In our small town we should brook no surprise that once upon a time Oak Bluffs hosted the almost insultingly incongruent New York Yacht Club. The club was built on the corner of Seaview and Ocean Park by the Barnes family who lived there until 1886 when it was remodeled and established as the Oak Bluffs Club. Dancing and music, food and drinks were served at the place that Commodore Vanderbilt, John Jay Astor and Jay Gould were said to have used to entertain. Cornelius Vanderbilt died in 1877, so it may just be hearsay that these industrialists “rocked on its piazza overlooking Vineyard Sound,” as an August 1951 Vineyard Gazette attested.

Each year the New Yorkers sailed into Vineyard Haven Harbor and were feted with receptions, banquets and galas, often attended by neighbors. The club was said to have had an elaborate décor with immense fireplaces, Medusa busts and other mythological carved designs, and an exterior of elaborate shingles. Two cottages had been joined and the elaborate structure featured a wraparound porch facing the water and Ocean Park. The $30,000 renovation — almost twice what it cost to build Union Chapel ($16,000) in 1871 — produced a ramshackle structure with several different roof lines. Eventually a pier was built at Eastville, along with a boathouse. Lake Anthony hadn’t yet been opened to the ocean (that took place around 1900) and it was a walkable distance — and easy to travel by horse or trolley cars.

Despite the fat wallets of the guests however, the club filed for bankruptcy in 1896. In 1903 it was sold at auction to Clofus L. Gonyon who separated it into two houses. Mr. Gonyon was one of the owners of the Highland House Hotel that burned down from arson in 1893, along with John D. Flint and Augustus G. Wesley. (Interestingly, Mr. Wesley, the owner and manager of the Wesley House Hotel, tried to burn it down). Mr. Gonyon moved one of the houses to New York avenue where it still stands. The other one he moved to East Chop Drive where, along Lake Anthony, he had to withdraw a 1902 application to build a pier that his neighbors objected to, probably because they weren’t pleased that the sizeable structure blocked the water view. Ultimately, the house became part of Phidelah Rice’s school and playhouse.

Volunteers are being sought to work as construction captains for the Niantic Park Playground Project. Ten Captains are needed to work alongside the consultants, to oversee and instruct crews, and keep the project fun and safe. Some of the tasks require carpentry skills and others none at all. You must be committed to work all shifts for the five days of the build from Oct. 14 to 18. Hundreds of volunteers are needed. If you’d like to step up, contact Holly Thomas at

Farm Pond’s Jon Suber is again in the news. The Howard University graduate of the MBA class of 2008 was selected as the school of business’ 45th anniversary alumni exemplar. Congratulations.

In the not-so-good news category, we’re losing our superstar librarian Sondra Murphy who is leaving for the public library in Worcester. The lack of reasonable housing again victimizes us and everyone will miss the wonderful work that Sondra has inspired during her service. Her last day is Oct. 16 and there will be several events held to say goodbye to her, beginning with Sundaes for Sondra next Friday from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. All ages are invited.

Stanley Nelson’s new movie, The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution, that played here at the Tabernacle this summer has hit the big time with debuts in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami and San Diego so far. This is Stan’s first wide-release film and he has had several sold out performances, most recently in Chicago where it was shown at the Gene Siskel Film Center and a local AMC Loews theatre. In his 2004 documentary about the African-American community on the Island, A Place of Our Own, Mr. Nelson’s father states that “we didn’t come to Martha’s Vineyard, we came to Oak Bluffs.”

The Nelson family has been coming to Oak Bluffs since the sixties, and still owns the house that stands where the Oak Bluffs Club used to be on Ocean Park.

Panda Bear and I will miss Sondra.

Keep your foot on a rock.

Send Oak Bluffs news to