From the Feb. 26, 1932 edition of the Gazette:

In front of the door of the Atlantic and Pacific store in Lane’s Block, Vineyard Haven, there is a man-hole cover, fitted into the concrete paving of the sidewalk. Many persons have believed it to be the cover of a coal-hole, until last week, when it was removed and filled with rocks, when younger residents discovered that it was an old well, which fact was well-known to older people who recall conditions before the town possessed its water system. Inquiry revealed that this well once stood besides the porch of the home of Capt. Charles Smith, grandfather of Charles H. Brown of Vineyard Haven, and that it was probably constructed by him in the neighborhood of eighty years ago.

While it is impossible to state this as a definite fact, the well is said to be walled through its twenty-five feet of depth with circular bricks which were burned at the old brickyard on Roaring Brook, Chilmark. Captain Smith and his partner, Thomas Borrows, started in business at the brickyard in 1849, and the walling of the well was done shortly after, indicating that it may have been newly dug at that time.

The entire property, now occupied by Lane’s Block, was included in the Smith estate, and the house stood facing Union, or what was then known as Wharf street. The well was beside the porch which extended to the north, and was some ten feet from the line of the existing street.

There were, at that time, two other wells in the nearby vicinity on Main street, and by custom these wells were generally regarded as public property, all nearby residents coming to them and taking water when they wishes. The Smith well was surrounded by an open curbing, over which was erected a gallows-like arrangement, supporting an iron gin-wheel or pulley and rope for hoisting the water.

It is not evident that the owners of such wells offered any serious objection to sharing the water with their neighbors, but there were certain other factors that entered into the matter which eventually caused Captain Smith to make it known that he regarded his well as his own private property, and that he did not maintain it for public use. Certain disorderly persons then took it upon themselves to annoy the well-owner by throwing refuse into the well, and it was finally covered over and another well driven inside of the house.

Since that time the well has remained covered, and the widening of the street on two occasions has brought it so close to the property line that the cover is now on the sidewalk.

In connection with this well and its owner, the street up which his home fronted gained its original name from one of his achievements, the constructing of the wharf at its foot. The present wharf, now used as a steamboat landing, was originally built on the same site one hundred years ago this spring, by Captain Smith. It was the second spile wharf to be built on the Island and the first one of sufficient size to accommodate commercial vessels. Previous to that time it had not been believed that spile wharves would stand the stress and strain of moored ships and they were commonly constructed as moles with stone retraining walls filled with rocks and earth and with wooden chafing spiles on the outside. But this wharf proved successful and has been maintained ever since.

In the captain’s time, and for many years after, the town pump stood at what is now the intersection of Union and Water streets, near the head of the wharf, which is probably one reasons why the captain closed his own well to the public.

Situated almost in the middle of the present street, the town pump was connected to wooden troughs, through which water could be pumped aboard the ships that laid at the wharf. There are still several residents of the town who can recall this scene, with the town scales opposite the pump, where outgoing cargoes were weighed before loading.

The canal through the South Beach from Katama Bay to the Atlantic, is well along toward completion. The cut progressed until Tuesday when operations were suspended pending lower tides and other favorable circumstances. The ocean end will be kept protected by a barrier until the final stage.

The combination of pleasant weather and holiday brought more sightseers and visitors than any other day. Among the visitors at the beach last week was Captain Horace O. Hillman, who took a shovel and demonstrated how the hardy up-Islanders shoveled clay in the old days. Good humor and hard work have marked the digging of the ditch, heartened from time to time by music. With Willard Tilton leading some well known and popular ditty, the sand has risen as no sand ever rose before hereabouts. It is freely stated that the Edgartown sewer gang chorus, so named by some of the members, can outsing any other choristers including the well known Volga boatmen by a considerable margin. Besides, the Volga boatmen can’t shovel.

Compiled by Hilary Wallcox