The story of the building of Union Chapel just 100 years ago was told in the Invitation edition of the Gazette. Never in recorded history has there been so much change during a century as has occurred during the existence of this chapel.
During the eventful year of 1871 there had been bi-centennial celebrations for both Edgartown and Tisbury, a new post office had been established on the Methodist camp ground, and a new steamboat - the first Martha’s Vineyard - plied the sounds. Also, in that year, the Vineyard Gazette celebrated its first quarter century.
During the summer of 1872 the Gazette reported the building of a wharf at Katama on the bay, the opening of the Pawnee House, and the addition of a third steamboat called the Island Home. The old Monohansett, said to date back to Civil War times, made excursion runs to New Bedford charging 75 cents round-trip per passenger. Her machinery groaned as if afflicted with arthritis.
In that year, work was progressing on a road skirting Lake Anthony (generally known nowadays as Oak Bluffs harbor), and there were elaborate ceremonies to celebrate the opening of the Sea View Hotel. There was an Illumination in Ocean ark were the band played the Oak Bluffs Gallop. “Concrete invaded the Camp Ground.” Finally on Aug. 30, the Gazette noted that during the summer there had been large congregations at Union Chapel both at morning and evening services.
Presumably, such congregations continued during the following summer, though there is no mention of them. During that season the Anderson School of Natural History opened on Penikese Island under Prof. Louis Agassiz. The Minnehaha ran daily from the Bluffs to Katama. There was an Illumination along Clinton Avenue, and another in Ocean Park which was attended by Vice President Wilson and Governor Howard of Rhode Island. This featured fireworks, rockets, and Roman candles. “It looked like a firmament of fiery planets.”
Dr. Upham gave a discourse on Mars Hill, formerly Prospect Hill, which had a spring of water 300 feet above sea level. A letter to the editor deplored the steamboat service, the lack of sanitation in Oak Bluffs, and other shortcomings. The writer did admit, however, that “Boston is learning that Martha’s Vineyard is not on Cape Cod.”
During the summer of 1874, work progressed rapidly on the Martha’s Vineyard Railroad which was to run from the Oak Bluffs Wharf through Edgartown to Katama. Union Wharf in Vineyard Haven was extended, the roof to the new jail “will astonish all beholders,” and Mattakeeset Lodge at Katama opened July 1.

Steamboat Races

A steamboat called Starry Banner was in service. There was a race between the Martha’s Vineyard and the River Queen. The latter survived and later brought President Grant and his wife, the vice president, and secretary of state, and other notables like the Postmaster General and the governor of Massachusetts to a Grand Illumination. This spectacle was “terrific.” There was a reception at the Sea View Hotel which boasted an elevator and steam heat.
A depot for the railroad was built in Edgartown southeast of the new jail. The engine finally arrived on the Island Home, a Nantucket steamer, and by the end of August the railroad was in operation.
The position of second assistant lighthouse keeper at Gay Head was abolished. The Prospect House opened at Lagoon Heights. Piles were driven for a bridge over the opening into Sanchacantackett.
At the end of July, the Gazette noted that “Bishop James preached in Union Chapel last Sunday.”
The rapid pace of events continued in 1875. The Starry Banner ran from Hyannisport to the Bluffs. The Monohansett got a new boiler, and a cable was to be laid. There was mention of a steamer called the Hydrangea. Tickets could be bought at Oak Bluffs direct to New York city via the Fall River Line.
The Vineyard Baptist Association was organized in Boston, and property called the “circle” on the Highlands was leased for 99 years. There was the threat of a Congregational camp meeting. There was the Clinton avenue Illumination and late in August a mighty celebration including a regatta, and Illumination, a whaleboat race, and a King Carnival Court. Gen. Tom Thumb arrived on his yacht, and 1,800 passengers road the railroad that Saturday.
Three temperance sermons were preached on the Camp Ground on Sunday. Professor Ellinwood gave reports on Henry Ward Beecher’s sermons. It was rumored that Dr. Beecher made $100,000 in a year. And on one Sunday, the Reverend Kimball and Dr. Lorimer of Tremont Temple were at the morning service at Union Chapel along with a crowded audience. That same day Mr. Tolles of the Home for Little Wanderers in Boston conducted the evening service, with some of the little wanderers providing the music.
In 1876, the Oklahoma House on the Lagoon opened, the railroad made four roundtrips a day, the Vineyard Highlands “horse railroad” was doing an ecvellent business, the Empire State made daily round trips from Providence to the Highlands, and the Baptist camp meeting commenced. The Reverend Marsh preached at a full chapel.
In July, 1876, there was a concert at Union Chapel by the pupils of a music teacher, at which Lillian Norton, the graddaughter of Camp Meeting John Allen, an early Camp Meeting Association member, was a featured soloist. She was later known as Lillian Nordica, the great Wagnerian opera singer.
In 1877, the Wesley House and Pawnee House opened, there was a new lighthouse at West Chop, and there was talk of dividing the town. This season there was more coverage of religious services.
The Gazette issue of July 27 noted that “Quite an audience assembled in Union Chapel, last Saturday evening, to listen to Mrs. Scott, agent of the Massachusetts Total Abstinence Society. The meeting was called to order by David Green, President of the Reform Club, where the lady made a very eloquent and touching appeal in behalf of the temperance cause.”
The next week “at the Chapel on the Bluffs the Moravian Bishop E. de Schewintz preached in the morning. Rev. Mr. Roberts held an Episcopal Service at 5 p.m., and Rev. O. P. Gifford, from Pittsfield, preached in the evening: Splinters from the ‘Oak’ at the Bluffs, and Leaves gathered from the Grove.”
A week later there was preached at the Chapel “one of the best sermons of the day by Rev. R. G. Seymour, Chaplain of the Massachusetts House of Representatives.” He was introduced by Deacon Wm. Sage of Rochester, N.Y. The Chapel was filled and the singing led by I. Harlow of Middleboro was heartily joined in by all. There was an Episcopal Service at 5 p.m. “At 7 1/2 o’clock the chapel was crowded with many standing to enjoy one of the best praise meetings ever held on the Bluffs.”
Batist meetings were being held in a big tent on the Highlands, but Baptist prayer meetings were at Union Chapel.

