From the Dec. 8, 1933 edition of the Gazette:

As the repeal of prohibition furnished the big news for the whole nation this week, the people of Martha’s Vineyard sought curiously or anxiously to ascertain how the new dispensation would affect the Island. The immediate aftermath of repeal saw no effect whatever. The selectmen of the towns waited to receive the text of the new liquor law and to study it before considering any action. Up to last night no copies of the law had reached the Vineyard, and only two were available in the city of New Bedford.

These facts, however, stand out. The Vineyard Gazette obtained them from Rodolphus W. Swan, city clerk of New Bedford, by telephone late yesterday, and from official transcripts of the first liquor law as sent out by the secretary of state.

The selectmen of all towns have the authority to issue licenses for the sale of liquor at once, regardless of whether the towns were dry prior to prohibition or not. Licenses so issued will be valid until a new vote is taken by the towns.

If the selectmen of any town do not issue temporary licenses, a special town election may be called on petition of one per cent of the registered voters. At such an election the liquor referendum shall be put in the following two questions: “Shall licenses be granted in this town for the sale therein of all alcoholic beverages (whiskey, rum, gin, malt beverages, wines and all other alcoholic beverages)?” and “Shall licenses be granted in this town for the sale of wines, beer and ale?”

Thus any town may authorize all liquors, or restrict sales to beer, ale and wine. This form of referendum is used at the town elections in any event, since the licenses which may be issued by the selectmen in advance of a town vote are only temporary and are subject to the action of the town.

The first application to be submitted in Oak Bluffs was presented yesterday by the Island House. This is an application for a license for the sale of liquor to be drunk on the premises. The Oak Bluffs selectmen said no action would be taken until they had had an opportunity to study the law and understand it clearly. They indicated that they expected to authorize temporary licenses when they could act intelligently.

In Edgartown there were three applicants up to yesterday, one restaurant, one grocery store and one drug store.

The last vote taken on the question of license on the Vineyard was in 1919. Many of these discussing the matter were of the opinion that the wet votes of recent years counted as putting towns on record in the wet column. However, these votes applied only to the repeal of the state enforcement law, and repeal of prohibition through the choice of wet delegates. Various referenda in the years since prohibition was adopted applied only to non intoxicating beverages. Therefore, most of the Island would find itself dry under the 1919 votes, if this question mattered. As it turns out, the previous status of a town is not considered, and all may have liquor at once if the selectmen so order.

The return of legal liquor after the long interim of prohibition finds a whole generation grown up on Martha’s Vineyard which cannot remember just what happened here in the old days. Many others besides this new generation are now somewhat hazy about the days when liquor was sold on the Island.

Before prohibition, the only Vineyard town which had licensed sale of liquor in modern times was Oak Bluffs. In 1909, oddly enough as it seems now, Oak Bluffs was the only place in southeastern Massachusetts south of Taunton where liquor could be sold legally. This was because New Bedford and Fall River had both voted dry in the local option referendum under which Massachusetts cities decided at each election whether there would be license or no license.

The single liquor license at Oak Bluffs was held by the Island House, and it cost $1,500 for the year. Issuance of this license followed a hard fought battle at the annual town election. When the vote was finally counted, it was found that there was a margin of a single vote in favor of license. A recount was ordered, and each side gained one vote, so that the result was still relatively the same.

This was not the only year in which Oak Bluffs went wet, but more attention was attracted because the counties of Barnstable and Nantucket were dry, and Bristol almost dry. The Island House, therefore, had the only bar in three counties.

As to the really old days, some light is shed by reminiscences published in the Gazette fifty or sixty years ago. These recollections go back to a period considerably more than a century past, and in those times casks were displayed in front of the stores on Main street, Edgartown, plainly marked Rum, Gin and Brandy. Much later, according to the reminiscences, the same sort of casks and the same contents, were disguised by such labels as Nails, Crackers and the like.

Compiled by Hilary Wallcox