A look back at the ‘tinman’ of Edgartown

Mayhew’s tinware shop, on the corner of North Water and Winter streets, circa 1890s. Charles Mayhew, 1826-1910, seated left.

For nearly 50 years, Charles Mayhew ran a popular Edgartown hardware business, selling stoves, plumbing supplies, dishes, kettles, keys, cinder shovels, pumps, pipes, wire, pots and pans, glassware, and even a few groceries from his shop on the corner of North Water and Winter streets in Edgartown. He usually referred to himself as a “tinman” or “tinsmith,” although he once yearned for more precious metals.

When the discovery of gold in California was announced in 1848, 21-year-old Mayhew and a couple dozen of his friends hastily formed the Edgartown Mining Co. Hiring the ship Walter Scott, they left the Island on May 7, 1849, on a 156-day journey to San Francisco. But like most of the Vineyard’s forty-niners (more than 200 from Edgartown alone), Mayhew soon came home, none the richer from his adventure. Shortly after he returned, he opened his downtown tinware shop, which the Boston Globe would later describe as a “more or less lucrative business,” and Mayhew “among the most energetic business spirits of the port.”

A staunch Democrat, Mayhew was disheartened when Republican candidate Rutherford Hayes was elected president in the hotly disputed 1876 election. A Pennsylvania newspaper reported, “Charles Mayhew, of Edgartown, Massachusetts, has made a bet which stamps him as a fool. He has agreed to crawl from Edgartown to Oak Bluffs on his hands and knees if Hayes is elected. It is unnecessary to say that Mayhew is a Democrat, and that he is now seeking some means to rob his self-imposed task of its most ridiculous and disagreeable features.” It was not reported whether Mayhew ultimately made good on his bet.

Mayhew and his family lived in his ancestral waterfront home on South Water Street, commonly referred to as the “Governor Mayhew House.” Built possibly as early as 1670, and occupied by many generations of Mayhews, it was widely considered the oldest house on the Island before it was unceremoniously torn down upon Charles Mayhew’s death in 1910.

This article written by Chris Baer originally appeared in the MV Times. Chris Baer teaches photography and graphic design at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. He’s been collecting vintage photographs for many years.