Summer Institute

In 1878, the Martha’s Vineyard Summer Institute opened in mid-July. “It’s mere presence here lends prestige to the Island.” Since the Institute had as yet no buildings, classes and assemblies were held in various public places and in private homes. There was a free lecture at Union Chapel one Friday evening by Prof. A. C. Apgar of New Jersey on Natural History.
The Rev. S. F. Upham, D.D., of Springfield preached at Union Chapel to an overflow audience as the Methodist preacher was ill and there was no camp meeting service. A week later the Rev. T. DeWitt Talmadge preached at the chapel to a full house with hundreds standing outside the four opened double doors.
Episcopal services were held each Sunday afternoon, and Baptist prayer meetings also met in the chapel. The Methodist camp meeting continued to flourish. The present steel Tabernacle was erected, and the town seemed well on the way to becoming a center of religious observances and educational advantages.
In the next decade, worldly influences increased. Liquor sneaked into the Island House. There was a series of entertainments at the Casino. The directors of the Institute presented Leland Powers in Impersonations at Union Chapel.
In 1892, fliers were circulated reading as follows:
“Ho Ye! Ho Ye! The Institute Managers herewith present their compliments to the good people of Cottage City, and thank them for their liberal patronage in the past. And they desire to assure all that this year great pains have been taken to provide a course of entertainments of high order, which shall be worthy of Cottage City, and acceptable to both citizens and visitors. Our earnest hope and expectations are that this will be found the best course of entertainments yet presented at this place.
“Six entertainments - Union Chapel, Cottage City. Each Entertainment Begins at 8 o’clock. Doors Open at 7:30.
“Tickets for the Course, $1.50; Single Tickets 35c. On sale at the Institute, Stchi Ban, and the leading hotels. (Stchi Ban was the name of an import store on Circuit avenue.)
“1. Wednesday Evening, July 13. Readings by the Rev. Prof. J. W. Churchill, of Andover. Professor Churchill has always been an especial favorite at Cottage City. This year he will present an unusually rich and attractive program. Everybody will want to hear him.
“2. Tuesday Evening, July 19. Readings and Impersonations by Mrs. Jessie Eldridge Southwick, the accomplished and popular instructor of Dramatic Expression in the Emerson College of Oratory. Mrs. Southwick has read in this course every season for a number of years. She  will present this time a list of exceedingly popular selections. Everybody will be delighted.
“3. Thursday Evening, July 21. A Popular Lecture by that famous orator, Hon. Enerson E. White, L.L.D., of Cincinnati, Ohio. Subject and particulars will be announced later.
“4. Tuesday Evening, July 26. A Popular Concert of high order, consisting of solos, duets, quartettes, and choruses, under the direction of Prof. George H. Howard, A. M., Principal of the Boston Normal School of Music. Professor Howard has long been a favorite at Cottage City. Eminent talent has been engaged for this concert.
“5. Thursday Evening, July 28. A Mock Court Trial, A Breach of Promise Suit. “Are the Affections of the Ladies of Cottage City to be Trifled With?” This is a very serious question, and withal has its humorous side.
“Capt. A. V. Newton of Worcester, has been engaged to conduct the case for the prosecution, and C. B. Perry, Esq., of Worcester, will act as counsel for the defense. These eminent attorneys-at-law from long experience in cases of this nature will display great intelligence and remarkable legal acumen. They know all there is upon the subject, and considerably more. Leading citizens will give their testimony in the case, which promises to be one of unusual interest both to the citizens and summer visitors of this very respectable town. Particulars will be given later in small bills.
“6. Tuesday Evening, August 2. Readings and Concert. The details of this last of the series of entertainments will be given later.”
This listing was undoubtedly characteristic of the type of entertainment given year after year. There was also coquet which was very popular, though there were those who denounced it, particularly because of the widespread cheating that accompanied the game. It developed into a standardized game called roque with a bordered court which made it possible to carom the balls. But old fashioned croquet continued to flourish because a set was inexpensive and could be set up almost anywhere on a level surface.

