Tuesday morning, Tisbury selectman Denys Wortman surveyed the old Tashmoo pumping station with his hands on his hips.
The place smelled like a damp basement, with dank cement and fresh cut plywood. Each step was accompanied with the tiny crunch of dirt and concrete pebbles. The ceiling was patchy. Flies orbited a hanging light fixture as the morning rays intruded through the broken window panes. White plaster flaked off the brick walls and a green mold seemed to have grown from the floor.
But it was as if Mr. Wortman was looking at a different room. He spoke with an air of fantasy, somewhere between a kid verbalising the blueprint of his next treefort and a couple considering the future of their fixer-upper.
He pointed to the wall at the right: “We could have the handicapped access come through there.”
He moved his hands to indicate the area around his feet: “Maybe here the floor would be raised.”
He opened a door to show a dark indoor pond clear enough to see the bottom.
“I don’t want to lose this,” he said of the water room. “I think it makes it very unique. We could cover it with glass.”
This was, he agreed, the ultimate fixer-upper: a steam-powered pump station built in 1887, closed in the 1970s and left vacant for the next 30 years. Mr. Wortman knew the interior was bleak, but he grinned with pride.
“It looks really good right now, compared to what it did,” he said. He responded to the look of amazement with a nod. “Oh yeah.”
A year after the Tashmoo Spring building preservation committee began its restoration efforts, the former site of the Tashmoo Water Works is stable and indeed better than before.
The ivy and vegetation that blanketed the station four years ago has been cleared.
The 50-foot chimney, once the frequent subject of complaints to the town and letters to the editor, is no longer in danger of crumbling. Its loose bricks have been replaced and their cracks filled with fresh mortar.
The roof is a shiny new black, a stark contrast to the old bricks it sits opon.
The next to be fixed are the windows and doors, which are still in disrepair.
And while Mr. Wortman, a member of the committee, likes to imagine the future possibilities for the site, it has yet to be determined how the buidling will be used. Public hearings will be held to discuss the matter. Ideas range from a museum of the water works’ history to an aquarium. Other ideas include interactive exhibits of marine science, nautical history or the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinah), a summer theatre campsite or an office for a nonprofit group.
“We’re open to any and all creative ideas,” Mr. Wortman said.
Funding for the project has come from emergency funds from Vineyard Haven, grants provided through the community preservation act and donations.
Mr. Wortman wants to have the exterior finished by winter and the buidling ready for the public by next Memorial Day. He’d like to have a party when it’s all done, or have the grand opening coincide with the Tashmoo picnic.
Past efforts to save the pumping station have failed. Calls for its preservation date back to 1976 and have grown more desperate in recent years. Many agree that had it been lost, so would a piece of the Vineyard’s history.
The beautiful Tashmoo springs were always known on the Vineyard for their pure sweet water. According to a 1932 article in the Gazette, owners of livestock would pay for the privelage of pasturing their animals in the surrounding land so “that they might drink the waters and gain in condition.”
In the 1800s, entrepeneurs failed repeatedly at selling summer residencies on West Chop, some thought because of the lack of running water. In response, H.A. Castello and O.G. Stanley, pioneers of their time, raised funds and built the pumping station, bringing pure water to the village of Vineyard Haven and out to West Chop.
When the station opened in December 1887, the villagers held a lavish celebration. Hydrants were opened and shot water into the air to demonstrate their abilities at fighting fire. Politicians from the mainland gave speeches and toasts.
A Gazette story the following day stated, “It was pleasant for the boys to know that they have not got to take the old oaken bucket any more with the direful results which happened to Jack and Jill.”
Toasts were to “Tashmoo spring water, pure, clear and plentious.” And there was even a song: The Water That’s from the Tashmoo.”
The town of Tisbury purchased the system in 1905 for about $100,000.
The station went out of use in the 1970s when laws forbade municipalities from using surface water.
“And I think they just walked out one day, locked the door and that was it,” Mr. Wortman said. “Nothing has happened for 30 years. Until now.”
Tastes of Tashmoo, a fund-raiser to benefit the Tashmoo Spring Building Preservation Fund, is set for July 17, 5:30 to 8 p.m. at a waterfront home in Hines Point with silent auction, live music, raw bar with freshly dug Island clams and tastings from Island farms, restaurants, caterers, wine shops and brew pubs. Tickets are between $50 to $100-plus depending upon sponsorship level.