When I was a university professor, I often taught a new course because I wanted to learn more about a subject. In this spirit, I will focus this column on Baptist Temple Park. I have been walking by it for more than 50 years and know so little about it. I wish to thank Tom Clark and Susan Thompson for their help in preparing the column. I also consulted Mert Turner’s essay entitled The Baptist Temple Story.

The Baptist Temple was constructed in 1878 in the center of a five-acre tract located in what was then called the Vineyard Highlands. The highlands included an area bordered by New York avenue from DeBettencourt’s garage to East Chop Drive, from East Chop Drive to Massachusetts avenue, continuing along Massachusetts avenue up to the intersection at Monroe avenue.

The idea for the temple came from the Vineyard Grove Company, which was interested in selling real estate lots in the highlands. In the 1870s the company was in debt, and lots were not selling. The idea was to encourage Baptists to establish a camp meeting facility patterned after the Methodist Tabernacle in the Camp Grounds.

The plan worked. In the fall of 1877 the Baptists built a wooden temple at the center of a circle of land just beyond the top of the hill of what is now Wayland avenue. A picture of the Temple can be found on page 10 of A Guide to East Chop Families 2001. Two thousand people attended the dedication service on Sunday, August 18, 1878. Lots began to sell again. As the Gazette commented: “On general principles there is no reason why camp meetings shall not be as profitable for the Baptists as for the Methodists.”

The Baptists held their meetings there for many years before relocating to the mainland, north of Boston. The Massachusetts Baptist Association sold the temple to the Highland Property Trust in 1937. Lack of use caused the structure to fall into disrepair, and it was eventually dismantled for safety reasons in the 1940s, although some current residents are convinced that it burned down during this period.

The East Chop Association acquired the five acres from the Highland Property Trust and turned it into a park. Over the years the association has conducted several cleanup projects in the park. It also mows the paths leading into the old Temple site. Take a walk along one of those paths. If you do, you will come upon a clearing which is outlined by the cement pilings which provided the foundation for the temple.

They have been the talk of the Chop for the last week. Everyone has been to see the upended crane at least once. Their long awaited Vineyard home has been delayed by two months, maybe a whole lot more. And yet when you talk with Will and Heidi Bryan about the disaster at their Madison avenue lot all you get is relief that no one was hurt. They smile and shrug off your attempts to express sympathy. The house will get done, they say. It’s a response from two very classy people.

On Tuesday, August 1, Tom Dresser will teach a class on Vineyard history from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the Morgan Learning Center in Vineyard Haven. The cost is $35. Anyone interested can register at acemv.org under latest happenings or call 508-693-9222.

Send East Chop news to herricklr@verizon.net.