Originally published in the Historic Nantucket, Vol 38, no. 3 (Fall 1990), p. 43-44
The 'Sconset of my childhood differed from the 'Sconset of today. The village was almost complete in itself.
'Sconset in Comparison
By Joan Pennock Craig
Although I have been a year-round resident of the town of Nantucket for forty-two years, I still get excited every time I am in 'Sconset. Until I was married, I spent all but the first two summers of my life there and loved every minute of it. For a child who was city-born-and-raised, it was like coming to paradise when we arrived in early June each year. Hardly a day goes by now that I don't think back to some part of my life in those summer days of the 1920s and 30s.
The 'Sconset of my childhood differed greatly from the 'Sconset of today. The village was almost complete in itself. Except to purchase groceries or catch the boat, there was no real need to drive the seven miles to town. Of course, there were many things 'Sconseters enjoyed doing in town, and many trips were made; but the need was not as great as it is now.
Summer 'Sconset back then had many more shops and services. The grocery store was at Pump Square and was run by Larry Welch. Many people used it only in emergencies because prices were high, but I frequented it almost daily to buy O Boy bubble gum for a penny a stick. The Elbow Lane Gift Shop sold photographs, paintings, and a few assorted gifts.
Nearby on either side of the footbridge over Gully Road were two popular establishments. On the ocean side was the 'Sconset branch of Marshall Gardiner's where one could purchase cameras, film, and art supplies, as well as some gifts. There was a spectacular display of postcards, showing various island scenes, and several were as large as thirty inches in length. These are considered valuable antiques in today's market, and many a home sports these cards handsomely framed. The shop opposite Gardiner's was a delight where one could easily find a suitable gift for any occasion. The store was devoted mostly to items that would please "grown-ups," but in the back there was a children's area. 1 remember well the wonderful collection of Tootsie Toys and small china animal sets that were so popular with boys and girls at that time.
There was a store known as "Wander In" at the end of the Gully Road under the bridge near where the swing sets are now. (To get to it, one passed two houses, no longer there, named "Tweedledum" and "Tweedledee.") This shop was in the front of a private house and sold bathing suits, caps, beach towels, and toys. The beach in front, then called Wander In Beach, was seldom used. The next area toward Sankaty was the popular spot where everyone gathered to swim and was known as the "Main" beach. It was here that the town stationed 'Sconset's first lifeguard in the late 1930s.
Where the Sconset Cafe and package store are now was Cliff Eddy's Siasconset Book Store. It was to 'Sconset what the Hub presently is to Nantucket. Cliff Eddy's was the village gathering spot where people could purchase newspapers and magazines as well as sundry drug and gift items. There was also a small, popular soda fountain. Outside the door stood the cab that provided Cliffs taxi service. Next door, where it is today, was the Siasconset Post Office. Across the street was the bus stop for transportation to Nantucket and return.
Around the corner, John Salvas, known as "John, the barber," had a small shop which was to the left as you face what is now the Siasconset Market. John also had gas pumps. Outside the barbershop door was a shoeshine chair where Walter Kelly conducted a thriving business. You could either climb up into the chair and get your shoes shined as you chatted with people coming for their haircuts, or you could leave your shoes with Walter in the morning and pick them up later in the day. Known to everyone, Kelly was a large, jolly man with an artificial nose—a necessity resulting from an undisclosed event in his past.
'Sconset even had its own library, located in the Old Gardner House on Broadway. Mrs. Grant, the helpful librarian, was always available. There were adequate copies of the popular Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, and Hardy Boys series, as well as many other reading selections for young and old.
Miss Elna ran the Kozy Beauty Studio for ladies hairdressing at 17 Shell Street. The Holdgate family conducted a laundry business from their home on New Street. Oscar Folger rented garage spaces, and Pease's Garage in Nantucket had a branch across from the Casino. Manager Al LaVoie dispensed free air for the tires of all the children's bikes. A little French lady, Mrs. Allo, did mending and made slipcovers. Her husband, Victor, tended many of the 'Sconset gardens, as did Earl Coffin. Albert Egan and Ernest Coffin took care of all 'Sconset carpentry and repairs, and Martindale Coffin coped with the trash and garbage.
In a cottage on Shell Street was a branch of the New England Telephone Company, operated for many years by Doris Handy. Across the street was the Siasconset Water Department, ably superintended by Harry Holden. And, believe it or not, 'Sconset had its own Western Union office, located in the building on Park Lane known as "Telegraph House."
