Boom (and bust) at Lagoon Heights, Martha’s Vineyard

Richard L. Pease, Surveyor. John H. Mullin, Civil Engineer / J.H. Bufford’s Lith., PLAN OF LAGOON HEIGHTS, Martha’s Vineyard, MASS. Boston, August 1873.
Two-stone lithograph, 25 ¾”h x 34”w plus margins.

Lovely promotional map for the Lagoon Heights development in present-day Oak Bluffs, Martha’s Vineyard.

This plan combines a plat of the Lagoon Heights development with decorative vignettes of two very fine cottages and an unusual perspective view of the Lagoon and Vineyard Sound. The overall impression is most attractive, rendering this is one of the most appealing real estate promotional maps of the period.

Largely uninhabited forest well into the 19th century, in 1835 the Martha’s Vineyard headland of East Chop became the site of a Methodist Camp Meeting and soon grew into the most prominent of its kind in the country. In 1875 the Baptists followed suit and established the Baptist Vineyard Association, which held its own revivals on a plot of land to the north on the other side of the lagoon. The visitors’ tents eventually morphed into permanent cottages, more secularly-minded real estate developers and speculators arrived on the scene, and in the 1870s a thriving commercial town began to develop in the area.

One such development was Lagoon Heights, an elevated area on the west side of the headland, facing a sheltered lagoon and offering stellar views across Vineyard Sound. It is not clear when the project originated, but the earliest mention this writer has found is an ad in The Seaside Gazette for July 20, 1872, published on the island:

“LAGOON HEIGHTS Comprises 200 acres of elevated, pleasant land, interspersed with several shay groves, with half a mile of water FRONT ON LAGOON POND, and extending easterly from the water to the county road connecting Eastville with Edgartown. This is a fine location on the Oak Bluff side of the pond, HALF a mile from Wesleyan Grove.


“The elevated portions overlook the picturesque village of Vineyard Haven with its anchorage ground white-winged with the fleets of every port….


“THE LAKE on which it fronts affords excellent facilities for fishing, abounding with bass and other species of the finny tribe, while the shores are filled with clams, quahogs, muscles [sic], and other shellfish. It is two miles long and land-locked, an therefore charmingly adapted for boating in small craft, and the southwest breezes, the prevailing summer wind, are tempered by it to a refreshing coolness, as they are wafted across the Heights.


“LAGOON HEIGHTS are laid out by R.L. PEASE, Esq., of Edgartown, in lots of 50 by 100 feet, and from that up to ten acres. The main avenue, called Pennsylvania Avenue, is 60 feet wide, extending from the Pond to the County road, and there connecting with the direct routes to Oak Bluffs and the new Beach road.


“For particulars, terms &c., apply to J. & W. R. WING.”

J. & W. R. Wing was the New Bedford-based firm of Joseph and William Ricketson Ring, who made their fortune investing in whaling voyages from 1852-1914. Whatever their success in other ventures, the Wings’ timing was atrocious: in the Fall of 1873 the failure of Jay Cooke & Co. helped trigger the “Panic of 1873,” heralding a long depression that presumably derailed their plans on Martha’s Vineyard.

Rumsey 5306. Not in Phillips.