2019 is shaping up to be an exciting year for the Nantucket Preservation Trust. We hope you’ll join us this year at an event, or two, or three, or four!
2019 is shaping up to be an exciting year for the Nantucket Preservation Trust. We hope you’ll join us this year at an event, or two, or three, or four!
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that Saint Nicholas soon would be there…
The official start of winter is still a week away, but it’s cold here on Nantucket. There’s nothing that transports you back in time more than walking along our historic streets and seeing smoke curling out of chimneys, the smell of woodsmoke filling the crisp air.
In a place where the sun sets at 4:15 in the afternoon, winter means long, cold nights perfect for crackling fires. Today, most of our homes are heated by electricity or gas, and while a roaring fire brings a certain glow to winter nights, we are no longer reliant on fireplaces for heat.
Fireplace chimneys are also central to one of America’s most iconic winter tales: Saint Nicholas (Santa, St. Nick, Father Christmas…) slipping down the chimney to deliver toys to children on Christmas Eve.
We wanted to look a little more into the history of fireplaces and find out just when Santa started shimmying down them.
Colonial fireplaces were quite wide and deep to allow for multiple cooking pots and multiple fires for cooking and baking. These large fireplaces lost a lot of heat, but their huge central chimney masses of stone or brick helped to keep houses warmer overall.
Up until about 1800, homes were primary heated by wood burning fireplaces. In the mid 1700s, Benjamin Franklin invented the Franklin Stove, a metal insert for fireplaces. Through a series of baffles, Franklin’s stove intended to direct the flow of air and help retain heat longer.
In 1795, Benjamin Thompson, also called Count Rumford, invented the Rumford fireplace design. Rumford tested firebox designs until he found one that worked best. The Rumford fireplace is shallow, taller than it is wide, with sharply angled walls on either side to reflect heat.
A Rumford fireplace draws air into the fireplace more efficiently, which allows the flame to burn strongly and clearly. Thomas Jefferson was a fan of the ingenious design, and when he remodeled Monticello in the 1790s, Jefferson had eight Rumford fireplaces installed.
When coal, steam, and gas became the preferred methods of home heating, efficient fireplaces were no longer needed. More modern fireplaces have a larger firebox so that a crackling fire is set further away from people.
Homes heated by wood needed large chimneys to support multiple fireplaces, but houses built in the later part of the 19th century needed only enough space for a stove pipe, which means smaller chimneys.
So how does Santa Claus fit into all this?
In Washington Irving’s 1809 story Knickerbocker’s History of New York, there is a reference to Saint Nicholas flying over the rooftops of houses, pausing to drop “magnificent presents” down the chimneys of his favorite boys and girls.
Another New York writer, Clement C. Moore, helped cement the popular image of Santa clambering down chimneys with gifts in an 1822 poem, “A Visit from Saint Nicholas.”
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.
He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of Toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a pedler just opening his pack.
If the story of Santa coming down the chimney didn’t enter into our popular imagination until the 1820s, what happened if you didn’t live in a house with a massive chimney? As coal stoves grew in popularity, Santa, legend has it, was also known to shimmy down a stove pipe.
As the years progressed, there were even some traditionalists who worried that modern inventions like steam radiators would put an end to the Santa story. Yet in 2018, more than 200 years after Irving’s story first appeared, when most homes are heated by electric or gas heat with no fireplace to be seen, children still hang their stockings and wait.
Whatever you celebrate, and however you heat your house, we hope you stay warm this winter!
Thanksgiving is all about coming home and spending time with your family and friends, and there’s no better place to come home to than Nantucket. The Nantucket Preservation Trust works to preserve that sense of place you feel as soon as you arrive on the island—that you have come home to a very special place.
This week, we’re digging into our records and serving up a heaping helping of history about two Nantucket farms. After all, Thanksgiving is a time to celebrate the harvest.
Hinckley Lane Farm
The farm at “Watercomet,” containing more than 26 acres, was purchased by Captain Ebenezer (Eben) M. Hinckley in 1844. The house was in existence when he bought the property from Henry Coffin. Henry and his brother Charles G. Coffin were wealthy whale oil merchants, sons of Zenas Coffin, and both of them had homes in town on Main Street. The occupant of the house at the farm prior to 1844 is unknown.