John Thomas operated the 'Sconset fish market "down bank" in Codfish Park where he also sold littlenecks on the half shell. Families would frequently stop on the way up from a swim, and he would open and serve the quahogs for a nickel apiece.
The restaurants I remember most clearly were the Chanticleer, which in many ways has not changed in appearance, and the Dine A Mite Tea Room, run by "Pinky" Gouin across from the Post Office. Another place to eat was Sadie Folger's Wander Inn on Broadway. An appropriately little lady, Minnie Nichols, ran a tearoom in La Petite (sic) Cottage at the head of Shell Street. There was also the popular Morris's Ice Cream Parlor in Daisy Cot on New Street.
Other eating establishments came and went, but I can't leave this subject without mention of my favorite. This was a tiny place to the left at the bottom of the road from Front Street that we called "Cobblestone Hill." This little eatery was run by Mrs. Amos Arey who sold, without a doubt, the best hot dogs and blueberry pie.
In addition, many products and services were delivered right to the home. Harry Dunham trucked our milk and fresh vegetables from his Polpis farm a few times a week. Horace Jernegan brought much-needed ice by wagon every day or so. And there were those wonderful men who appeared at the kitchen door with pails of freshly picked blueberries, priced from thirty cents a quart (fair) to forty cents (expensive).
The 'Sconset of my childhood had much to offer in the way of sports and relaxation. There was golf at the "Old 'Sconset" course on Milestone Road as well as at Sankaty. The first ten holes plus the eighteenth were on the 'Sconset side of the course, and the other holes were across the Polpis Road. The Casino supplied the only tennis courts.
Horseback riding was a very popular pastime. Opposite the water tower was a stable run by Marquis Gouin, an ex-officer in the French cavalry. My sister always rode a chestnut horse named "Lucky," while I rode a large black one named "Prince." In summer we frequently started out early in the morning and followed our ride with breakfast in the Chanticleer garden. In the fall we rode onto the moors and picked grapes from horseback. "Gouiny," as he was known, always made sure that all the young riders learned to care for the horses. We were taught to saddle, water, and groom them as well as to clean out their stalls. We spent a lot of time at the stables.
The Srail Club ("Liars" spelled backwards) was popular with many men in the village. Their clubhouse on New Street across from Daisy Cot was a barnlike building that still bears the name "Srail." Here the group gathered informally to swap stories and discuss topics of current interest. I think of the Srail Club as 'Sconset's equivalent of the Wharf Rat Club in Nantucket. I am sure there are still many people around who can tell us about the earliest "Srails."
In the evening there were assorted activities. Dances were held for adults twice a week—on Fridays at Sankaty and on Tuesdays, preceded by a children's dance, at the Casino. One of the highlights of the season was the children's masquerade held in late August. The competition for prizes was keen, and costumes were often planned well in advance. There was always a live orchestra, and there were lucky-number and spotlight dances and prizes.
Interesting lectures were presented in the Tavern on the Moors on School Street. Exotic travel posters covered the interior walls. There was a wonderful stagecoach in the front yard, and as children, we acted out many a drama in it. If our playacting turned to tales of the sea, we moved the scene of our action to an old boat in the front yard of the Beach House on Ocean Avenue. Neither building exists today.
On Sunday evenings many people went to root for the summer baseball teams. The action took place in approximately the same area used today on the Milestone Road just west of town. When there was competition against the Caddy Camp, however, the games were often played at Sankaty Golf Club.
On Wednesday and Saturday nights, we had movies at the Casino—twenty-five cents in the balcony and forty cents downstairs. We sat on the same uncomfortable chairs that are used today. The first movies I went to were silent pictures, and Herbie Brownell supplied music appropriate to the action from the piano in the left front of the auditorium. Because Herbie was blind, someone always sat with him and explained what was happening on the screen.
A small bar and night spot, known as the Moby Dick, was situated partway down the bank off Ocean Avenue. Some say that the building had once been the railroad depot. Early and late in the season, when the Moby Dick was not too crowded, patrons could watch old movies there as well.
I don't think the summer people from 'Sconset and Nantucket mixed as much in the 1920s and 30s as they do today. We lacked very little; most of what we needed and enjoyed was right there in our own village. 'Sconset was truly a fantastic place to spend the vacation months, and I'm ever grateful that it was a part of my life.