From the April 24, 1981 edition of the Vineyard Gazette:

For 33 years the SS Martha’s Vineyard carried people and cars across Nantucket Sound, and now it is possible that she may steam on Nantucket Sound again.

The steamship preservation group Friends of Nobska is currently negotiating to acquire the 58-year-old Martha’s Vineyard, the oldest surviving boat to serve regularly between the mainland and the Islands. Her co-owner, the Bridgeport-Port Jefferson Steamboat Co., would like to find or build a new ship to sail on the Martha’s Vineyard’s summer route on Long Island Sound.

The Friends of Nobska (FON) is a nonprofit, 800-member group tied closely to Cape Cod, the Vineyard and Nantucket. They have worked for six years to bring back the SS Nobska, the Martha’s Vineyard’s younger sister ship, from her Baltimore berth where work continues to convert the Nobska to a floating restaurant.

News of the FON-Bridgeport talks came to the Gazette this week from Robert C. Cleasby, the Friends’ president.

The aging, 202-foot Martha’s Vineyard was built in 1923 by the New England Steamship Co. and served the Islands steadily until 1956. She and her three sister ships sported a towering funnel, a pointed bow, side-loading doors, multiple covered and open decks, and staterooms. Now the Martha’s Vineyard is powered by a diesel engine.

Mr. Cleasby said the vessel’s owners may decide to donate the Martha’s Vineyard to the Friends of Nobska, and that lawyers for the Friends have provided them with information about donating the ship.

Until Bridgeport is ready to relinquish the Martha’s Vineyard, the Friends are moving several plans forward.

They want the Martha’s Vineyard to become an active passenger steamship again. One million dollars is the current estimate to convert and rejuvenate the ship.

Mr. Cleasby said the Friends had not talked with any Island boat company, including the Steamship Authority, about chartering the Martha’s Vineyard. The authority was interested in buying back the Nobska in 1978 for possible use as a summer passenger ship.

Other possibilities for the Martha’s Vineyard’s future use is a movable or shoreside museum, Mr. Cleasby said.

The Martha’s Vineyard’s present status as an active ship will lessen problems in documenting and licensing her, and consideration will be given to putting her on the National Register of Historic Places as is the Nobska, Mr. Cleasby said. Before moves are made to change the boat’s category on paper, the Friends will consult Bridgeport, he said.

The Martha’s Vineyard was given the name Islander at her Bath River, Me. launching in 1923, but she was never christened because President Harding had died nine days earlier.

The Islander’s hull widened spaciously amidships to give ample room to automobiles, unimportant to the Islands until the 1920s. She carried smoking rooms and lunch counters aft of her main freight deck. Broad, wooden stairways brought 1,000 passengers up to a beam-to-beam lounge and two rows of staterooms.

Shortly after her arrival in 1924, the Islander’s older cousin, a prototype named Sankaty, burned in New Bedford. Desperate, the New England Steamship Co., owner of the Island steamers, hauled out the Islander’s plans and built a twin sister. The new boat sped to New Bedford in 1925, foregoing sea trials. Unchristened out of respect for her older sister, she was named Nobska.

The New Bedford was launched in 1928 and the queen of the white fleet, the Naushon, arrived in 1929. The Islander and Nobska took homier names: Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.

Through the 1930s these sources of pride bucked up a depressed economy and gave hope for a better future. World War II robbed the Islands of the New Bedford and Naushon. After overseas duty they served elsewhere on the East Coast, but now the New Bedford is decaying on Staten Island and the Naushon has been scrapped.

The new Steamship Authority remodeled the Nantucket in 1950 and gave the name Nobska back to her. They left the Martha’s Vineyard alone. But the Nobska is better remembered because she served 10 years longer than the Martha’s Vineyard did.

The Martha’s Vineyard was 33 when the diesel truck and ferry edged her aside. Keeping the Nobska, the authority replaced the Martha’s Vineyard with a new double ender, the Islander, still in service today.

Laid up in 1956, the Martha’s Vineyard was sold in 1959 to Joseph T. Gelinas, a Hyannis freight operator. He replaced her steam drive with a diesel powered electric engine transplanted from a World War II submarine.

The boat briefly served as a passenger ship from Hyannis to Nantucket, the Boston to Provincetown. The Bridgepoert-Port Jefferson Steamboat Co. bought the Martha’s Vineyard in 1969 for the Long Island run.

Compiled by Hilary Wallcox