Eben Hinckley (1805-1885) and Nancy Chase Hinckley (1810-1892) lived at Hinckley Farm. They had one child, Caroline S. Hinckley [Cook] (1830-1865).
Reading through the archives of The Inquirer & Mirror, one thing is clear about Hinckley Farm—Captain Hinckley was well known for his berries:
Our kind friend, Captain Eben Hinckley, sent as a bouncing dish of Blackberries, round and plump, not a bruised or scraggy one in the lot… Capt. H. raised a fine lot of them on his farm, which a friend assures us is well worthy of a visit to see.
August 12, 1857
In addition to berries, Captain Hinckley grew pumpkins, sweet corn, field corn, turnip beets, squashes, mottled cranberry beans, and potatoes on his farm. Everything you need for a Thanksgiving feast—except the turkey!
To find turkeys on Nantucket, you’d have to go to the other end of the island at Quaise, where Walter H. Burgess (1856-1934) raised turkeys from the 1890s to the 1910s.
The Inquirer and Mirror visited Burgess in December of 1898:
We visited Burgess’ Poultry Farm at Quaise a few days since, and were impressed with the sight of the twenty-four houses sheltering as fine flocks of barred Plymouth Rock fowl as one could wish to see. They have 500 pullets, many of them now laying, and 100 fowl saved from last year’s stock. Their big brooding house is ready for the next season’s hatchings, and everything about the place indicated successful poultry culture. As we have before remarked, Nantucket offers the field for poultry raising on a large scale. The Messrs. Burgess have gradually increased this branch of their business, until they have become known to the outside poultry and egg markets, and are having frequent applications from commission house for handling their trade. They have been exporting eggs for several months at very remunerative figures.
In 1915, Burgess’ was even filling orders for turkeys from the mainland, and the flock of turkeys on the Burgess farm were said to be the second largest in the state.
Wherever you are enjoying your Thanksgiving this year, we hope it’s a happy one!
Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at Nantucket Preservation Trust.
Walk a little ways up past the Pacific National Bank on Main Street, and you’ll find some of the island’s grandest homes.
86 Main Street, which recently underwent a careful restoration, is one Main Street’s most unique designs–in that it doesn’t adhere to one particular architectural style.
Built in 1834, 86 Main Street has been described as “Revival-Eclectic” by architectural historian Clay Lancaster. With elements of Federal (as seen in the end chimneys), Greek Revival (cupola, pilasters, and doorway), and Gothic Revival (lancet window in pediment) styles of architecture, 86 Main Street is indeed an eclectic house. So were the people who lived there.
Here’s the story of the first two families who lived in 86 Main.
In May of 1833, Captain Joseph Allen (1773-1856) purchased “a certain lot of land in said Nantucket with the building thereon standing…” from Edward Hussey (1794-1878), whose in-laws, Peregrine Folger (1754-1831) and Rachel Hussey (1760-1829), purchased a portion of the house from Peregrine’s father, Jonathan (1727-1812), in 1797.
But the house that Captain Allen purchased in May of 1833 was not the same house that stands at the 86 Main Street today. By October 9, 1833, Captain Allen had placed an advertisement in the Inquirer for an “Old House for Sale”:
“To be sold at public auction on the premises, at 2 o’clock P.M. on the 17th of the present month, if not previously disposed of, the house, late the property of Jonathan and Peregrine Folger, deceased; with all the Bricks and Stones thereto belonging, exclusive of the stones in the cellar. Also, a woodhouse belonging to the same. Both to be removed from the land by the 25th…”
Somehow or another, the house originally on the property was removed, and Captain Allen built the present structure, a large house that the Allen family occupied by late 1834 or early 1835.
Captain Allen was one of Nantucket’s most prominent mariners. In 1798, he was master of the ship Leo at only twenty-five years old. Between 1798 and 1830, Allen captained seven ships on thirteen whaling voyages. Allen was married to Abigail Coffin (1775-1862) and had six children. Now retired, Captain Allen built a grand home near homes of ship owners and whale oil merchants.
