Less remains of Prospect House than many of the fabulous Cottage City hotels that beckoned middle class America to Martha’s Vineyard’s great seaside resort and watering place. The halo of Erastus Carpenter, the impresario of the Oak Bluffs Land & Wharf Company, was still glowing after building Cottage City, and other developers thought to strike while the iron was hot.
The Lagoon Heights development was mapped out in 1873 for the sale of 500 lots in the area bordered by County Road and Pennsylvania avenue. The three and a half story, mansard roofed, highly ornamental Prospect House hotel was built there on a 100 foot X 100 foot plot at the corner of Hudson and Beacon avenues (Beacon is a dirt road today) for prospective buyers to stay while considering their investment. Its principle feature, besides accommodations for 200 guests, was a view across the Lagoon to Vineyard Haven and also to downtown Oak Bluffs. In those days the landscape which was raised higher than the surrounding area was barren of vegetation. A trolley line was laid from downtown along Wing Road, left onto Alpine then right onto Hudson with a stop at Prospect House that ended at the foot of Hudson on the Lagoon. The hotel received an addition and renovation in 1894 but alas, missing the building and economic boom, Lagoon Heights never quite caught on and Prospect House burned to the ground in June 1898. Today the site is vacant of all but memories.
Over the 25-to-30 year span of the late 1800’s, led by the colossal Sea View Hotel, Oak Bluffs was the site of many elaborate hotels and boarding houses where folks stayed and played in Cottage City. The Island House, originally the building at the harbor entrance to Oak Bluffs (where the SSA is now), was re-purposed as a hotel and moved to Circuit avenue. Two stories of the five story Island House remain as does the Wesley House that started as a much more modest structure with its original main entrance on Commonwealth Square in the back. You may remember Walmsley’s Bakery there, famous for its huge fruit-filled jelly donuts.
The next Cottage City hotel was the Pawnee House on Circuit avenue where Eastaway Clothing and Ben and Bill’s are now. The Pawnee added the Metropolitan House at what is now The Corner Store and both had water views. The Oakwood Hotel was where Phillips Hardware now stands. Some that no longer exist were the Circuit Avenue House, next to the Island House, and its next door neighbor the Baxter House. Others included the Wyoming, Grover House and the single, year-round, Vineyard Grove House where secession meetings were held.
The Dunbar House at Montgomery Square in the Camp Ground was renamed Central House in 1870, had 60 rooms and was made famous when President Grant dined there in 1874. The Beatrice House was behind the Arcade, and The Ocean View lasted until the 1960’s when it, too, burned down but remains memorialized as a restaurant. I washed dishes and prepared salads and desserts at the Ocean View Hotel one summer and was fascinated that its guests ate the same meals at the same time, a custom I’m sure no one misses.
Then, of course, there was the Highland House which merits its own review. The punch line was that, like most of its peers, it burned or was burned to the ground. Hart Haven’s Henry Louis (Skip) Gates was featured as one of the influential “50 over 50” in the December/January AARP magazine along with frequent Vineyard visitor Hillary Clinton.
This Saturday the last winter market will be held at the Agricultural Hall in West Tisbury from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. There will be many Oak Bluffs vendors there and book signings, too. Little Rock Farm will be serving a hot lunch.
I hope yours was merry and bright. I know I won’t tire of the pretty Christmas lights.
Always a big weekend, I hope you’ll be moderate and careful with whatever you ingest, inhale or imbibe in celebration. Resolutions last, what, until maybe February? Most folks try to keep it simple, like ‘do unto others’ or ‘find something to smile about every day.’ Choose a platitude to live by. I heard mine when the famous DJ, Hank Spann on WWRL (AM) in New York, used the lyrics of the Parliament/Funkadelic song to sign off — I Call My Baby Pussycat.
My resolution and Happy New Year to you is, Keep your foot on a rock.