From the Feb. 5, 1954 edition of the Vineyard Gazette:

Manuel Swartz Roberts’ famous boatbuilding shop, on Dock street, Edgartown, is in the process of being sold to the Martha’s Vineyard Art Association for $15,000. Present at the signing of the agreement of sale were Virginia Berresford, vice president of the association, and Mrs. John A. Vietor, a director.

When the organization eventually assumes occupancy of the building, which so many of its member artists have used as a subject throughout the years, there are only a few alterations of a major nature to be made to the structure. Miss Berresford said that other than the replacement of some of the exterior shingling, about the only important things remaining to be done are the building of an inside staircase to the second floor and the installation of toilet facilities.

The building now to change owners is one of the most famous pieces of real estate on Martha’s Vineyard. It has stood virtually unchanged since 1913, or thereabouts, when Manuel — to call him by any more formal name in connection with his shop would be practically sacrilege — built on the imposing tower. He referred to this part of the structure yesterday as a cupola, and recalled for the sake of the new generation and of posterity that he had built it as a place storage for sails and gear.

In the old, old days, the corner where the shop stands was the site of Dr. Daniel Fisher’s oil factory. The present building was then a sail loft and stood on the wharf itself. All the wharves in the old days had their sail lofts, Manuel recalled, and only two are left, one which has become the fish market on the yacht club wharf, and his own.

Manuel estimates that the shop building is 200 years old. Dr. Fisher had moved it to the present location when he was engaging in the grain business. At first the Island-grown grain was ground at the Fisher mill near North road and trucked down across the plains on what was known as the Dr. Fisher Road. The building was used as a grain store, and this was also a shipping point for the ground product on vessels that came from the purpose.

After the death of Dr. Fisher, David Barney ran the store until he also died, and either he or Tom Norton, who came in later, put in machinery for grinding flour and meal. The entire property which then included more land than at present, passed to the Norton brothers and Charles Pease, each taking half. Charles Pease took down the candle works which had been operated by Dr. Fisher and used the lumber to build a barn at Tom’s Neck Farm on Chappaquiddick.

The shop was on the part that the Norton Brothers took, and another change occurred when Tom Norton died of a heart attack when he was gunning at Ocean Heights. Lorenzo Fisher, who had clerked for him, took over the grain store and ran it for a short while. Then the place was closed until it passed to another Charles Pease — Charles Worthington Pease — and Charles Vincent. The wharf was bought from the Fisher interests by the steamboat company in 1889.

Manuel’s first association with the property was when he had a shop in back of the property, and recalls that he paid $5 a year rent. About 1904 Manuel bought his present shop and added a piece at the rear.

Meantime Manuel had been in various phases of the building business for quite a period. He worked first with Moses S. Vincent, a famous contractor of old times in Edgartown, and then for William G. Manter and Norman Johnson who were in business as Manter & Johnson. Manuel recalls that when the firm began paying him a journeyman’s wage, he said he was through with house-building and would try something else. The something else was boat building, and he went in with William W. King whose shop was on the shore below Tower Hill. For two or three years Manuel worked both for Mr. King and in his own shop, and finally Mr. King went out of business following the tragic death of his brother who was killed by a horse-drawn windlass while hauling out a boat. The rest is history, and plenty of it. During his earlier house-building days, Manuel recalls working on the Bancroft C. Davis home, now owned by the William B. Dinsmores; on the Harbor View Annex, the J. W. French, Clapp, and Hill houses at Starbuck’s Neck, and many others. As to the boats he has built, they are legion and they keep turning up everywhere as the years pass.

“I’ve been building boats for fifty-three years,” Manuel said yesterday, “but I’ve run out.”

“Run out of lumber,” someone suggested.

“More than that,” said Manuel. “You can always buy more lumber.”

Peering down from a wall of the famous old shop is an autographed photograph of the actress of two generations ago, Marie Burroughs, once a summer resident of Tower Hill. She used to sit in a hammock in the corner of the King shop, watching Bill King and Manuel build boats; and now, through the picture she still looks on — but there won’t be any more boats. So Manuel says.

Compiled by Hilary Wall