Captain Allen’s fortunes would soon change. In June of 1835, he mortgaged the property to the Nantucket Institution for Savings for$3,500. Shortly after the panic of 1837, Allen was forced to give up his rights to the house.
In December of 1838, Ann Crosby (1818-1904), a single woman, purchased the property from the bank for four thousand eight hundred $4,874. Ann’s mother, Lydia Coffin (193-1823), died when Ann was just five years old, and was the daughter of Zenas Coffin, one of the wealthiest whale oil merchants in the state. Zenas appears to have left Ann a sizable inheritance, which was likely used to purchased the grand captain’s mansion. Ann’s father, Matthew Crosby (1791-1878) was also a wealthy island merchant and owned much of the land between Pine Street and Traders lane. Two months after she purchased the property, Ann and George C. Macy (1814-1895) announced their marriage intentions.
Are you interested in the history of your house? Call us at 508.228.1387 to learn more about our house history programs.
This blog post adapted and excerpted from 86 Main Street: A Brief History by Christine Harding for the Nantucket Preservation Trust.
One of our most visible program at the Nantucket Preservation Trust is our house markers. Chances are, you’ve noticed these wooden tablets on historic homes around town. They tell you the date of construction, who built the house, the original resident (if known), and sometimes the house’s original name or function. We’ve marked over 200 house since the program began.
We’ve recently completed work on two new house markers. Researching and documenting the history of Nantucket’s historic homes–and the people who built them and lived in them–is important work. House markers make a great gift and help us improve Nantucket’s historical record. Click here for more information about our house marker program, or give us a call at the office, 508.228.1387, to discuss a marker for your house.
Behind each marker is quite a bit of information–read on to learn about two of our newest marked houses.
The house at 23 Ocean Ave to was constructed c. 1870 for the Crosby Family. Matthew Crosby was a wealth whale-oil merchant who owned many properties on Nantucket. His in-town house was 90 Main Street, and his summer estate was on 28 Main Street, ’Sconset. Crosby purchased the lot on Ocean Ave in May of 1894, one month after it was advertised for sale in The Inquirer and Mirror.
The lot was formerly known as the “Elkins Lot” and was owned by Captain Edward W. Gardner before Crosby. After Gardner’s death, Crosby purchased the lot from his son-in-law William G. Gardner, and William’s wife (and Crosby’s daughter), Elizabeth B. Crosby Gardner.
Matthew Crosby and his heirs owned the property until August 1879, when it was sold to Edward Finch Underhill, who was responsible for much of the development in the Sunset Heights area of ’Sconset. Within six weeks of purchasing the property, Underhill began making improvements to the house.
In our research, we found that the house was given a name at one point (at least by 1879)— “Fort Sumter,” the first battle of the American Civil War. We know that when Crosby bought the land in 1864, there was no dwelling on the lot, but there was one by the time Underhill purchased the property in 1879. We believe the house was constructed a few years after the war and the name likely chosen to honor the Union victory.
Charlotte C. Pearson
Educator and Community Activist
Charlotte Swain was born in 1823. She died January 30, 1899. Charlotte married Enoch Ackley, who died at sea on January 2, 1855 when he was 37 years old. Charlotte and Enoch had one child together, Seth M. Ackley. Charlotte married Luther Pearson, originally from Providence, Rhode Island, in 1863.
Charlotte was a prominent Nantucket figure who was active in charitable and literary organizations on Nantucket. She was a teacher at the Fair Street School. She served as a member or officer of the Nantucket Improvement Society, the Sorosis Club, the Nantucket Relief Society, the Children’s Aid Society, and the Massachusetts Volunteer Aid Association.
Charlotte purchased the land at 8 Nantucket Ave and 6 Grant Ave in 1872. In 1880, Wannacomet Water company installed pipes on the Cliff. In 1882, Eben R. Folger built the house at 6 Grant Ave (known later as Franklin Cottage) for Charlotte, and in 1883, she hired Folger again to build the house at 8 Nantucket Ave (known as Oneonta Cottage starting around 1895). Oneota Cottage was advertised in the Inquirer and Mirror for rent from 1895 to 1920. Charlotte owned a property on Orange Street that was her primary residence.
