The Bradley Memorial, the first African American church on the Vineyard, was demolished last week. The building on Masonic avenue loomed over the surrounding houses, a physical reminder that every community holds a million stories and all of them make up a tapestry of human experience.

When I walked through the house a few years ago and stood in the room that had served so many as a church, I felt those million voices talking to me. The building was once used for citizenship classes and English language lessons for Cape Verdean and Azorean immigrants drawn to the Vineyard by the challenges of the whaling trade. It was used for church services conducted by the Rev. Oscar Denniston whose son Dean remembered Sunday services lasting six or seven hours.

If houses have memories, then this house recalled the loneliness and ambition of new immigrants who spoke Portuguese but who mastered English and thrived. It knew the hymns and the lessons from the gospels taught by Reverend Denniston, and it absorbed the triumphs and challenges faced by one of the first year-round African American families on the Vineyard — the Dennistons.

Oscar Denniston came to Martha’s Vineyard from Jamaica in 1900 at the request of the Rev. Madison Edwards. At the time, Reverend Edwards was minister of the Seamen’s Bethel in Vineyard Haven. Oscar Denniston became a leader of the community of color here on the Vineyard, then numbering around 175 people. He served as pastor of the Bradley Memorial Church until 1946, and at one point ran for the school committee in Oak Bluffs. He was referred to by William Monroe Trotter in the Boston Guardian in 1933 as the “well beloved pastor of the Bradley Memorial Church.” The late Milton Jeffers recalled that Oscar Denniston was “a very nice man, very tall and a wonderful preacher.” Photographs of the church and its congregation show that church attendance was taken seriously with each girl wearing a white dress and hair ribbons and each boy wearing a suit and tie. It’s interesting to think of how much of the history of the Oak Bluffs community was contained in the very walls of this building.

History is all our stories, and this house stood sentry on Masonic avenue giving context to all we know about what happened there. How many of those solemn children in the photographs of the Reverend Denniston’s congregation filled the house and the garden with the sounds of play during their short break from services? How many of those new immigrants brought their books to learn their rights and obligations as citizens and stared in hard concentration at the intricacies of the English language? Without the house, where do the stories fit?

Recently there has been much attention paid nationally to who is memorialized and the power of memory. One person’s heroic statue is another person’s daily reminder of fear and oppression, and so where do we go from there? How do we decide what deserves to be remembered and preserved and what does not? The Bradley Memorial was ultimately abandoned and stood in a decaying, lonely state for the past several years, but was it worth saving?

Yes it was. In losing the Bradley, we lose a vital link with the history of the 20th century, on the national stage and here on the Island. What is gone cannot be replaced and the comforting presence of this historic building, speaking as it did to ambition and love for community, will be greatly missed by all who know history and value its stories.

Elaine Cawley Weintraub lives in West Tisbury.