Today Gay Head has been renamed to Aquinnah but for hundreds of years the name was Gay Head. Situated on the Menemsha Pond was a spit of land that during the 19th century looked very different from what it is today. When I was a kid growing up on Martha's Vineyard there were no homes on Lobsterville. However, there were lots of boats buoyed off it's shore. When I was 8 my dad and I would go scalloping in Memensha Pond and we were in the Lobsterville area, many times.
Below are some pictures of Lobsterville when it was a fisherman's shanty area. The article from The Fisheries and Fishery Industries of the United States ©1887 gives a good understanding of the area, and it's history.
Edgartown district includes Martha’s Vineyard, No Man’s Land, and the Elizabeth Islands. Lobster fishing is carried on mainly from Cuttyhunk, No Man’s Land, Lobsterville (Menemsha Bight), and Edgartown, Martha’s Vineyard. This fishery was begun at the Elizabeth Islands as early as 1807. “The fishes are the same as those of the vicinity, but lobsters, which are scarce at Martha’s Vineyard, are caught in great abundance at all the Elizabeth Islands.” ' At present the lobster fishery of the Elizabeth Islands is confined almost exclusively to Outtyhunk, where it is engaged in by the majority of all the fishermen, about thirty in number. The season lasts about four months. The thirty fishermen run six small smacks and twelve open boats, setting from forty to one hundred and twenty traps each, or a total of 2,000 traps. The Outtyhunk Club, a New York association of sportsmen, also handles about one hundred and twenty pots, selling the larger lobsters obtained and using the smaller ones for bait. During the season of 1880 the lobster traps at Outtyhunk averaged about one marketable lobster each per day, or a total of about 230,000 lobsters, by count, for the season. The regular tautog fishermen of Cuttyhunk use about 1,000 pounds of lobsters each for bait during the season.
At No .Man’s Land, in 1880, the lobster fishery was conducted by fifteen men who make that island their headquarters during the fishing season. The catch in that year was small, averaging about 1,000 pounds to each man, and amounting altogether to about 15,000 pounds. From the town of Edgartown only about two hundred traps were set in 1880, yielding a total catch for the season of about 16,600 lobsters. The greater part of the lobster fishery of this district is carried on in the vicinity of Menemsha Bight and Gay Head, at the southwestern extremity of Martha’s Vineyard, and off No Man’s Land, by fishermen hailing from Ohilmark and Tisbury. Lobsterville consists of about fourteen temporary shanties, situated near the western end of Menemsha Bight. Along Menemsha Bight, including this settlement, about sixty lobster fishermen were located in 1880, using forty boats, of which one-half carried two men each and the remainder one man each. An average of forty traps was set by each boat in 1880, making a total of sixteen hundred traps for the region. They were worked in trawls of ten to fifteen traps each. The common form of lath trap is universally employed. The catch for 1880 amounted to about 200,000 lobsters. In ‘ 1879 this fishery was carried on from this locality by a much smaller number of men, with fourteen boats and 560 traps.
The fishing grounds range from the shallow water near shore, in depths of 1 fathom, to depths of 15 to 20 fathoms. The season usually continues four or five months, from May to October, but a few men sometimes begin fishing as early as the middle of March. Flounders, menhaden, dogfisb, and other common fish are used as bait. The average number of marketable lobsters caught to a trap per day varies from one to two. Fifteen lobsters of all sizes to a trap is considered a large catch. Nearly all the lobsters taken in this region are sold to smacks running principally to New York, but also, to some extent, to other smaller markets. About twelve well-smacks of different sizes making weekly trips visit this region during the season, and pay on an average about six cents each for all lobsters above 10% inches long.
After the smacks stop running, which sometimes happens about the 1st of August, the catch is sold mainly at Wood’s Holl at 3% cents per pound. During good seasons the monthly earnings for each man are said to range as high as $50 to $100. In 1880 the average earnings per man for the entire district were about $250 for the season. The following note from Mr. Frank M. Cottle, of West Tisbury, is of interest, as illustrating the rapid growth of the lobster industry in this region: “ Twenty years ago there was but one vessel in the lobster fishery on this coast, or rather in this vicinity; now there are a dozen. Then the business was not considered to be of any value, and but few men entered it at all. Within the past fifteen years, however, it has improved rapidly, and now there are some 60 men or more in this vicinity who depend upon it almost wholly during the season.” That the destruction of lobsters by fish in this district is very great is indicated by the observations of Mr. V. N. Edwards, of Wood's Holl, who, during October and November, 1877, examined the stomachs of hundreds of cod caught about No Man’s Land. Nearly all the fish he examined contained one or more young lobsters, and in many cases the stomachs were almost entirely filled with them.
