Monday, July 29, 2013

Eugene E. Kirby Paved First Roads in Foxboro and Drove First Automobile From Oak Bluffs to Gay Head

Typical Motorized Conveyance1912 Foxboro and Oak Bluffs

Every day and every evening thousands of vehicles drive over the paved and electric night lighted streets of Foxboro. Nary is a thought given to the time when these same roads were unpaved and illuminated by gas lamps, and traveled upon by horse driven wagons and carriages. As when Foxboro’s gravel and cobblestone roads gave away to paved streets, so there was also a time when gas lamps were converted over to electric lights. We take for granted many of the modern conveniences in our present time. However, the historical events of paved roads and electric lights did not take place in a vacuum. There was an individual charged with the responsibility to oversee this transformation and that person was Foxboro’s Eugene E. Kirby.

However, Eugene was much more than the youth who worked each night lighting the gas lamps and later supervised the construction of Foxboro's first paved roads. Foxboro was his consuming love. He lived his entire life, three months shy of a hundred years, in Foxboro. Eugene was truly a New England neighbor, friend, entrepreneur, public servant, parishioner, son, husband, father, and grandfather in every sense and every way.

Eugene E. Kirby was born in Foxboro on December 25, 1865, the son of Jeremiah and Mary (McFarland) who were natives of Ireland. Jeremiah was born in County Kerry, but in early life crossed the Atlantic and established his home at Millville, Rhode Island, where he resided for a year and a half. He then came to Foxboro, where he engaged in railroad work throughout the remainder of his life. He passed away on May 3, 1915, having for a decade survived his wife, who died in March, 1905. 

Eugene was Vincent M (Vin) Igo, Jr.’s grandfather. Vin, “Mr. Foxbro” (Vin’s Massachusetts vanity license plate) is fondly remembered. Vin worked for the Foxboro Company from 1943 to 1990. He was a former assistant to the publisher and up until his death a contributing writer and news photographer for the Foxboro Reporter where readers had been “Going Along With Vin Igo” for decades. In 1976 Vin’s old High School was named the Vincent M. Igo School Administration Center and in 1995 it was changed to the Vincent M. Igo Elementary School.

According to his obituary Eugene served a total of twenty years as “Superintendent of Streets” and retired in 1946 at the age of 78. He guided the department from the horse-drawn days to the motorized equipment and he built the first hard surface roads in Foxboro. Eugene spent his youthful days under the parental roof and pursued his education in the schools of Foxboro.

In November, 1888, Eugene married Ann C. Barton, a daughter of Andrew and Julia Barton, who were also natives of Ireland. They came to America in early life and established their home in East Foxboro, where the father worked on the railroad section for a number of years. He and his wife’s remaining days were passed in Foxboro. Eugene and Ann became the parents of three children, Mildred (Vin’s mother), Eugene E. Kirby, Jr. and Sumner B. Kirby.

During the 1880's Eugene ran one of the largest horse livery stables in New England. He established a livery partnership with Charles C. Sumner. The “Cohasset Stables” became known as the firm of "Sumner and Kirby.”

Each summer he took 27 horses aboard a Woods Hole ferry for the trip to Oak Bluffs on Martha's Vineyard Island where he operated another livery business for transportation by summer residents. In 1915 he sold the livery enterprise and turned his attention to the growing new automobile industry in Oak Bluffs and in Foxboro. Eugene is credited with driving the first automobile from Oak Bluffs to Gay Head where an Indian reservation was then located.

Eugene E. Kirby belonged to several fraternal organizations, having membership with the Ancient Order of United Workmen, the Benevolent Protective Order of Elks and the Loyal Order of Moose as well as with the Knights of Columbus. His religious faith was Catholic and was a “loyal and unfaltering” member of the Democrat Party.

The archive of the Foxboro Reporter provides insight into the character Eugene and several historical vignettes merit recalling. The February 28, 1903 edition reporting on the Cocasset Stables stated, “Hundreds of people in Foxboro have enjoyed sleigh rides in the winter and barge rides in the summer with Eugene holding the ribbons."

Additionally, in the June 16, 1917 edition, a letter to the editor signed ‘A Subscriber’ stated, “In these days of selfishness and trouble, it does one's heart good to see a real charitable act performed. On Sunday last, after services at the Foxboro Catholic Church, many people stood on the Church steps waiting for a letup in the storm. Mr. Kirby, townsman and member of the church, was there with one of his machines. He kindly offered his services to see all reached home safely, making several trips to different parts of the town and refused utterly any reimbursement for his trouble."

The familiar, cheerful, and portly man with white hair who renewed his auto license every year until the age of ninety-six passed away on September 23, 1965, at the age of ninety-nine years and nine months.

Eugene E. Kirby's life gently affected not only the people he loved and came in contact with, but every aspect of the life of the town he was born, lived and died in whether it private, public, religious, social or business.

