From the July 18, 1958 edition of the Vineyard Gazette:

Traveling down the spur lines of history can be pleasant and exciting for anybody with gumption, but it is seldom that that particular brand of gumption is lodged in a 12-year-old boy, as it is in Peter Hall, the son of Mr. and Mrs. David Hall of Wilton, Conn. Peter has a historical track virtually his own, if you’ll pardon a belabored metaphor. His special interest is in the old time trolley cars in particular and electric railways in general.

Peter, with his friend Peter Novak, with whose family he is staying in Chilmark, came into the Gazette office last week and asked with a professional researcher’s aplomb to see the “morgue” envelope on the old Vineyard trolleys. If the editors had been present, he certainly would not have been greeted by the blank looks and dropped jaws of the other members of the staff, who attempted to cover their dearth of historical knowledge by suggesting that he must really want to know about the old, but much more famous, Martha’s Vineyard Railroad that once sent steam engines puffing between the Oak Bluffs wharf and Katama.

But Peter was politely adamant, so the morgue was examined and, sure enough, there emerged an envelope, glued closed and brown with age, but containing clippings and references to old Gazettes about the Martha’s Vineyard Street Railway trolley line that ran from the Oak Bluffs wharf to Vineyard Haven during those mauve years just before and just after the turn of the century.

There followed one of the golden moments when a researcher finds what he is looking for.

Peter, who had always been interested in railroads, got started on the more particular branch of his hobby in Copenhagen, Denmark, where his family lived for nearly a year while his father was teaching in a university there. “Copenhagen has one of the biggest street car systems in the world,” Peter said by way of explanation. And one day he took his camera and went to visit one of the several street car repair shops.

“And pretty soon I had taken pictures at every barn in Copenhagen.”

The photographs Peter took and other information he gathered went into a large scrapbook. In one of the car barns, he made friends with a man whose job it was to tear apart the older, obsolete cars, and Peter himself assisted in the dismantling of the ticket box in one of the old cars that had recently been retired from service. In it, he was delighted to find ticket stubs dating all the way back to the days when the same car had been drawn by a horse.

When his family returned to this country, Peter had occasion to make a thorough study of the trolley system of Boston (“Boston has a good system, too”), found that doors were thrown open for him after he had paid a visit to the “top man” to explain his mission, and took photographs on every different kind of trolley.

Then, on the train coming to the Vineyard, he was talking to a friend about his favorite subject, when he happened to be overheard by a man who was formerly connected with the Curio Shop in Oak Bluffs. Introducing himself, this gentleman suggested that Peter go to the Curio Shop and ask for “postcard number 33,” a designation that sounds rather like a clue in a detective novel to an outsider, but it was not so to Peter.

The postcard turned out to be a very old one showing an 1898 Vineyard trolley car. “And it cost only a nickel,” Peter said, still somewhat amazed. “It’s really funny what it shows,” he added, mentioning a huge building in the background of the photograph marked by a sign reading Dreamland. Peter has found out that Dreamland, in spite of the grand romance of its name, never got beyond the point of being a garage.

But before the discovery of the postcard, Peter had supposed that the Vineyard did at one time boast a trolley car system, because he has found that such things were almost an essential part of the life of resort areas at the turn of the century, and his supposition was correct.

The postcard, though, led to the summertime pursuit. Peter has already visited the Dukes County Historical Society and from Henry Franklin Norton, the curator, has found out about the routes the old line used to take, as well as other points of information, including the fact that passengers on the trolleys used to have to get out and cross the Lagoon bridge on foot because it was not considered strong enough to stand the load all at once.

And now he has come to the Gazette, to look through old clippings and the old bound copies, taking notes all along the way. Before the summer is over, he should have a compendium of information on the old Vineyard trolleys that will be of interest to Vineyard antiquarians, as well as another chapter in the larger body of Peter’s hobby.

After the summer, what? Well, Peter’s home state of Connecticut boasts a number of street car museums, which he has not even begun to explore yet.

Compiled by Hilary Wallcox