From the Nov. 7, 1969 edition of the Vineyard Gazette:

As recently as a quarter of a century ago and long back in time before that, every Vineyarder knew Gifford’s Store, in West Tisbury, where George G. Gifford dealt, as his billhead informed his customers, in groceries, flour and grain, tea, coffee and spices, choice butter and the usual variety of a first class store.

It was under the linden tree just above the Mill Pond, and on hot summer afternoons, there was no more refreshing treat than a dish of lemon ice cream, hand-cranked by George Jr., and Flavel and Willis Gifford, according to their mother’s recipe. You ate it in the Store’s little ice cream parlor annex, in clear glass dishes that frosted snowily from the cold.

Or on blowy, wet winter evenings, when the coals in the pot-bellied stove glowed red, it was the place for the pond people — those who fished and seined in the Island’s great ponds — to pick up the news of the day and the village, play a furious game of checkers, and chew on a plug of freshcut tobacco.

George Gifford followed his uncle, William Rotch, into the grocery business, and kept it up until World War II. By then, he had been a grocer more than 50 years, and West Tisbury town clerk longer than that. He had played in the Vineyard Haven band two-thirds of his life, and helped run the Grange and the Congregational Church Sunday School. It seemed about time to take it easy, so he closed up the store one day.

Mr. Gifford died in 1956, and his son, Willis, inherited the store and the ice cream parlor, but he lived off-Island, where he taught in Trumbull, Conn., so he had only the summers to spend on the Vineyard, and Gifford’s Store and all its stock stayed pretty much intact until last summer.

Now Willis Gifford is retired, and there’s been all sorts of activity again at Gifford’s emporium. The work has been feverish, with more than a century’s worth of goods in dusty boxes on dusty high shelves to sift through.

It’s been a time filled with reminiscences as the boxes of calico buttons (speckled to go with the calico), pre-Civil War high-button shoes, wooden ice skates of the Hans Brinker variety, egret feathers for ladies’ hats, shawl pins with shiny jet heads, and watch keys for pocket watches have been unpacked.

Most of the time, the Gifford boys walked to high school in Vineyard Haven — about a two-hour hike, but when there was a shipment of something coming in on the boat, and the family car was out of order, they would take the horse in, stable him for the day, and pick him and the goods up after school.

“It might be empty egg cases I’d be carrying — 50 or 100 of them at a time, about the size of orange crates. You had to have a special pattern for piling them on the wagon so they wouldn’t wiggle-waggle, for the only place you could sit was on top of them unless you wanted to ride the horse.”

In their cleaning out, the Giffords have found a number of brand new appurtenances for horses - nets to keep the flies off, hanes (the apparatus onto which the traces are fastened) and a pair of russet reins.

The Giffords have found parasols and tall silk hats, a sealskin cape brought back from the Arctic by Mr. Gifford’s aunt, Adelaide Mayhew Cottle, said to have sailed farther north than any woman of her day with her husband, Capt. Stephen F. Cottle.

When that time comes, there may be a little of Dr. A. C. Daniel’s Famous Veterinary Horse Medicine - a Home Treatment for Horses and Cattle - for sale. And there will probably be Providence Sunday fans, frizzled crepe paper in carnival colors made into fans for festive occasions. There will be vegetable oil and tar soap that “heals, cleanses and softens the skin” and some Cameo Antiseptic Washing Compound, knitting needles and kerosene lamps, fishhooks and sinkers of all sizes and shapes, old scrubbing boards and children’s skates, shoe pegs and boot jacks for putting on boots.

The tree in the front of the store — the giant linden — was known, according to Mr. Gifford, as the coolest spot in the village. It was under it that the wagons of cranberries and codfish would pull up coming from up-Island with their goods for the Gifford store.

Rummaging around among candles from the vessel, Port Hunter, sunk off the Vineyard in 1918, among pickle strainers and tobacco cutters and peck measures for flour and sugar, among rusted rakes and scythes and stuck-together oilskins is an occupation the Giffords are needless to say, finding time-consuming.

But Mrs. Gifford has great hopes for that “someday” when the clutter — fascinating as it is — will be gone, and the 20-foot long wooden counter over which William Rotch and George Gifford sold butter and cheese and oarlocks and fishing gear for more than a century, will be a cutting table in her modern kitchen. She admits there is something sad in it, but at least the buildings of Gifford’s Store will stand, there by West Tisbury’s down-Island crossroads, under the great linden tree.

Compiled by Hilary Wall