Roller Skating Rink

A roller skating rink was built on the edge of the Bluffs at a cost of $13,000. The iron roof was embellished with assorted towers.
Finally, the town of Edgartown split in 1880, and Cottage City was the new town. At the time, Oak Bluffs was the name of the land development outside the Camp Meeting bounds. The wharf was always called the Oak Bluffs wharf, and alongside the present East Chop Beach Club property there was the Highlands Wharf. Cottage City as an address, however, sounded too commonplace to suit many of its citizens. In 1907 the name was changed to Oak Bluffs.
In 1880, however, there was a celebration in honor of the new independence from Edgartown. There were the usual fireworks; 20 members of the state legislature came for the festivities and attended a gala meeting held in Union Chapel.
In the early days of the century, people dressed up in Sunday best to attend church, and there was plenty of it, even in the hottest weather. Women’s hats were often spectacular. A hat from Paris gave its wearer special status. Even the soprano and alto members of the quartette were well hatted. Parasols were carried in those days but, mercifully, they could be closed when their owners entered a place of worship.
Music was always important at Union Chapel and through most of the century there has been a quartette of fine paid vocalists. At first, there was a hand-pumped organ. At one time this was pumped by Foster Upham and Wilhelmus B. Bryan Jr. They were supposed to be concealed in back of a screen, but n the up strokes their heads popped into view.
In 1923 a fund was started for a new organ which was purchased and installed the following year. It was an Austin Organ and, of course, needed no hand pumping. In 1937 “three new ranks of pipes were installed: an Octave and an Harmonic Flute consisting of 73 pipes each, and a Vox Humana having 61 pipes. The next year there was added a Mixture with three ranks of pipes totalling 183. These additions increased the size of the organ from approximately 800 to 1,200 pipes.
“All this work was done by Austin Organs, Inc., of Hartford, Conn., under the supervision of its head pipe voicer, Mr. Engle.
“Organists and organ experts consider the beautiful instrument to be one of the finest and most effective pipe organs of its size to be found.” (From a letter written by George Knight to Mrs. H. B. Hough.)
In the years 1965 to 1968 Carlton Knight gave a new section of pipes and a new front for the organ. Since the acoustics of the building are excellent, the resultant music cannot be equaled anywhere.
For this magnificent musical instrument there have been outstanding musicians as organists during the summer months. Well remembered is the late S. Lewis Elmer who was at one time president of the American Guild of Organists, and who had an international reputation. From 1939 to 1947 the organist was William Zeuch, vice president of Skinner Organ Co. At present, Harold Heeremans, another former president of the Guild, resides at the console as he has for many years.

