Monday, June seventh marked 25 years since Henry Beetle Hough, the founder of Sheriff’s Meadow, and for 45 years the editor and publisher of this paper, died at his Edgartown home. From the window of his upstairs study, he had looked out for decades onto Sheriff’s Meadow Pond gleaming in the sun. And most days, until his final months, he and one of his collies would set off mornings through the pine and oak and cedar woods of Sheriff’s Meadow. They would cross the dam separating the pond from John Butler’s Mudhole. In spring and summer, while the dog went in pursuit of rabbits, the man would pause for a view of gray-green Nantucket Sound in the distance, or he would listen to the songs of the chickadees and robins and red-winged blackbirds. Then, back in his study, he would write lyrical editorials about what he had seen. Or sometimes they would be feisty and snappish if he felt the thoughtlessness of man was endangering the beauty of his Island.
From boyhood, Henry Hough had found inspiration in nature. As a child, he found this inspiration in the woods along the rugged north shore of the Vineyard, the place where his family spent the summer months. In later years, after he and his first wife Elizabeth Bowie Hough had become owners of the Vineyard Gazette and built a house in Edgartown, Sheriff’s Meadow became the place that provided renewal through nature for him.
So in the 1950’s when the pond at Sheriff’s Meadow that Henry Hough so loved was to be sold along with the ten acres of land around it, for development, the impecunious Gazette owners scraped together $7,500 to buy the property. Five years after their first purchase — though their joint Gazette income was only $16,000 — they borrowed $7,000 to buy five more acres of Sheriff’s Meadow. Then, in 1959, to assure that the land would remain untouched forever, they established the Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation “to preserve, administer and maintain natural habitats for wildlife on Martha’s Vineyard.” Eight years later, Henry Hough brought about the acquisition of nearly two hundred acres at Cedar Tree Neck, one of the favorite sites of his boyhood, for the Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation.
Today, thanks to gifts from devoted Islanders and seasonal visitors and to purchases by the Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation itself, nearly two thousand acres of Island land are owned by the Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation and will remain forever wild, while nearly nine hundred more acres are managed under the foundation’s conservation restrictions.
Strollers along North Water street, as they enjoy the vista of the Edgartown Light, the yachts moored in the outer harbor and Cape Pogue stretching in the distance, owe its preservation as well to Mr. Hough. Even though the lighthouse is not a Sheriff’s Meadow property, it was Henry Beetle Hough’s determination and fundraising that saved it from development.
Much has happened on the Island in these 25 years since Henry Hough’s death. Presidents have made the Vineyard their Summer White House. Extravagant mansions have been constructed on waterfront sites. Historic Edgartown homes have been demolished to make way for more up-to-date structures. Scenic overlooks now are marred by thick guardrails, and rustic roads are disfigured by blazing yellow road signs.
Today’s Vineyard is not the Vineyard of Henry Beetle Hough. Yet a great deal of what is best and most beautiful on the Island remains, thanks to his vision, his generosity and his indomitable spirit. Had there been no Henry Hough, Martha’s Vineyard would be a far poorer place.
The anniversary of his death passed quietly, but the legacy of Mr. Hough remains in the beautiful vistas and natural places of the Island, many of them places that he loved, celebrated and campaigned to save for future generations to enjoy.
— Phyllis Meras