can well assure you, for he has vacationed at Menemsha for various lengths of time every one of those sixty summers, and has watched the changes come in slowly and irresistibly.

One of Mr. Potter’s most often recalled memories is of the day when he first arrived. He took the steamer from New Bedford and landed at Oak Bluffs. “Then,” he remembers, “I caught a little horse-car that was running between Oak Bluffs and Vineyard Haven. When I reached Vineyard Haven it was about 11 o’clock in the morning. There was a place in town, Bodfish’s blacksmith shop, where the mail stage used to start for up-Island — it used to leave once a day.

“I asked someone there about what time would the stage be leaving, and they told be 5 o’clock that afternoon. Well, I didn’t feel like waiting around Vineyard Haven for six hours, so I asked him to point out the road which lead to Menemsha and started walking.”

Few young men today would venture such a walk so matter-of-factly, especially if they had to carry a ponderous suitcase, but Mr. Potter was eager to reach Menemsha, and he did, too, around 4:30 that afternoon. “I beat the stage,” he said proudly, “and I took the long way around, too. I didn’t know about the North Road, so I walked to West Tisbury and took the Middle Road to the Cross Road and then walked down into Menemsha.”

This was the fist and last time he reached Menemsha this way, however; when he returned in other summers he took the mail stage which he had scorned at first, “bribing” the driver to drop him at Menemsha after stopping at the various post offices along his route. The fare was fifty cents, not including the bribe.

Although Menemsha has changed less, perhaps, than the other towns on the Island, it was radically different when Mr. Potter arrived sixty summers ago. The most obvious difference was in the people themselves. The residents of the village were almost all fishermen or farmers, and often both, and whatever picturesque quality the town had - and has today — was the result of entirely practical intentions.

Tourists were unknown and an oddity. Everyone knew everyone else. If someone saw a strange face it was at least worthy of passing mention. Vineyard Haven and Oak Bluffs were remote settlements; Edgartown was, as Mr. Potter recalls, “in another world.”

He fitted in well with the quiet earnestness of the town, getting to know and like its inhabitants, living in the homes of some, and delighting in the lack of frivolity that youth today considers indispensable. His summer vacations were ones of deep satisfaction, not easily gained thrills.

Often arising at 4 o’clock in the morning, he would accompany the trap fishermen in their long dories, making the trips along much of the northern coast of the Island many times. Or he would pay one of the local boys to row him across the Creek and then he would walk the four miles along the shore to Gay Head. “It seemed like forty even then,” he laughed.

Sometimes he would line-fish from the jetties, which had just arrived, or swim from the beach. He still remembers the ridiculous “bathing costumes” worn by the few ladies who had time to swim: “Stockings, bloomers, skirts, blouses — it’s a wonder they didn’t sink to the bottom!”

All other amusement was centered around a small ice-cream and bakery store and the post office-general store which was built by a young man named Carl Reed and had a sign announcing “Creekville Post Office” over the door.

“Because everyone was so busy during the summer around Menemsha, trying to make enough money with the fish and the crops to last the winter, the beach was virtually ignored,” he remembers.

Just about the only taste of adventure for the village young bloods came in walking to the Chilmark General Store at Beetlebung Corner to watch the stage come in, or to meet some of the Chilmark young girls, for variety. Once a week, in the Town Hall, there would be “Tucker parties,” a variation on the square dance, and the warmth generated by the activity, and the blushes of bashful modesty would be dispelled on the long walks home through the soft, shadowy nights.

Unlike the young people of the rest of Chilmark, the serious youths of Menemsha never chose to fritter away their time with taffy-pulls and musical evenings.

As the years passed, Mr. Potter watched the gradual arrival of the summer colonists, aided by the appearance of macadam roads and the automobile. The first boarding house in Menemsha was run by “Mother” Flanders and some of her guests were so pleased with Menemsha as an out of the way spot that they bought land and built. So it was that the modern Menemsha, where the vacation atmosphere overshadows the practical side, began.

Compiled by Hilary Wall