THE FISHERY IN 1882.—During the summer of 1882, the author made many inquiries of the fishermen regarding the lobster fishery of the Martha’s Vineyard region, including No Man’s Land and the Elizabeth Islands, with the following results:
Lobsters have, from year to year, steadily decreased in size and abundance, in the upper part of Vineyard Sound, while at the same time there has been a proportionate increase in numbers, and the size has remained constant, about Gay Head, No Man’s Land, and Outtyhunk. About one-third of the catch only is under size or less than 10.} inches in length. According to some of the older fishermen of No Man’s Land, 1882 was one of the best lobster years ever ex perienced there. From fifteen to twenty men lobstered during the summer season, setting, on an average, sixty traps each, the greater part of which were arranged in trawls of eight to twenty traps. The catch during this season, from the middle of May to the latter part of September, amounted to about 100,000 marketable lobsters, weighing, on an average, 2Q pounds each. The price paid by the smacks was 8 cents each, making a total season’s stock for the twenty men of $8,000.
In addition to the twenty fishermen living on the island, there were six smacks, owned in New London County, Connecticut, with a combined crew of twenty-four men, which fished in the same region. Their catch, though large, was proportionately less than for the regular fishermen. As fast as they obtained fares. they proceeded to market, generally New York. One market smack, called the Boston Smack, made weekly trips to the island, and carried the catch of the fishermen to New York, at the rate of about 6,000 lobsters each trip. Another smack, the Daboll of New York, made occasional trips, carrying about the same amount of lobsters each time.
In the above reckoning no account has been taken of the fisheries of Menemsha Bight, near Gay Head, and of Cuttyhunk, at both of which places the catch for 1882 was much larger than for 1880. In the upper part of Vineyard Sound, on both the Martha’s Vineyard and Naushon sides, the fishery for 1882 was poor. The Wood’s Holl lobstermen set their traps during only a very short part of the summer, and the greater portion of their catch was under size.
The lobster season at No Man’s Land generally begins about the middle of May and continues until about the 20th of September. About October 1, the fishermen begin to turn their attention to the cod fishery, which lasts until bad weather sets in, and is again taken up in the spring, from April 1 to the middle of May. The lobster pots are set on all sides of the island, but mainly off the north and west sides, where there are numerous rocky patches, at distances of 1% to 2 miles from land, and with depths of 10 to 13 fathoms. Each of the fishermen owns one or two floating cars for the storage of his catch, awaiting shipment. Thirty such cars were in use during 1882, the larger ones having a capacity of 500 to 1,000 lobsters each, but there are others of smaller size. They are tied to stakes just off the shore, in front of the fishing village, and swing with the tide. They are made of two shapes; the smaller ones are generally rectangular, but the larger ones taper at one or both ends, but from the bottom and top, so as to present a rather narrow edge to the tidal currents, or to the waves, in stormy weather. This construction is rendered necessary from the fact that the area in which they are moored is exposed to a heavy sea, during strong easterly winds, and a plain rectangular car would soon be torn to piece& The bait used consists of menhaden, bluefish, flounders, and cod heads. Menhaden are preferred, and, in 1882, cost $8 per thousand.
The fishermen of this region recognize the two varieties of lobsters, called “school” lobsters and “ledge” or “rock” lobsters. The latter, apparently, remain about the island during the entire year, and live only upon the rocks or rocky grounds. The school lobsters appear about July 1, and are gone by the last of September. They are most abundant on smooth bottoms, but also occur among the rocks. Lobsters can, therefore, be caught upon smooth bottoms only during the season for school lobsters.
The boats used are the so-called “Vineyard fishing boats,” having one or two masts. These are moored just off the town, and are reached by means of dories. In case of an approaching storm, or when it is desirable to clean them, these small smacks are hauled upon the beach, which consists of large gravel stones, by means of a team of oxen, kept on the island for that purpose. Ladder-like frames, made in sections, and with the cross-pieces broad and flat, are placed under the boats, or, rather, the latter are hauled over the frames, to keep them from being worn by grinding against the gravel. The boat being brought in as near the shore as possible, one section of the frame, with the cross-pieces downward, is set in front of it, leading up the beach. The boat is then hauled upon it, and another section added, this operation being repeated until the boat has reached the proper height upon the beach, when it is braced from both sides. '
The N o Man’s Land fishermen all belong to Martha’s Vineyard, and live on the former island only during the fishing seasons. There are only two permanent residents on the island.
Summation of the lobster fisheries in Edgartown district in 1880.
Number of fishermen . . . .110
Number of boats . . . . . . 58
Value of same . . . . . $13,800
Number of lobster pots ...4,520
Value of same ............$4,520
Total amount of capital invested in the fishery .........$18,320
Number of barrels of bait used . . . .1,540
Value of same ............$770
Total quantity of lobsters caught and sold, in pounds....773, 100
Value of same to the fishermen .........$28, 347
This first picture was put on Facebook by Lori Robinson Fisher. Her picture dates to 1880's