From the May 9, 1958 edition of the Vineyard Gazette:

The Vineyard beckons in May — the season is fresh, new, and there is much to see that will never be fresher, later.

It is many years since the wheels of the last of the Vineyard mills ceased to turn. That there should have been numerous mills in the early times is surprising to modern visitors, for the topography of the Island does not favor the use of water power, owing to the small size of the streams and a slight fall. Yet history and landmarks tell of many grist mills.

As early as 1651, Thomas Mayhew wrote to John Winthrop of Connecticut, asking that a man skilled in mill work be sent to the Vineyard, and speaking of the great want of a mill which was felt by the Island inhabitants. What may have come of this appeal is not recorded, but it is known that with the spreading of the population to the central and western parts of the Island, mills sprang up everywhere and in what would now seem to be locations of little if any value in regard to the flow of water.

Of streams that drove the wooden undershot wheels of Vineyard mills, undershot because there was not sufficient fall for either “breast” or overshot in most cases, Tiasquin River holds the record for being the busiest stream. There were at least six mills on the Tiasquin River, though the stream in most places would be considered a rather unimpressive brook. Brook or river, it has been loved by Vineyarders for more than three centuries.

The Tiasquin arises in what was known long ago as the “Sauermaug country,” at a spot between the Middle and the North Roads, not far from the Middle Road. It is but a bare trickle of water, a tiny streamlet, as it winds down among the hills in a generally southeasternly direction, crossing Tea Lane about a quarter of a mile from the Middle Road, then crossing the latter thoroughfare about a half mile west of the West Tisbury line, increasing in size and depth rapidly as it runs. Then, flowing into Glimmerglass Pond, it lends volume to that beautiful and beautifully named gem of the landscape, and flows onward to the mill Pond on the old Look estate.

Crossing the South Road, it empties at last into West Tisbury Great Pond at a place not far from the mouth of Town Cove.

Five miles, perhaps, of brook so narrow that a man could jump over it anywhere except at a very few spots, and yet it turned the wheels of six mills!

The Island is long accustomed to the name of the Tiasquin but still finds it beautiful; the stranger, tasting the flavor of the name for the first time, may find it more beautiful still. The origin of the Wampanoag christening is not known, but the Tiasquin is referred to in deeds as early as 1664.

Early settlers called the stream also the New Mill River, in contradistinction to the Old Mill River.

The Old Mill River has its source in the hills of Christiantown. For a generation or more it supplied the drinking water for the Locust Grove schoolhouse, and for the horses that were allowed to pause for refreshment at the ford where the stream crossed the Indian Hill road and prepared for its gentle course cross country to the North Road and the Crocker Pond, so called.

In the year 1685, Josias the Sachem sold to Simon Athearn certain land “near to Simon Athearn’s house and land at Wampache in Tisbury,” the land having been the “planting field” of Josias for many years. And in 1702 James Allen sold to Simon Athearn “a little parcel of land near to a place called Nictowountoquah by Wampache” with “liberty to dig earth to use to dam the water and drown the swamps there.”

So the Old Mill River served a mill here, then crossed what is now the State Road and formed another historic ford for the watering of the horses of travelers bound up-Island or down-Island. Having ministered to travel so, the stream proceeded through the inland plain or valley to West Tisbury and the Old Mill Pond.

The most famous of the Vineyard mills still stands here, now the Martha’s Vineyard Garden Club Center. In this mill was made satinent and other cloth that in the old days was wont to go seafaring.

The Old Mill River likewise ends its course at West Tisbury Great Pond. The broadest and most impressive part of its course is that from North Tisbury onwards, for at the Crocker Pond there, it receives reinforcement from important tributaries.

Gone now are the days of the Island mills, but the streams run on, as the history of the Vineyard runs on too, into new times.

Compiled by Hilary Wallcox