From a 1958 essay by Onslow Robinson:
Where was the Oyster Shell Road? What part of Vineyard Haven was known as Down the Neck? And did you ever hear of the Pine Tree Club?
In the early 1900s Down the Neck was that part of the West Chop Road from Frog Alley to the West Chop Light. Frog Alley was approximately what is now Daggett avenue. The designation was indefinite but indicated somewhere in the vicinity of the Frog Pond. This was north of Bayside and east of the West Chop Road. The pond was large enough for small boys to skate on.
From Bayside to West Chop and around the loop, the road was entirely of oyster shells. There probably was more of this type of road at an earlier date. About once a year a barge-load of shells would be received on the Vineyard Haven wharf and for two or three days all the teamsters were busy hauling and spreading the shells. Of course, they were terribly rough at first and unfit for bicycling, but after a week or so the iron tires of the grocery and milk wagons, the drays and truck wagons, as well as the iron shoes of the horses, ground and compacted the shells to a concrete-like surface.
Motor cars were scarce. The first I remember was owned by George F. Armsby, retired plumber, a pioneer of the trade on the Island. Mr. Armsby made the trip to the post office and paper store, about one mile each way, almost daily. The vehicle looked like a buggy, had one large horizontal engine cylinder underneath the seat and Mrs. Armsby called it the Auto-MOB-i-LEE.
Later, H.N. Hinckley had a truck which seemed scarcely able to pull its own weight. Fred Vincent and Abbot Baker had a red Maxwell which they used for grocery delivery. The advent of pneumatic-tired cars doomed the Oyster Shell Road. New shells were too hard on tires and the rubber did not grind and pack the shells as the iron tires used to do.
“Summer folks” were at first mainly located at West Chop proper, that is from the lighthouse on around the loop, and a few houses up the Sound shore westward from the West Chop steamboat dock.
All Down the Neck almost to West Chop Light, most of the houses were built and occupied by native year-round families, although even then there was a scattering of summer places. The lighthouse keeper and assistant were usually off-Island people but were accepted as members of the community.
A strictly Down the Neck organization was the Pine Tree Club. My recollection is that it existed from about 1912 to 1916. So far as I know, it had no special purpose, neither political, philanthropic nor educational; its meetings were neighborhood get-togethers of men, women and children to “chew the rag,” sing, play games and have refreshments.
The Edison cylinder phonograph dispensed songs by Ada Jones and jokes by “Uncle Josh” Weatherby. We had no radio or television. Movies were just getting a start. The Capawock Theatre was built, and a film titled The Port of Doom was shot aboard a derelict schooner in Vineyard Haven harbor, and premiered at the Capawock with the whole population turning out to see it.
The majority of the men Down the Neck were seamen of one kind or another. There were ex-whalemen, at least two schooner captains, two tugboat captains, two pilots, at least a dozen fishermen, mostly catboat men. There were a couple of carpenters and a painter or two.
The women were housewives, and that was that. The labor-saving household equipment consisted of two washtubs, one cold water faucet at the kitchen sink, and a broom. The meat grinder and the bread mixer came along later. The power house supplied electricity for the trolley cars to Cottage City and to run the Flying Horses. There was a carbide gas works supplying the main village of Vineyard Haven. This eventually exploded and was never reconstructed. Also, you could get your house wired for electric lights and get service from 4 p.m. until midnight, but I do not think the wire had been run Down the Neck.
The years have wrought many changes. The sailing vessels, tugs and barges in coastwise trade have almost gone out of existence. The shell road has given way to blacktop. Part of the woods and many of the residences remain; new houses have been built. The little cemetery is still there.
But the population, what of the people of the Pine Tree Club? Gone, mostly, of course, and few of them raised large families, so there are not too many descendants. What there are have moved either completely away from the Island or at least out of the neighborhood.
In miniature it is the old story of the rise and fall of civilizations. To use Shakespeare’s thought, it may seem that they did indeed strut and fret their hour upon the stage and then were heard no more, though in some small way they were and still are a part of all history and all life.
Compiled by Cynthia Meisner