Cowplop Lane

In the discreet and proper late nineteenth era, “leg” was on the proscribed vocabulary list. Supporting “members”, such as table and chair “legs”, were referred to as “limbs”. Out of modesty, tables were given skirts, lest too much leg be seen. Uncomfortable names were often replaced. On the Vineyard, the Tisbury town of Holmes Hole (“Hole”! Gracious me!) was rechristened “Vineyard Haven”.

In West Tisbury, Cowplop Lane got a new handle — Music Street. Not a bad name for a street. This name change was inspired, we are told, by the fact that every house on the street had a piano, and that on summer evenings, the air was always atinkle with notes wafting from windows. When I think of the Music Street children I grew up with, in West Tisbury, almost all of them had musical talent, and most of those who made music then, fifty and sixty years lago, still make music today.

That’s nice. Really nice. We need music.

The West Tisbury Congregational Church. 

There’s music at the Congregational Church at the head of Music Street. Inside is a real tracker and slide organ, and there’s a decent choir. The congregation sings, too, from the venerable Pilgrim Hymnal. The bell in the tower rings a G sharp. It’s time for us to look sharp, and start on a walk down Music Street. East to west we’ll go.

Looking west, down Music Street. May. The horse chestnuts are in bloom.

Music Street is the street of my childhood. It’s the street where I went to school for the first six grades. It’s the street my friends lived on. If they didn’t live on Music Street, the driveways to their houses began on Music Street.  It used to be that the usual address for deliveries to those homes was simply “off Music Street”. A few years ago, “enhanced 9-1-1 capability” regulations were imposed. All roads were required to be named. Street numbers were assigned. By a consulting firm, of course. Now all our roads have names and all our houses have numbers. Boring.  We no longer have such simple and esoteric addresses.

Here is the start of Music Street, circa 1910.

We pass the old library, once part of the Dukes County Academy. The town built a new library, and this structure has since seen use as a police station, as town offices, and has also housed various other organizations. Beneath this Mansard roof a theater group now chews the scenery, .

West Tisbury Free Public Library Building.

Across the street is the Cook’s old house..


The discreetest of gingerbread adorns this late 19th century house. 


In the early spring, the front yard turns blue. Thousands of scilla bulbs have naturalized throughout the grass. The annual display of azure is one of the annual Wonders of Music Street.

Music Street scillas.

Next door is the home of a Famous Writer. If you haven’t read his books, you’ve heard his voice.

The house of the Famous Writer. He doesn’t work inside the house, but has a little tiny house out back where he does his writing. On a typewriter. Thirty years ago, Consumer Reports called the manual typewriter a “clacking primeval fossil”. Don’t tell that to the Famous Writer.

Across from the Famous Writer’s house is “Gerty Terdy’s” house. That’s what we called her, back then, though never to her face. The house has a nifty fence in front, which has alway been painted white.

The house of Gertrude Turner.

Do check out the fence in front. It’s an interesting construction, an example of nonpickety fence. The story we always heard was that the design was taken from a fence at the Tivoli Garden, over in Europe.

Lots of right angles here.

Diagonally across from Gerty’s, we see the Athearn’s house. Four children were raised in this diminutive cottage. In the big flat lawn, on the grass of this place, gangs of West Tisbury children spent many hours. After dark, there were nightcrawlers to be found here.  Also after dark were night games like Flashlight Tag, Wooly, and Sardines. Must not forget Hamhamchickenham(bacon!), though that was most often a daytime game.

The Athearn yard.

Then the Blocks house. For years it was always neat as a pin, though it’s been neglected a bit lately. Bill and Sophie are gone, and the heirs are not so attentive. Every time I walk by I want to pull those bittersweet vines off, before they cover the place and rip off the gutters and downspouts. Bittersweet and wisteria can pry the shingles right off your outside walls. Bittersweet is New England kudzu.

Noble early nineteenth century New England architecture. A two storey three-quarter house. (2016 note: the house has been sold and has been renovated.)

We’ll skip Tom Craven’s old place, and return to Tom in another post at another time. We’ll skip the old Marshall house, too.

But we have to take time to feel the bark of the giant tulip tree, the largest tree on the street.

We once again admire Betty Knox’s place. Her kolkwitzia, her beauty bush, is in full bloom.

A Maley statue, at the end of the Maley driveway, peeps out through more bittersweet.

Is she looking over at the old granite post, the one with the special topping?
Time to take a time out. Young Mr. T. wants to see what’s down there. How can you come to a grate and not drop things down there, to watch the splashes and listen to the sounds?
When we get to the Bird house, it’s almost time to turn off Music Street and head home.

Here’s “The Road” (to my house…)

See you later.

Mr. T. turns on to Tiasquam Road.

8 responses to “Cowplop Lane

  1. I used to love that my old West Tisbury address was just a map and lot number.

    I remember and was also a little saddened when the streets all got named. No-one ever asked me for my ideas, I assume because I didn’t own any property back then, but among my favorites, not too far from my house in Oak Bluffs, is “Old Dirt Road.”

    And pretty as “Music Street” is, the loss of a name as quirky and funny as “Cowplop Lane” is also kind of disappointing!

  2. Wonderful, Tom. Some people we know who lived in Westchester Cnty NY wanted to name their street Music street. They had the first house in a new subdivision, so they knew it wouldn’t interfere with any neighbors. They went to their town fathers to ask permission. After some weeks of deep thinking, the town fathers reported back, It’s okay to name it Melody Lane.” They said don’t bother.

  3. I needed to take this walk with you and Mr. T this morning and go back to a time when a day was judged by how many bugs were seen, if a turtle could be found and if Grandpa showed up. It took me back to the days when I would follow behind my own little blonde boy tripping along in front of me…the world’s delights awaiting him. You once said you are firmly rooted there, where you grew up and have always lived. And once you remarked to me that you thought I have had ‘the best life’…I flinched when I saw that. I had a chance – one chance – to live a life like yours but I took a bite of the Apple and it called me to other paths. Those travels more or less completed, I now know that you have had the best life. Only you can write treasure like this…to be cherished by your generations. I am at 100 good pages, now, of my own gift to my generations and I’ve been so happy to remember and capture the minutes into print. But today, your voice gives me a special energy for my own search for the nuggets. Many thanks.

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