As time moves forward and generations live and die, there will always be innovations and inventions to better the quality of daily living. But the virtue of human kindness transcends death and will be shared by all who discover and live it.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

2016 Grand Illumination, Martha’s Vineyard, Oak Bluff’s Camp Ground: Founder Foxboro's Erastus P. Carpenter

On Wednesday, August 17, 2016, the Martha’s Vineyard, Oak Bluffs’ Campground will host its 147th Grand Illumination Night. The first Illumination Night on Saturday evening, August 14, 1869 was sponsored by the Oak Bluffs Land and Wharf Company. The renowned annual event is famous for its traditional Oriental paper lanterns ornately hung outside the many gingerbread cottages that line the campground. However, the Grand Illumination’s intimate association with the Campground was not always welcomed by its mid-19th century religiously-inclined residents. Not only did they refrain from participating in the secular event, they erected a picket fence to try to wall themselves off from the world that had risen up around them. Historian Chris Stoddard writes, "In the eyes of many of the people attending the camp meeting, this new group took on the form of the devil and a threat to the more serious nature of the camp meeting." The first “Grand Illumination” was sponsored by local Foxboro businessman, Erastus P. Carpenter.

During the summers of 1864 and 1865 Carpenter rented a cottage within the Camp Meeting grounds. He enjoyed the revival meetings so much that he became desirous of purchasing a site for permanent occupancy. Learning that this was against the rules of the Camp Meeting Association he bought a lot outside of the grounds the following year. Recognizing a potential land development boom, he soon formed a joint stock company and purchased a 75 acre of wood and cleared land southeast of the Camp Meeting Association property. The company investors included Edgartown residents Captain Shubael Lyman Norton, Captain Ira Darrow, Captain Grafton Norton Collins, and William Bradley.

E. P. Carpenter 
As president of the Oak Bluffs Land and Wharf Company, Carpenter and his associates soon transformed the undeveloped area into a popular summer destination place. The investors built hundreds of affordable cottages, the Arcade, the Pagoda, the Union Chapel, the Martha's Vineyard Railroad, the Sea View House as well as the Waban, Naushon, Niantic and Ocean Parks.

The company placed its first advertisement for the newly named resort of "Oak Bluffs" in the July 5, 1867 Vineyard Gazette. "Home By The Seaside, Oak Bluffs. A New Summer Resort. One Thousand Lots for Sale. The Martha’s Vineyard Land and Wharf Company having purchased the beautiful grove together with a large tract of land, adjoining the Wesleyan Camp Ground, offer for sale, within the reach of all, lots in their beautiful grounds, called "Oak Bluffs." The company sold over 800 lots in the first three years.

The summer residents affiliated with the religious Camp Meeting Association were unhappy with the success of this secular enterprise. The May 23, 1868 Vineyard Gazette reported, “During the present year the number of cottages erected on ‘this side of the fence,’ will fully equal, if not exceed those in Wesleyan Grove. The High Board Fence – between the grounds of the Camp Meetingers (sic) and Oak Bluffers is now in process of construction. We can think that the camp Meeting Association will never regret this proceeding but once - and that regret will be for all time. It is carrying matters a little too far, and smacks somewhat strongly of Phariseeism."

President Grant at later Illumination
The development soon encircled the original religious camp meeting ground and so the main street was called Circuit Avenue. Describing the public reaction to this series of events a historian wrote, "Inside the Camp Ground all was neighborly and hushed. Outside, quite suddenly, all was clamor and commerce – a town of skating rinks, merry go rounds, theatres and hotels. It was all so contrary to the spiritual business that drew the first pilgrims there, and so bewildering to them. Eventually they put up a picket fence to try to wall themselves off from the world that had risen up around them. The speculation and energy that created the town of Oak Bluffs still animates the spirit of the place today. And though the fence did not last, the Camp Ground, right in the middle of it all, has managed to remain a place of almost miraculous stillness and peace in the midst of the bustle."
E.P. Carpenter's Cottage 1869

The first Illumination Night on Saturday evening, August 14, 1869 was sponsored by the Oak Bluffs Land and Wharf Company. The Vineyard Gazette reported, "The illumination and fireworks at ‘Oak Bluffs,' on Saturday evening last, was a very fine affair. Chinese and Japanese lanterns were displayed in abundance, suspended from cottages and trees. There was a good variety in the pieces at the fireworks. The Foxboro Brass Band, brought here by the liberality of E. P. Carpenter, Esq., of Foxboro, discoursed fine music for the occasion. Several thousands of people of both sexes were out to see and hear." The initial festivity was called Governor's Day in honor of Governor William Claflin who was on hand for the fete. Over the ensuing years, the Vineyard Gazette referred to the annual event as the "Illumination," and the identification remains to this day.

The event became more popular each summer. During the summer of 1873 the Vineyard Gazette reported on the "Illumination at Oak Bluff, Once again entertainment was provided by for by E. P. Carpenter and the Foxboro Brass Band. Among the notables present were Vice-President Henry Wilson, and Governor Henry Howard of Rhode Island.” The following year, President Ulysses S. Grant presided at the event. The Vineyard Gazette reported "The Illumination. In the evening the President and Party were driven around the principal avenues on the Bluffs, to witness the illumination and display of fire-works which had been gotten in his honor. The procession headed by the Foxboro Brass Band… The whole city was ablaze, or rather the Bluff’s ‘ward.’ The cottages of E. P. Carpenter, Dr. Tucker, the Holmans, and others on Narragansett Avenue, and a host of others all challenged the enthusiastic admiration of the multitude of spectators."

E. P. Carpenter's Grand Illumination 146 years ago initially caused alarm of the people 'inside the fence' of the encroaching ideas of commercialization and a change to their quiet, isolated way of life. But history reveals that with the passage of time, the wooden fence that once physically shunned out the lights and festivities of the Illumination has become like a pond ripple that each year carries anew the light and joy to all who wade into its waters.