“I get excited when I see a timber frame house on Nantucket,” Hollis Webb says, “What do I have to do to get other people excited about them, too?”
A Nantucket native, Hollis is one of just eleven students who graduated this past June from the North Bennet Street School’s (NBSS) heralded Preservation Carpentry program. He is the 2017 and 2018 recipient of the NPT’s Mary Helen and Michael Fabacher Scholarship.
Carpentry has been a part of Hollis’ life for as long as he can remember. Family and friends worked in the trades on Nantucket, and Hollis has experience in many different aspects of homebuilding. Prior to enrolling in the Preservation Carpentry program, Hollis worked as a carpenter, including on some traditional projects with Pen Austin.
“Nantucket has a solid community working in preservation and historical architecture,” Hollis says, “All these first period homes are just five minutes away.”
With Nantucket’s high concentration of historic homes, Hollis knew a program in preservation was the right next step in his career.
Preservation Carpentry first-year students learn basic woodworking skills in the shop, with an emphasis on the use of hand tools. “We applied some of the basic timber framing we learned in the first year to a first period home. That was incredible,” Hollis says.
Second year students take their skills on the road. Hollis’ class recently completed a sill restoration on a 1720s house in Norwell, MA. Sill repair was one of the more challenging projects Hollis has encountered at NBSS, “You’re working on projects with no easy solution. You’re figuring everything out as you go.”
Attending the NBSS has changed the way Hollis views his hometown. “I remember coming back home during Christmas after my first semester, and it was like seeing Nantucket for the first time. I was seeing the island through a different lens.”
After graduation, Hollis plans to return to Nantucket full time to live and work. “I’m excited to get back. There are projects in every direction,” he says, “The best thing that could happen would be to work with a homeowner who really appreciates the idea of restoring their home.”
Hollis encourages anyone interested in applying to the North Bennet Street School to work in carpentry for a few years, and “find a way to study Nantucket’s old houses, not just to study the frame, but to dig into the history of the house.”
At the Nantucket Preservation Trust, our doors are always open to help you learn more about the history of Nantucket’s architecture, or about our scholarship programs for students who want to learn traditional trades.
Old North Wharf was originally built in 1770, following the construction of Straight Wharf in 1723 and Old South Wharf in the 1760s.
The original structures on Old North Wharf were all destroyed during the fire of 1846. By the 1870s, the area was bustling again with fishing and sailing. In the early 20th century, many of the warehouses, fishing shanties, boat building workshops, and carpenter’s shops were converted to artists’ studios, summer cottages, and “picnic houses.”
Join us on a digital stroll down Old North Wharf…
2 Old North Wharf: Barzillai Burdett, boat builder, c. 1856. Burdett built whaleboats, row boats, and small catboats in this shop. In 1887, he built the catboat Dauntless, which he used to ferry bathers from town to cliffside beaches.
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Most of the buildings on Old North Wharf have seen many lives–first as fishing shanties, boat building workshops, carpenter's shops, artist's studios, and summer cottages. This is one of the only structures on the wharf that is still a warehouse, a reminder of the working waterfront. And the vintage truck was just good timing. 🙌
4 Old North Wharf: While other working buildings have been converted to resort cottages, this warehouse remains a reminder of Nantucket’s working waterfront.
12 Old North Wharf (Mary F. Slade): Just where did the name Mary F. Slade come from? The Mary F. Slade was a three mast barque of 199 tons, 95 feet long, built in 1848 at a shipyard in Scituate Harbor. She was made of oak and iron and copper fastened. No details of how or when she was lost, or how her quarterboard reached Nantucket, but it is assumed she was lost on the a shoal off Nantucket.
10 Old North Wharf: Austin Strong Boathouse, 1923. Commodore, artist, playwright, and philanthropist Austin Strong was a colorful character—you’d have to be to be the man behind the Rainbow Fleet, step-grandson of Robert Louis Stevenson, and friend to puppeteer Tony Sarg. Strong was the first person on Old North Wharf to turn a fishing shanty into a boathouse—or more specifically, a “land yacht.”
