Minding Their Own Business: Lamplighter Corner

Tim Rush and Tom Fisher, lamp makers.

For Tom Fisher and Tim Rush, the impending vote at town meeting had disaster written all over it – like when the maraschino cherry industry found out the government was about to ban Red Dye No. 2. Article 90 on the warrant this spring sought to limit the number of lanterns per Edgartown house to six, and Fisher and Rush are in the lantern-making business. Fisher offered an amendment to measure the light in lumens, not fixtures. The amendment passed, but the article was defeated. “It’ll come up again,” says Fisher ruefully. Troubles 
like these breed in the dark.
Whale oil distributor Dr. Daniel Fisher donated the first street lamps to downtown Edgartown in 1869. Lamplighter (and Democrat, evidently) Martin Van Buren Norton plodded up Main Street to light the lamps each evening. In 1912, incandescent bulbs replaced the oil lamps, which were discarded, stored in attics, hung on door fronts, or posted in side yards.
Fast forward to the summer of 1967 when Hollis Fisher, an electrical contractor from Edgartown, was hospitalized after an automobile accident. “Through the years Mr. Fisher had repaired and restored some of the original (lanterns),” wrote Colbert Smith in the Vineyard Gazette, “and he owned one himself, but the notion of trying to make one from scratch did not come until after [a passerby] attempted to buy his original street lantern, which was set out in front of the Fisher house.” He spent the rest of his life building lanterns by hand at Lamplighter Corner, located off Pease’s Point Way in Edgartown. In 1990 Fisher’s son Tom bought the business with Tim Rush, a fellow employee at Edgartown Hardware.
“This is where it started, and we produce the same lamps today,” says Tim. “We’re best known for our street lamps. Nothing’s changed.” Hollis Fisher’s 
book of designs lies on a chair in the cutting room – “for an odd lamp we don’t make too often,” his son says. It takes twelve hours to build a lamp that sells for $375 to $700. The work is simple: cut the solid brass or copper, bend it on a metal bending machine, assemble and secure with solder, then rivets. In 1996, Lamplighter Corner and Joan Condlin of Edgartown were contracted to build and install the lanterns that now run the length of lower Main Street.
Tom and Tim do not polish their lanterns. “They tarnish, that’s the whole point,” says Tim. “People should notice your house, not your lamps,” says Tom. Maxine Perry, who worked the catalogue desk at Sears for many years, now polishes glass or lenses, on call. She’s the only other employee.
Lamplighter Corner sold lanterns all across the country in the 1990s. “The owner of Victoria’s Secret built a town,” says Tim, “a huge colonial development in New Albany, Ohio. A quarter of our business was lanterns for this development, on the houses and streets.” In 1995 their lanterns appeared on the front door of a house in the movie Faithful, starring Cher and Ryan O’Neal.
Post lamps are Lamplighter Corner’s best-known product, based on the design of old kerosene lamps. “My father named them after Island places like Katama or Chappy, lamps which reflect New England,” says Tom. “The Katama lamp is almost identical to the lamp that Jefferson used in Monticello.” Tom and Tim see a fair number of repeat customers, and they often light a house more than once. “Most of the people who sell their house take their lamps with them,” says Tim.
What with competition from overseas and all the new state regulations governing companies like theirs – “Romney is not a friend to small business,” says Tim of the governor – the two craftsmen have had to expand into other markets. They sell furniture, crockery, old prints, and other antiques. “We’re in it for the long run,” says Tim. “We’ve had to deal with cost increases and competition. Word-of-mouth is how we make our sales.” A customer from West Chop agrees. “We knew that an Edgartown light would fit our house perfectly,” says Liz Trotter. “They complete the front of our colonial-style home. As my husband travels here from off-Island, he can attest to how beautiful they even look from the ferry at night."