With Ocean Park on one side and Circuit avenue, Oak Bluffs’ main street, on the other, Kennebec avenue could easily have escaped the attention of visitors a century ago. But Island postcard publishers F.A. Marshall and John N. Chamberlain recognized its appeal.
Kennebec avenue ran from Lake avenue to Samoset avenue, a little more than two blocks. Park avenue divided the street, providing a link between Circuit avenue and Ocean Park.
Two postcards by Marshall and Chamberlain convey the neighborhood feeling of the avenue. The views are similar with two-story frame houses, many with front lawns and trees. The majority of the houses were built in the 1870s and most had been enlarged by the time of the early 20th century postcards. Piazzas were added to front facades and additions were made to the side or the rear of the homes.
A number of Kennebec homeowners rented rooms to summer residents, many of whom worked nearby. Most summer residents came from Massachusetts, others came from Vermont, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and the Midwest. Their occupations varied. In addition to employees of Circuit avenue businesses, there was a steamboat crew member, a theatre manager, a swimming instructor, an electrician and a corset fitter.
Owners of some of Circuit avenue’s most prestigious establishments lived on the street including Carrol J. Darling, a confectioner, Mrs. A.C. Smith, owner of a dry goods shop, James G. Norton of Norton Drug and postcard publisher F.A. Marshall, who also owned the Wigwam block. Carrol J. Darling and eight employees of his candy shop occupied one of the largest boarding houses on Kennebec avenue.
In contrast to the residences, a cluster of three hotels, the Metropolitan, Kenmore and Nashua stood at the intersection of Kennebec and Park avenues. An early Chamberlain sepia-colored postcard highlights the three hotels built in the late 1800s. The Metropolitan, often a dominant feature in Circuit avenue cards, filled the corner of Circuit Park and Kennebec avenues. The Kenmore, “a well-known hotel,” is rarely seen in postcards.
The Nashua, a frequent postcard subject, was originally a residence. Later when it became a hotel the roof was raised and four rooms and a piazza were added. The hotel’s two porches at ground level were enclosed, leaving only the Park avenue side open. Fortunately the decorative shingle work, one of the Nashua’s most appealing aspects, was preserved. Guests could stay in the main building or at one of the inn’s cottages. Total accommodations were for 100 guests.
With the demise of the Oak Bluffs hotel giants, the Metropolitan and the Pawneee, on Circuit avenue, Kennebec avenue underwent dramatic changes. Seemingly endless, large treeless asphalt parking lots replaced 19th century residences, lawns and gardens.
Today Kennebec avenue is predominantly commercial. The group of frame cottages near Samoset avenue gives an idea of the once residential nature of the street. While other 19th century structures remain, they have been greatly modified. Many have been converted to restaurants at the first floor level. The Nashua is the only hotel at the Park avenue intersection that still exists. Fortunately two Oak Bluffs postcard publishers captured the essence of Kennebec avenue as it once was.
Pat Rodgers lives in Edgartown and Boston; she contributes occasional postcard history pieces to the Gazette.