18 Old North Wharf (Wharf Rat Club): This building was originally used for culling quahogs, then became a fishermen’s supply store. People started gathering to swap stories and hang around the shop, and by 1927 the Wharf Rat Club was established. Rats still tell stories there today, and there are no fees or official meetings. The only requisite for membership is the ability to tell a good story.
The cottages Lydia, Independence, Constitution/John Jay, Enterprise, and Nautilus were all named after whaling ships that belonged to brothers Charles and Henry Coffin. (Herman Melville’s one whaling voyage was aboard the Coffin-owned whaleship Charles & Henry.)
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A new Lee Real Estate exclusive listing! 8 Old North Wharf is a rare opportunity and a coveted property that offers sweeping views of the harbor! Completely renovated with handsome nautical details throughout! Please contact my colleague Joe Lloyd (@jolo_gram )for more details! This is really Nantucket Fine Living! #oldnorthwharf #ackstyle #waterfrontproperty #nantucketlifestyle #nantucketfineliving 📷 @salphotoack
8 Old North Wharf (Essex, formerly Charles & Henry): Silvester Hodges Carpenter Shop. The buildings on Old North Wharf represent the evolution of Nantucket—from scallop shanties to carpenters’ shops to boat building workshops to artists’ studios to summer cottage, these structures changed with the island.
11 Old North Wharf (Enterprise): A boat storage and maintenance building from 1920 until the 1950s, Enterprise became a summer cottage in the 1960s.
There are lots more cottages to explore, as we find more information, we’ll update this post!
From rose-covered-cottages to lighthouses to grand summer homes, Nantucket’s architecture is a photographer’s dream. This week, I’m sharing my favorite Instagram accounts. Be sure to follow them—and us!—to keep an eye on Nantucket, wherever your travels take you this fall.
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Five photos of a cottage from a long-gone era on Nantucket. This small cottage overlooked Dionis Beach when I first moved here. It has since been moved back from the eroding dune. A book, a fire for cool summer evenings and the sound of gentle surf – heaven. #nantucket #nantucketarchitecture #architecture #nantuckethistory
Dirk and Sharon Van Lieu, the team behind Nantucket Architecture, often seek out some of the island’s lesser-known gems, like this Dionis cottage, to share with followers. As we head into the fall, their off-season photography especially is hauntingly beautiful.
Amanda Amaral is a photographer originally from Texas, but has called Nantucket home for more than five years. Her work often includes architectural details, bathed in exquisite light. Follow her to see the island change with the seasons.
Grandeur Nantucket photographs (and finds and shares photos of) some of Nantucket’s grandest and most iconic homes–or homes that were stately in their time (like this shot of 6 Gull Island Lane). Follow along for vibrant colors and fun facts about Nantucket’s history.
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Window Shopping. One of the more ominous-looking homes on Nantucket, I’ve spent hours staring at this Sconset property waiting for a curtain to move or to hear a distant noise from within. I’m fascinated by the fact this home’s design mixed with its decay has the ability to strike dread and curiosity into people’s psyches. “Yesterday, upon the stair, I met a man who wasn't there He wasn't there again today I wish, I wish he'd go away…” – #hughesmearns #antigonish #nantucket
Longtime Nantucket resident Josh Gray’s atmospheric photos will instantly remind you to why the island is called “The Gray Lady.” A writer, too, Josh often combines quotes from literature with his photos.
Finally, there’s us, the Nantucket Preservation Trust! We love sharing the stories of Nantucket’s unique architectural heritage. Be sure to tag us in your photos of Nantucket architecture so we can see all the great photos you’re taking, too!
This letter originally appeared in the 9/13/2018 edition of the Inquirer and Mirror.
To the Editor: Few streets in America can transport you back in time like Nantucket’s Main Street, from the grand houses of whale-oil merchants to the humble cobblestones. Recently, the Department of Public Works announced plans for much-needed improvements to upper Main Street, starting with the sidewalks between Winter and Pleasant streets.
