Following establishment of the Methodist Camp Ground in 1835, the speculation of Martha’s Vineyard knew no bounds. Our 7.5 square mile town is about 4,500 acres. Development began in earnest in 1866, and by 1873 there were 1,308 acres available for sale in Oak Bluffs; 400 in Ocean Heights and Englewood; 300 in Lagoon Heights and Grovedale; 225 in the Vineyard Highlands; 165 acres in Bellevue Heights; 120 in Oak Bluffs; 20 in Wesleyan Grove; 20 in Forest Hill; 15 in Oak Grove another 15 in Sea View Hill; 12 in Central Place; 10 in Sunset Heights; and 6 in Bay View. Hindsight, always the arbiter, illustrates why only that of the Land and Wharf Company met the test of time.

It’s unknown how Ichabod Norton Luce’s cousin Tarleton Cadwallader Luce gained his fortune, but his sale of part of the Vineyard Highlands to the Vineyard Grove Company in 1869 certainly added to it. He acquired a substantial portion of Eastville from Shubael L. Norton—where Ichabod and his neighbor Ebenezer Lamson owned two of the few homes.

By time Ichabod and Tarleton joined the new Dukes County Savings Bank in 1872, Tarleton Luce had struck out on his own to develop Bellevue Heights, a 921 plot parcel of land that bordered (and extended beyond) Eastville avenue, Towanticut and about half of the Highlands around Crystal Lake and along Temahigan. The appealing map and plan dated June 22, 1872 no doubt helped sales. Nine lots were sold for $2,000 in a single week. Luce and others continued the buying and selling spree with ever more growing returns. That didn’t last, though.

Unnoticed by Island developers, investors and lenders, from 1866 to 1873 America had built 35,000 miles of railroad track. This construction was largely provided by the banking firm of Jay Cooke and Company, the government’s chief financier of the Union Army in the Civil War. On Sept. 18, 1873, recognizing it was overextended, the Cooke Company declared bankruptcy. This precipitated the panic of 1873 when many other banks and industries did the same. Close to 90 of the nation’s 364 railroads collapsed, 18,000 businesses failed, and by 1876 unemployment had risen to 14 per cent.

Demand dropped for second homes and Tarleton Luce lost $60,000 and filed for bankruptcy in Feb. 1874. Over time, however, the developers were proven correct, but only after losing substantial sums of money. Oak Bluffs became the summer resort we know today, but it took most of the 20th century to get here. It’ll be interesting to see what happens next.

The Oak Bluffs planning board hosts another housing production plan workshop next Wednesday, Nov. 16 in the Oak Bluffs School cafeteria at 7 p.m. They plan to review a draft vision statement based on community input from the September workshop, develop goals to achieve the vision and start designing strategies. There is more information available at Because we must need more homes. One wonders if it is the Island—or its second smallest town that needs more affordable housing.

Martha’s Vineyard Community Services’ Island Counseling Center holds its Ripple Group series for adult family members of addicts on Thursdays through Dec. 8 from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at the Island Counseling Center, 111 Edgartown Road in Oak Bluffs. Contact Jaime Schwab at 508-693-7900, ext. 375 or

Daylight Saving Time is now upon us. Joining those cursing the early darkness was a long ago Vineyard Gazette correspondent who wrote: “Here for three quarters of the year the abomination of desolation — the stillness of almost utter abandonment — prevails, and the few scattered laborers hurry along the avenues looking askance, as though the long lines of deserted tenements were so many platoons of ghosts.”

That’s a left-handed summation of autumn in Oak Bluffs — and a good thing sunshiny, bright, crystal clear days compensate for it.

I won’t miss the unattractive “vote for” signs that convinced no one to do either.

Keep your foot on a rock.

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