No Record Kept

There are not so many concerts given at the chapel as there were in its early days. With the rapid changed of recent years when people do not feel the need to go forth to gatherings. This is a pity since there is a contact and reality to be thus gained which cannot come from radio and television. There have, however, been concerts down through the years for most of which no record has been kept.
It was probably in the ‘20s that the current quartette gave a performance of Lisa Lehmann’s song cycle called In a Persian Garden which used the words of Edward Fitzgerald’s translation of the Rubaiyat. The piano accompaniment was played by Rock Ferris.
There have been five meetings of the Vineyard Chapter of the American Guild of Organists held at Union Chapel in recent years. The last one was in June, 1967, when Mr. Heeremans gave a lecture recital on improvisation. Improvising, he explained, should result in design and not aimless wandering over the keys. He also observed that the organ had not been tuned for a year, and yet had remained remarkably in tune. It is amazing but most fortunate that the vicissitudes of the seasons apparently inflict no damage on the exquisite instrument, even though it is housed in a frame structure which is unplastered and unheated.
Following the death of Percy Chase Miller also an organist, Mr. Heeremans gave an all Bach memorial program. In August, 1967, Mr. Heeremans gave an organ recital in the evening. The selections of his program not only gave the performer an opportunity to display his outstanding virtuosity, but also to demonstrate the possibilities of the magnificent organ.
One of the most delightful uses of Union Chapel was to provide an auditorium for graduation exercises of the Oak Bluffs High School. In the years before the establishment of the all-Island regional high school, Oak Bluffs would have from 10 to 20 young people in the graduating class.
A picturesque feature was the entrance march. First came the eleventh graders, then the tenth, and the ninth grades marching by twos. They arranged themselves on either side of the center aisle facing each other, and raised long-stemmed American Beauty roses to form a canopy under which the graduates marched to the platforms. From 1932 until 1952 this was a yearly event. Then the school gymnasium was built and the graduations were held there until the time of the regional school.
Until 1913, Union Chapel was administered by the Oak Bluffs Christian Union Association. In that year, the association was dissolved after transferring its property to the Oak Bluffs Christian Union, a corporation organized under the laws of Massachusetts. By-laws were drawn and Andrew Mills was elected president. The only existing records started in that year, and for the most part do not include more than the minutes of the yearly meetings of the trustees.

A Few Presidents

Other presidents have been Charles A. Brown, Clifton A. Crocker, George B. Dowley, J. Gordon Ogden, J. Gordon Ogden Jr., and the present incumbent, J. Coles Hegeman. The clerk, Carlton E. Knight, has held that office since 1932. Other members of the Knight family have been active in chapel affairs.
Union Chapel, you will remember, started with the fussy, fancy architectural trimmings so popular at the time it was built. In 1913, the tall ethereal central spire was found to be rotten and it seemed wise to take it down before the wind blew it down to cause damage. But in the process of removal it slipped, turned over, and the spire went through the roof and into the organ.
There had originally been a lesser tower over the official Narragansett avenue in which hung a bell. This also was removed and the bell disappeared into oblivion. As time went on more and more of the fussy decorations were removed and the flashy colors subdued.
Today both exterior and interior are without fussy ornamentation. But the octagonal shape persists. No one can offer any explanation for this design except that it was popular 100 years ago.
It is, however, a fact that early Christian architecture was inspired by Roman temples which were either round or octagonal; as well as by Greek rectangular temples. There is the further fact that there are architectural difficulties in constructing circular edifices, and the octagonal shape might have been used as an approximation of the circle.
The Cathedral of San Vitale in Ravenna, Italy, is octagonal in shape, and is topped by a smaller octagon and dome. The eight beams which intersect at the middle of the sphere symbolize Christ’s resurrection eight days after the entrance into Jerusalem. It is doubtful, however, if such Symbolism inspired the architect of Union Chapel.
At any rate, the octagonal effect is found in portions of many Old World cathedrals. St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome has a 16-sided dome. You have only to look at Vineyard churches of any domination to realize how prevalent the octagon spire is.

