Thursday, September 29, 2016

Martha's Vineyard 1875 History thru a Diary

I grew up on Martha's Vineyard and this past friday I had a great visit with two gals and their spouses who graduated high school with me. While in high school I took an Island History course offered by Mr. Sherman Hoar. This class is one of those pivotal classes one takes when they are younger. A girlfriend and I decided to work on a project together. Martha Sprague and I went to the Historical society and decided on the project of transcribing an unknown diary and trying to identify the owner. In the end we selected Henry Manter and it was his younger brother Ellis who actually wrote the diary. Thankfully, Martha and I received an A for the project and thus an A for the course. It was a long process but it also ignited in me the desire to do research and even historical research.

Below are a list of some of the things I learned from this high school project.

Vineyard Haven harbor on Feb. 10, 1875 completely frozen in with ice.
As a result several vessels were frozen in.

The ice was so thick that year they could walk from Vineyard Haven to Cape Cod. It's a 7 mile ferry ride to the Vineyard, 3 mile walk the way the crow flies.

Ellis at one time wrote that 'He went walking with Ellis tonight." This is the phrase that stumped Martha and I. It turns out it was an expression often used in the 19th century to say they were alone.

On June 25th 1875 Ellis wrote "The cars are running three trips daily between Edgartown and Oak Bluffs." This refers to the railroad that was once on the Vineyard. When I was in grade school you could see the remains of the tracks of the train or trolley that went around the circle of the Methodist Camp Grounds in Oak Bluffs. They've been removed now.

August 21 1875 Illumination Night at the Methodist Camp Grounds. Residents hung Chinese lanterns on their cottages. When I was younger the Tabernacle at the center of the Campground had lots of wires strung out from it to the trees and other posts. At the beginning of Illumination Night each child would stand at a lantern on the ground. When the signal rang we were allowed to light the lanterns and our parents would hang them on the strings above. This went on for years and I have no idea how many years prior to my knowledge that this event happened. Today, it is not practiced. Today many of the lanterns are electric. They are still delightful to see but something is missing.

Ellis's last post was on Dec. 31, 1875 "Went to "Watch meeting" in Methodist Church, watched the old year out and the new year in.

Martha and I did this project in the fall of 1971. In May of 1972 the Duke's County Historical Society published excerpts of the diary and told of our school project. Six years ago when I was able to return to Martha's Vineyard and attend my 30th high school reunion, I returned to the Historical Society to do some research on the Island's railroad and the sinking of the Port Hunter, our project is still their filed away for anyone who would like to read the diary. The Historical Society is much larger now. And I'd love to spend more time in the Society researching some of the Island's past. Perhaps, one day I'll get the chance.

The most important thing I learned from this class project was that I loved history and I love the detective work in researching the past. Today I do that while researching a novel, working on genealogy and just for the fun of learning something new. I hope you've enjoyed my stroll down memory lane.

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