The Reston family recently ended almost 50 years of ownership of the iconic house at the corner of Davis Lane and School street in Edgartown. Scotty and Sally Reston purchased the house at 49 Davis Lane in 1968, which coincided with their purchase of the Vineyard Gazette, located next door.

The house was bought from the G. Holmes Perkins family and remained the summer home of Scotty and Sally until their deaths, after which the house remained as a joint family entity.

Ironically, this house was originally not a home, but rather a private school named the Davis Academy, and was built for that purpose in 1835. Its owner, David Davis, was born in Maine in 1802 but was from an old Vineyard family. His mother was Deborah Coffin and his father, Sanford Davis. His first wife was Hannah Marchant, the daughter of Peter Marchant of Edgartown.

Shortly after the construction of the building it burned down and was rebuilt quickly, in 1836. The school itself did not last long, perhaps due to the Thaxter Academy across the street, or the establishment of a public high school in 1850 further on down School street at High street.

David Davis created the private school in 1836. — Mark Alan Lovewell

Davis himself was in poor health. The school closed but the building remained as a public meeting place on the first floor and a home for Davis’ family on the second. It then became the home of the Edgartown Lyceum, founded in 1836, and apparently coexisted for a time with the school. Lyceums were based on Aristotelian principles, and named for the gymnasium and classrooms of ancient Athens. Debates and lectures were held there on a regular basis.

Other Edgartonians who were founding members included D.W. Baylies, Edward Linton, William Vinson, Richard L. Pease, Charles Worth, Sylvanus Pease and Henry Baylies. Emphasis was placed on information about current events and establishing facts, as well as debates on chosen subjects. Transcripts of these subjects, as well as Davis’ desk and other artifacts, are in the possession of the Martha’s Vineyard Museum.

Women were allowed to attend but had to keep quiet. Membership increased over the years, but the movement passed out of existence after the Civil War. Its strongest influences were in the areas of education, abolition of slavery and women’s suffrage. I think, but cannot prove yet, that this is the organization that sponsored Frederick Douglass’s two speeches on the Island in 1857.

Davis was a leading citizen of Edgartown and became a tax collector, justice of the peace, a notary, and a member of the Governor’s Council. Davis’ first wife Hannah died of consumption in 1844, after bearing Davis six children, only one of whom lived to adulthood. He later remarried, and with his new wife Octavia had one child, named Ella.

Davis died in 1868, and his descendants continued to live in the house until 1943, when Cora B. Knowlton, a descendant of Octavia and Ella, sold the house to William B. Roberts.

Bill Roberts owned the house for only a few years but he spent most of his entire working life as the pressman for the Gazette. Anyone with any connection to the Gazette knows that the pressman is so important to the paper. He and his buddy Joe Allen were Henry and Betty Hough’s “go to” guys. When he moved to Oliver street, he sold the house to the Perkins family from whom Scotty and Sally bought it.

And so closes another chapter!