“Improvement” People

From Vineyard Gazette editions of March, 1984:

The Beach Road at Vineyard Haven as it used to be was as much an institution as a location. There was Prentiss Bodfish’s blacksmith shop, the red-painted “humane house” where the lifeboat and gear of the Massachusetts Humane Society was kept, and Capt. Ben Cromwell’s changing collection of mostly marine gear known to “improvement” people as junk. Well, it was junk — rusty anchors and chains, cast-off pieces of this and that, mementoes of schooners and other craft that came and went.

Capt. Cromwell was unmoved by criticism, and his accumulation of marine junk provided items needed in times of emergency by many a schooner or small craft. For many years he maintained the marine railway at the head of the road, as nautically useful and scenic an attraction as any shoreside of sailing days could ever boast.

Best remembered is the blacksmith shop of Elmer Chadwick. The shop could be taken as one of the most accurate specimens of its kind, with wide open doors, an apparent continuum of wagon and buggy wheels, the glowing forge, the spanners, shafts, axles, cinders and so on. When the trolley line was open, its passengers could rely upon an interesting view as the open car made the curve.

Up-Island selectmen spoke against the idea of a regional police force, but down-Island selectmen talked of combining their departments at a recent meeting. Jeffrey Madison of Gay Head, John Early of West Tisbury and Elizabeth Bryant of Chilmark said they didn’t see how up-Island towns will benefit from an Island-wide police force.

“I don’t see how our service could be improved by it,” said Mrs. Bryant. She said that up-Island there is a strong link between the police officers and the town. Mr. Madison said that he did not want Gay Head residents to face discrimination from policemen who aren’t from Gay Head.

Edmond Coogan of Oak Bluffs said his town had “too many cops without enough to do, standing in front of the Ritz, waiting for something to happen.” Mr. Coogan spoke strongly in favor of an all-Island police force.

The question is under study by a committee headed by Oak Bluffs patrolmen Jack Law and Warren Gossen.

The Edgartown selectmen were having problems. The mayor of the storied Isle of Capri is coming to the Vineyard Monday to meet the Edgartown selectmen. Mayor Saverio Valenti’s visit was arranged through the Sister Cities International Program. Thomas Durawa, one selectman, had carefully memorized an Italian greeting for the mayor. He recited it for Edith Potter, chairman of the board.

“Oh, that is reallly wonderful,” Mrs. Potter exclaimed when she heard Mr. Durawa’s perfectly rolled r’s. But Mrs. Potter was dismayed to learn that Mr. Durawa wouldn’t be able to greet the mayor at the airport. Mr. Durawa insisted that Mrs. Potter learn the greeting. It was easy, he said. “I learned it in five minutes from a tape.”

Peter Bettencourt, executive secretary to the board, suggested a gift, the formal town seal which he had received on the town’s 300th anniversary. It’s quite attractive, he said, and although the only one we have, “It has just been sitting in my desk drawer for a couple of years. I don’t need it.”

“And where are the mayor and his aides going to stay?” asked Mrs. Potter. When there was no immediate answer, the chairman said, “They could stay with me. My sister and her child are here, so it might be a bit crowded. I’ll make room. It will just be a little rough.”

The night is cold with a chilling no’theaster across Sengekontacket Pond. A faint light shines from a clubhouse window near the shore. A group of fishermen are gathered inside. Flames crackle in the glow of the hearth. The conversation moves as if warmed by the heat of the fireside. At this time of year the fish caught on the Island are those in the stories the sportsmen tell. And while they spin their yarns, they also spin their small jigs, those tiny, delicate flies that will catch the fish of another season.

Dan Purdy is one of the Island’s leading fly fishermen, and so also are his friends Ruth Burnham, Everett (Porky) Francis, Karen Kukolich and Arnold Spofford. They gather once a week in the quiet of the Rod and Gun Club to swap stories and to practice the art of making flies for fish. These members of this special group are each a good example of the complete fisherman, those who never retire from fishing even in the bitter cold of winter.

Fly fishing was a popular sport among old timers, but during the last few decades it suffered a decline. Today the number of fly fishermen is growing rapidly. “There is a definite camaraderie among fly fishermen, no matter where they are from, or how much experience they have,” Mrs. Burnham says. “There is more friendship perhaps than any other kind of angler.”

Compiled by Cynthia Meisner