From the Oct. 10, 1930 edition of the Vineyard Gazette:

By the side of Mill Brook, or Mill River, as older people have called it, in the village of West Tisbury, there is a tiny, old-fashioned house. It is very low and cozy looking, and a single glimpse suffices to show its extreme age, for the style of architecture and the quaint door latches belong to a far-distant period. In this house lives Mrs. Eunice A. Athearn and here she has dwelt for nearly 60 years.

Mrs. Athearn is a companionable soul, possessing a wealth of stories of olden days, and she is doubly interesting from the fact that her life and career was deeply affected by the War of the Rebellion, which occurred when she was a young girl, and the fact that her husband was a veteran of that grim struggle.

But the story of her long life begins before that war, and there is a touch of mystery and interesting tradition in the very beginning. For Mrs. Athearn was born in Chilmark, in the famous Witch House that has figured for generations in up-Island folk tales. “Yes,” she says, “our folks bought it, in spite of the stories they told about the place. Why, many people were really afraid of it. But we never saw or heard anything strange around there and we occupied it for many years.”

The Witch House was not the one so designated by later generations, according to Mrs. Athearn, but was located east of Peaked Hill. The location was sheltered enough, and not unpleasant, but the path to Chilmark village led right over the crest of the highest elevation on the Island, over three hundred feet above the level of the ocean, which could be seen, blue and sparkling, in the distance.

Wonderful in summer, when the cool breeze played across the summit, it became almost dangerous in winter when it was swept by the fierce gales from the sea. And Mrs. Athearn, as a tiny girl, was obliged to begin her two-mile walk to school with the ascent of this hill, where many times she was swept from her feet by the winter blasts.

She was an apt pupil, so much so that a school teacher at Chilmark wished to take her into his family and educate her for some profession. To this proposal, her family agreed at length, and when she was about ten years of age, she went to Maine, where she became one of the school teacher’s family. But the war came, the head of the family enlisted, and she was obliged to return to her home.

Perhaps she did not mourn much about this at the time, for matters were in an extremely excitable state on the Vineyard. Everyone was talking about the war, every man, boy, and child was drilling with guns and broomsticks, and the first mainland newspapers that the up-Island towns had ever received regularly were eagerly sought and read to the last line at common meeting places where the communities’ population gathered to discuss the terrible thing that was happening.

Men were being drafted, or were enlisting and leaving for war, news of the capture and death of others was arriving and war-time measures made it difficult and expensive to obtain many articles that had hitherto been commonly used.

And then the war ended. Ended with the same period of suspense and the outbreak of wild and riotous rejoicing that took place at the ending of the last war, and the veterans returned home. Several hundred had enlisted from the Vineyard and the up-Island towns had furnished their share. Mrs. Athearn married one of these veterans and went to live in West Tisbury by the side of the mill stream.

The mill wheel turned in those days, and workers wove the satinette cloth or spun the yarn that was “let out” to be knitted into stockings and mittens for whalemen and fishermen. Some of these were knitted double, and Mrs. Athearn turned out many pairs of each, in common with the women of the village at that time.

Since that time she has seen many changes in West Tisbury: the separation of the town from Tisbury, the development of the fisheries and gunning in the great ponds to an industry, and the gradual decline of both until now, as she says, “It’s hard for anyone to find a place to shoot and fish.”

She has seen the soft, sandy roads give place to the rock macadam, and then to the present smooth surfaced highway upon which vehicles travel silently. The telephone, electric lights, radio and scores of other inventions have come in her day, scoffed at in the beginning and ridiculed as the creations of diseased minds, but quickly becoming so common as to be vital necessities.

“It’s a pretty good world,” she says, “and most of the people in it are pretty good, too,” thus taking comfort in living beyond the rest of her generation, with members of another born and reared in a totally foreign environment to which she has easily adjusted herself. But she cannot forget the past, and in her many reminiscences are contained some of the choicest bits of unwritten Island history.

Compiled by Hilary Wall