With over a mile of wood-planked boardwalk from the Highlands in East Chop to along the front of today’s Oak Bluffs harbor and down to the Inkwell, “bluffing” was the activity of moonlight strolling to Lover’s Rock back in the early 1870’s. Bands played a song called “The Oak Bluffs Galop (sic)," a probably faster-paced tune than folks needed while walking. It was written by Etta Godfrey in 1872, but I’ve never heard it. I have the sheet music but can’t read it. You might want to download Bill Doggett’s Honky Tonk from iTunes, an aptly named song for both “bluffing” and Oak Bluffs.
Built specifically as a seaside summer watering place, Cottage City was one of the first generally affordable resorts. When the middle class chose to take a break from real life in America, they took advantage of all the general frivolity that only Oak Bluffs could provide. Over the years our diversions included an amazing and colorful array of activities, few of which remain.
The Vineyard Skating Rink, built by Worcester founder Samuel Winslow (who invented an improved roller skate), graced the north bluff. A wooden tobogganing structure built nearby was replaced by the Flying Horses, which then moved to its current location. Roque, the upscale version of croquet, was played in Waban Park, bocce in Ocean Park, and bowling alleys lined Oak Bluffs avenue, home of the original Dreamland – at one time a casino. Pool and billiards were widely available, and the Tivoli (sited at today’s police department) offered dancing, boxing and midget and bear fighting. Originally called the Cottage City Casino, the Tivoli showed films in a small ground-level room in 1907. The first movies shown on the Island took place under the Bathing Pavilion on the boardwalk and later, Union Chapel. On June 16, 1915 an ad in the Vineyard Gazette announced that Allen P. Eagleston was opening the Island’s first exclusive theater, the Eagle Theatre, an Amusement House of Distinction. The first movie was David Harum and the general admission was 20 cents — 15 cents for the balcony and 10 cents for weekday matinees. Today it’s the Island Theatre that is close to, if not already, 100 years old.
Salt water baths, photography studios, tea rooms, horse racing and arcades provided additional recreation. Lasting activities of the period include boat sailing, kite flying, fireworks, porch sitting, bathing, swimming, baseball, tennis, basketball, piano playing, singing and band concerts.
A less savory pursuit may have been the whispered reports of prostitution in and around the Prospect House Hotel of Lagoon Heights that, if true, certainly help earn us our honky-tonk moniker and hearken the Rolling Stones song, Honky Tonk Woman.
Later in our development there were seaplane rides at the Inkwell, today replaced by parasail rides, Jet Ski rentals and wind and kite surfing. The town of Oak Bluffs has become, ironically, far less Victorian today than the Victorian period during which it was built.
Peter Hermann from the VFW made the announcement at a recent board of selectmen’s meeting that the United States Department of Veterans Affairs has chosen Oak Bluffs as one of only 62 regional sites for the observation of Veterans Day 2012. On Sunday the Veterans Day parade will begin at Nancy’s at 10:45 a.m.
There is a special town meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 13 at the Oak Bluffs School from 7 to 9 p.m. The warrant highlights various capital improvements and repairs planned over the near future, including studies to improve the fire and EMS departments, the town hall, the library, the harbor and Niantic Park. All of the items on the warrant are favored by at least five (and at most seven) of the finance and advisory board. Due to its being named a safety hazard, funds are recommended for the demolition of a derelict structure at 10 Warwick avenue by all eight of the eight folks on the finance and advisory board.
I surely do wonder what the finance and advisory board thinks about the Strand Theatre. And that never-built laundromat over near Hiawatha Park . . . There was an election earlier this week and hopefully we’ll be moving forward. I’m looking forward to not hearing anyone approve any messages for a while.
Keep your foot on a rock.