At Boat Time

Thu, 11/26/2020 - 5:00pm

Back in the spring we had hoped by this time the spread of Covid-19 would have been contained and we would be in a holding pattern awaiting a vaccine. We feared the summer, and were haunted by historical reminders that the great pandemic of 1918 had abated in the warm weather only to surge in the fall, worse than before. Science matters, as does history.

The photo shown is one more thing in my house. It is not an original, rather a paper photocopy with “Coming up High St at Boat Time” written in pencil on the back in an unfamiliar hand.

It is undated but the background includes several late nineteenth century buildings so I imagine it to be in that great amorphous and specificity forgiving time “around the turn of the century.” What appears to be a procession is not identified but it certainly looks to be an outing more than a string of visitors going up to one or more of the hotels and guest houses on High Street and Pilot Hill. The school was decades in the future, Block Island was not a wedding destination, it would be, at best, a convoluted route for a funeral procession from one of the churches to the cemetery. The suits and white shirts are not a clue, everyone “dressed” for travel back then. People didn’t walk around with phones in their pockets casually capturing images; a photographer had to have been engaged and in place. History matters but with a disclaimer of no factual support a story can be fun.

Among the subtitles in my go-to guide book from 1909 is “Transportation about town.”

As the [horse] car line simply connects the two harbors via the bathing beach, transportation to any other part of town necessarily depends on carriages. The larger hotels furnish their own livery for the convenience of guests, and public rigs may be obtained at most any hour at Fountain Square. Families remaining on the Island for the season often bring their own turnouts.”

I think of a photo of the Old Harbor with a sea of these carriages awaiting the stream of people disembarking the Mount Hope, the grand steamer from Providence and Newport, and turn to suggested drives.

Only one listed drive goes up High Street, that to the Vaill Cottages which “may be reached by Ocean Drive [Mohegan Trail], but a more direct way is by going up High Street and taking the first main turn to the left, passing Sands Pond. This necessitates the opening of several gates, but affords pleasant scenery.”

Seems that direction should be turn to the right…

It remains a great “drive” through the very non-Block Island tunnel of trees, past the south end of Sands Pond, where ancient gnarled branches rise from the water, and out to Mohegan Trail.

So, I have decided until someone can provide the facts, it is an excursion of dignitaries to view Sands Pond, the water source for the village, and the south shore and its “bold coast scenery” touted in an advertisement even back then.

In any event, one hopes an excellent time was had by all.