Other Rites Held

During the years, a few other rites have been held in the chapel. There was one wedding some years ago. There have been several funerals, including that of J. Gordon Ogden Jr. during the summer of 1964. He had been president of the Union for 20 years. A couple of years later a service was held for his wife, Dorothy. For years she had taken charge of seeing that flowers were provided for each service, and had acted as a gracious hostess.
The first christening was that of Karen Frances Ogden in August, 1958, with the Rev. Russell Wicks officiating. She was, of course, the granddaughter of Dr. and Mrs. J. Gordon Ogden Jr. and also of Mr. and Mrs. L. J. Bowditch whose Vineyard home is in Vineyard Haven.
In August. 1966, Ford Bowditch Ogden and Eric Bowditch Ogden, twin sons of Mr. and Mrs. J. Gordon Ogden 3rd were christened at Union Chapel by the Rev. Dr. John E. Wallace.
During the summer of 1961 Sarah Montague Powell, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Robert H. Powell, was baptized at Union Chapel by the Rev. Emory S. Bucke.
In 1966, John Brooks 4th was christened. His great-great grandparents were the Archbolds, who were among the first East Chop summer residents. His christening robe was made by his Danish grandmother.
In 1977, Dr. John O. Mellin officiated at the baptism of Eric Torbin Meleney, son of Mr. and Mrs. Peter Ladd Meleney. Eric’s great-grandparents were the Clarence E. Meleneys who were also among the first summer residents of East Chop. He wore the Brooks’ christening gown. It had been through Mrs. John Brooks 3rd that Peter met his Norwegian wife.
If records had been kept of incidental occurrences, there would surely be an entertaining list. As was mentioned in the previous installment, there is a balcony in the chapel around five of the eight sides. This is often considered a good location for a restless child who thus gets a view of everything that goes on. There was one faithful row of ways to be found on Sunday mornings in the front row of the balcony. Until - there came the fateful day when the collection plate was being passed, and as sibling passed to sibling, one youngster’s grip misfired and the plate and contents skidded over the rail. Talk about pennies from heaven!
One visiting preacher was entertained at the home of staunch supporters of the chapel. When the reverend gentleman asked for a Bible, his host was exceedingly mortified to discover that he had neglected to supply his summer home with a copy.
There was another preacher who always had to have first choice of a date so that he could travel to the Vineyard on the yacht of a friend at the time that friend elected to take his annual cruise.
Union Chapel is being refurbished, reroofed, repainted, and generally spruced up for its 100th anniversary. Special services will be held during the summer, and the music will be excellent as always.
At Sunday services in Union Chapel this summer there will be no hats in the choir and few in the audience. The four members of the quartette will wear green robes. There will even be informal attire through the chapel.
The services are truly integrated: in the quartette, in the pulpit, in the congregation, and among the trustees.
The preachers, as always, are outstanding interpreters of the application of Christian ideals to current situations. Today’s sermons are greatly changed form those of 100 years ago.
One who attended services as a small boy early in the century was so fascinated by a dramatic sermon that he can recall bits of it. It is a fine illustration of old-style preaching. He claims that it was a perishing hot, sultry day, and the congregation was nearly asleep when they heard this peroration:
“He (the protagonist) had climbed a lofty volcano; near the top he tore from the ground a mighty pine tree, dipped it in the molten lava, and wrote his message in flaming letters upon a lambent sky.
“And the little impious angels laffed (he wasn’t a New Englander); and the Great White Angel at the throne of God said, ‘It is efficient, but not sufficient.’
“He performed two or three more mighty deeds, but after each one the little impious angels laffed; and the Great White Angel at the throne of God said, ‘It is efficient, but not sufficient.’
“Finally he was walking along a dusty road on a hot day, and a little girl begged him for a drink of water, and although he was thirsty and had far to go, he poured out all he had in his canteen and gave it to her to drink.
“And the little impious angels were hushed, and the Great White Angel at the throne of God said, ‘It is efficient and sufficient.’
“This was sprung on us pretty suddenly and everyone had been nearly asleep. Naturally I asked a lot of questions, especially as to whether the little impious angels were in Heaven or Hell. I got the usual things that I would understand better when I was older. This is not true.”
As the century progressed not only was the chapel stripped of superfluous ornament, but the presentation of Christian teaching became more direct and less florid. It was realized increasingly that God speaks through the still, small voice. During the summer of 1970, John E. Wallace, D. D., offered a prater in the chapel that was understandable without the need to grow older.
“Our Father
from the reaches of this Island that we love
we come before Thee with praise and with our needs.
“We’ve come - 
some of us forced by habit,
and some of us hungry for the sound of music,
and some of us hopeful and longing
that Thy spirit will bind us together
and free us to work in ways that are worthy
in Thy sight and of Thy promise for us.
O God, let Thy spirit be at work.
“We come with gratitude -
here where noise and quietness contrast to startle us.
Here where only fog and haze shorten our far sight -
here where our contrasts and contradictions
cannot hide the cleanness we need
nor the beauty for which our souls yearn...
“O God, let us find here
in the wonder of the sea and the sky
our cleanness and wholeness
and in the wonder of lives that seek their greater dimensions
our hope and strength
for greater trying, and striving more steadfastly.
“O God, be with us!”