We commend the DPW, and director Rob McNeil, for turning their attention to this historic streetscape. Improvements to the sidewalks will allow not only visitors and residents with mobility issues but all to more safely navigate our streets and learn about our history. The DPW has taken the time to meet with Main Street neighbors and learn of their specific concerns and hopes for the project. At a presentation on Sept. 6 the DPW revealed plans to reuse original material, and when original material does not exist, some new materials will be distressed to create a timeworn appearance.
Concerns about the project remain, however, especially the proposed work to the cobblestone street. Current plans call for removing cobbles and old walkways, excavating, laying asphalt and then relaying cobblestones on top of the asphalt in stone dust, instead of the traditional method of setting cobblestones in sand. Our cobblestone streets immediately convey a sense of authenticity and antiquity and lend heavily to Nantucket’s unique sense of place. The elements that make them special and their quirks should be retained as much as possible. Equally important is the quality. Cobblestones have a very long lifespan, especially when compared to an asphalt surface.
Nantucket’s traditional cobblestone streets – cobbles set in sand – may roll and curve in odd places, but they have the environmental advantage of being a permeable paving surface. This means the cobbles shift with the ground, rather than crack, when they move, and rainwater can penetrate into the ground. For this reason, cobblestones set in sand can help reduce stormwater runoff. This is especially important for Winter Street, which is at a particularly low elevation and already contends with standing water after storms. Early residents of this area – known as the Clay Pits, where clay for bricks was excavated – knew this. Look at the foundations of 86, 88 and 90 Main Street. They are all high above the ground.
Cobblestones set in sand also provide our ancient trees with the rooting space they need to grow and flourish. What will happen to these giant elms if the base of the road is excavated and paved over? These trees are a precious resource and best practices must be employed to ensure their survival.
We know the season for road repairs is a short one and improvements must be made, but we strongly urge the DPW to continue to work with the neighbors and to rethink the use of asphalt. We believe using this important stretch of Main Street as a testing ground for a new method of cobblestone paving on-island would be a mistake and urge the town to again lay the cobblestones in the traditional method that has worked for nearly 200 years. These cobblestones have been around longer than any of us have. They deserve to be treated with the utmost of care.
Nantucket Preservation Trust
Brian FitzGibbon, antique window-restoration expert, has taken out only one ad since he began working on historic homes. At age seventeen, he started a painting business and put a small classified ad in his New Jersey hometown newspaper. His phone has been ringing ever since.
The youngest of seven children, Brian grew up in a Victorian house. When he was still in high school, his parents hired Italian master craftsman Antonio Pinola to work on the house and Brian spent thousands of hours working alongside Antonio. “He hated doing windows, and our house had tons of windows, so he trained me to work on them,” Brian says.
While well versed in many trades, Brian had dedicated his work to saving Nantucket’s antique windows. Why windows? There’s beauty in looking through the imperfect, hand-blown glass. When you look through old windows, Brian says, you are looking back on the world the way it would have been seen two hundred years ago. Nearly all window frames made prior to 1940 were made with old growth wood. Antique window frames were made from the finest grades of lumber, easily disassembled and repaired, and meant to last for generations. Before machines, each sash was carved by hand. It is an exceptional feeling to hold in your hands a window made by a Nantucketer more than two hundred years ago. You think of all the storms the paper-thin glass has endured.
So why are these beautiful, impeccably made antique windows rapidly disappearing from Nantucket, and from countless houses across the country? One of the biggest misconceptions about antique windows is that new windows are more energy efficient.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Manufacturing replacement windows is highly energy intensive, and often involves long-distance shipping that uses even more natural resources. It would take many years to recoup the cost of replacement windows through energy savings—often longer than the life of the replacement windows themselves. With proper installation, copper weather-stripping, and exterior storm windows, antique windows can equal or beat the insulative value of new windows.
“I want to help these houses live for generations,” Brian says. This year, he worked on restoring the windows of 100 Main Street and Shanunga in ’Sconset. That’s over a hundred sashes. Brian does all the work himself, by hand.
Brian’s especially thrilled to be working on Shanunga, one of his favorite houses on the island. The historic cottages of ’Sconset are an absolute delight to all that stroll by them, and he’d love to do more work on these important cottages. Imagine what the island would have looked like when all windows were handcrafted glass.
Originally published in Ramblings.