From the June 22, 1956 edition of the Vineyard Gazette:

Everyone who knows the up-Island region of the Vineyard knows Middle Mark, the literal “house by the side of the road.” Few realize that this place was a landmark and much more than that for many a year.

Probably no one knows exactly when the house was built. The original owner, Fred A. Mayhew, was occupying the place with his wife seventy-six years ago. But they were not newly married even then, and the house may well be between eighty and ninety years old.

It was not a farmhouse then, nor ever was, but it was the only town office the town of Chilmark had for many years, and it was the informal and unauthorized office for half the stores in New Bedford, all this arising out of the fact that Fed Mayhew drove the mail stage to Vineyard Haven, and in summer to Cottage City as well, and that for many years he was the town clerk. It was also due to the location of the old Chilmark town hall, far down Middle Road, and the absence of anything resembling an office in that ancient structure.

The mail stage, carrying passengers and baggage, was a high wheeled, three seated vehicle, open on the sides in summer except for curtains which could be lowered in case of rain, but roofed over. In winter the stage was a huge wooden box, with doors and windows on the sides, which provided shelter of a sort for passengers and driver within its clattering, grinding and drafty interior.

For many years the trip started from this house, at 4 o’clock in the morning, rain or shine, hot or cold, and the span of horses which drew it was expected to make the early boat from Vineyard Haven, with the mail and passengers, if any, which it did with unfailing regularity.

Stopping at the post offices on the way, West Tisbury and North Tisbury, it made the trip and returned at night after resting the horses through the day in Vineyard Haven or Oak Bluffs.

At night, particularly on a winter night, this ride up-Island was anything but pleasant. Much of the road was of dirt, rutty, rough and with many hills up which the horses had to climb wearily. It was cold in the stage, and if there were many passengers there was also baggage, for only trunks and large bundles went on the outside rack. There were also the mail sacks and express packages, plus bundles of all descriptions, for in that time the stage driver not only handled those items shipped by mail and express, he went shopping for all and sundry through the day, bringing back the purchases for delivery at night.

Bringing them back meant coming to Middle Mark with the stage and sending the mail on to the Menemsha post office in a smaller, lighter conveyance.

Such was the status of the place, somewhat of a post office, mail order office, and even a waiting station, in those years before there were automobiles, before there were telephones.

Fred Mayhew was the town clerk, issuing licenses, dog and marriage, keeping the town books and performing various other services as justice of the peace. His wife was a sworn assistant, and handled these matters in his absence and their only office was a golden oak “secretary,” topped by glassed-in bookshelves, which stood in the dining room. Here the wills were witnessed and sworn to, the affidavits taken and sealed or marked with the official “S.S,” which is still acceptable in law under certain circumstances. But there was more to it than that.

The Mayhews owned the most elaborate woodshed in the township. It is a part of the house today, but in that time it was entirely separate, and was reached by a board walk, well made and kept in good repair.

The point is that the town clerk, having charge of the town books and documents, probably also some cash, the town had a safe, large, modern for the time, and probably as fine as many another, but no place to put it. Whereupon the town clerk offered floor space in his woodshed, and the safe was installed there.

Moreover, as he had free access to the safe at any and all times, and safes were few and far between about the Island, the Chilmark people brought their bankbooks and valuable papers and asked to have them kept in the town safe, and it was done, the volume of safe deposit business transacted in that woodshed being considerable at times. And it was because the town books were kept here that the selectmen held their meetings in this woodshed.

A time will come when there will be no one who remembers any of these things; when Middle Mark will have lost its identity with the Island that used to be. It will not be important if the name of the Mayhews is forgotten in connection with the house, or the names of the many people who used to come to this place on their various errands. But as a landmark which was once an important institution, the place posses history and it would be a pity if no part of this history should survive the passage of the generations.

Compiled by Hilary Wallcox