All posts by Rita Carr

Announcing the 2021 Preservation Award Winners

Nantucket Preservation Trust annually recognizes individuals and organizations who have undertaken projects that advance the cause of historic preservation on Nantucket. The awards recognize preservation work on historic buildings and landscapes, as well as those who protect and steward island resources.

NPT’s Preservation Awards program is designed to show that a building or landscape can be sensitively updated while maintaining and preserving its historic integrity. In general, the NPT Preservation Awards emphasize proper preservation, showcase the island’s craftspeople, and reveal the foresight of owners who care about our historic structures and landscape.

Congratulations to the 2021 Preservation Award Winners!

The transformed basement at 84 Main Street.

Architectural Preservation Award
84 Main Street
Whitney Lucks & Karl Schneider

Preservation Team: Pen Austin, Caroline Cole Designs, Michael Gault, Nantucket Heritage Painting, Thornewill Designs

The c. 1762 Joseph Swain House at 84 Main Street had been in Whitney Lucks’ family since the late 1990s, but when she and her husband Karl Schneider became the stewards of the house, they undertook a historic rehabilitation of the house to adapt it to the needs of their family while preserving its character defining features and retaining its historic appearance from Main Street and Pine Street. Rather than build a large addition or second dwelling on the property, Lucks and Schneider opted to create more living space within the home’s footprint, transforming the basement and attic from storage space to useful living space. In the attic, walls were restored with lath and haired lime plaster by a team led by Pen Austin, and transom windows were installed between two attic bedrooms to capture and maximize light, while still allowing for privacy. The basement was hand excavated to allow for a greater ceiling height, and a large fireplace with bake oven were restored to working order. Excavation revealed the home’s original brick well, which was left visible, yet covered for safety. The main two levels of living space were also restored and refreshed, with architectural plans designed by Thornewill Designs, carpentry by Michael Gault, painting by Adam Zanelli of Nantucket Heritage Painting, and interior design by Caroline Cole Designs. Throughout the home, historic elements were revealed, restored, and reused, with consistently meticulous craftsmanship and sensitivity to the building and its original rooms and circulation.

Historical Renovation Award
30 Pine Street
Sherry Lefevre

The exterior of 30 Pine Street as seen from the street was unchanged by the renovation.

In completing a second-floor renovation of her home on Pine Street, author of The Heirloom House Sherri Lefevre sought to add utility while maintaining the home’s character and appearance from the street. Built by Walter Cure in 1819, the home retains many elements common in Nantucket homes of the that period, including its old plaster walls, mantels and mirrorboards. The object of the renovation was to create additional space in the two upstairs bedrooms at the rear of the building, as well as room for an additional bathroom, while maintaining the scale of the house. To accomplish this, architect Angus MacLeod designed a small gable addition on one side and added a shed dormer to increase headroom in one of the other rooms. The addition transformed what had been cramped, dark spaces into much more welcoming rooms, with little change to the original layout of the home. Master carpenter Bill Willet oversaw the construction and maintained all existing woodwork and the texture of the historic plaster walls. The work at 30 Pine serves to remind all that little details can make a big difference.

John A. and Katherine Lodge Stewardship Award
57-65 Pleasant Street
The Phelan Family

65 Pleasant Street has retained its pastoral setting.

In 1841, Samuel King of Nantucket, a copper, purchased the property at 65 Pleasant Street. King, originally from Ireland, married Mary Phelan (1810-1876), a widow, on September 26, 1841, and eventually established a nursery on the property, selling many varieties of apple, pear, and Russian mulberry trees and grapevines. King died in 1899. Mary’s son, John Phelan (1835-1908), served in the Civil War as a mariner and later became a boat engineer in Boston Harbor. He built the much larger Greek Revival house at 61 Pleasant Street, and the King house at 65 Pleasant Street remained in the family.

This property has remained in the Phelan family ever since. Two newer homes have been added, both taking their cues from the original structures on the property. The lone Greek Revival house set against a backdrop of an open field is evocative of Nantucket’s bucolic past and one of the most unique and best-preserved streetscapes in the Newtown area.

Caroline A. Ellis Landscape & Garden Award
15 New Street, Siasconset
The Siasconset Union Chapel, Michael Van Valkenburgh Landscape Associates, and Champoux Landscape

View of the West Garden, 2021.

The recently redesigned gardens at the Siasconset Union Chapel enhance the historic grounds of the chapel and serve as a serene space for contemplation and thought. Internationally renowned landscape architecture firm Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc. completed the design for the gardens, and local Nantucket business Champoux Landsape handled the install and care for the new gardens. The project unified the Chapels East and West Columbarium spaces with a pastoral-feeling design. The larger West Garden was transformed over the winter of 2019/20, and the East Garden, along Chapel Street, was reconfigured this past winter.  A new C shaped wall was constructed in the East Garden, and Ben Moore, winner of NPT’s Traditional Building Methods Award in 2020, replaced skirting boards along the Chapel’s east and south walls. Work also included improvements to the drainage system to divert water away from the Chapel’s east and south sides, helping to preserve the 1883 structure. The project features many plant species iconically associated with Nantucket, including daffodils blooming in the spring and hydrangea in the summer. The Chapel gardens are a welcoming space for remembrance and reflection and will continue to provide space for the community for future generations.

Traditional Building Methods Award
11 Orange Street
Valley Restoration and South Church Preservation Fund

Paul Bastiaanse reguilding the dome, October 2020.

In 2020, the South Church Preservation Fund completed an exterior restoration of the South Church Tower and its iconic golden dome. The restoration of the 1809 structure was overdue, but the building’s stewards had to get creative – rather than set up expensive scaffolding, the Church turned to a steeplejack to do the work. Paul Bastiaanse, the owner of Valley Restoration, based in Torrington, Connecticut, led the restoration. While suspended from the steeple, Bastiaanse and his team first washed the exterior, then scraped and sanded it with hand tools. The steeple was primed, allowed, to cure, then imperfections were caulked and sealed, with any rot repaired in kind. The steeple was then painted, and windows were cleaned and reglazed as needed. The weathered gilding on the steeple dome and weathervane was sanded, sealed, and primed, before a layer of sizing and 23 karat Italian Gold Leaf was carefully applied.  Working without conventional scaffolding allowed the restoration of the tower to be completed in a timely and cost-effective manner, without disruption to the Church’s activities, providing another example of how time worn techniques still have a place in caring for our historic buildings. This work was funded by the Nantucket Community Preservation Committee, ensuring this landmark will welcome all who visit or live on Nantucket for years to come.

Four Centuries Walking Tour on September 11

Join Nantucket Preservation Trust, the Maria Mitchell Association, and the Nantucket Historical Association for a special collaborative tour exploring four centuries of domestic life on Nantucket!

The tour will meet at 10 AM on Saturday, September 11 at the NHA’s Oldest House, on Sunset Hill. Stroll through some of Nantucket’s oldest neighborhoods and learn about how changes in domestic life are reflected in the island’s architecture, neighborhoods, and land use.

The tour will include visits inside the Oldest House and the Mitchell HouseMasks are required. The tour will end on Main Street, around noon.

The price is $10 per person; no preregistration required. In the event of rain, the tour will be cancelled.

7 North Gully Road on the Move Again

The shed at 7 North Gully Road was relocated earlier this week, to a new location within Codfish Park, in the below-the-bank portion of 7 Elbow Lane, allowing a more than century-old structure to be saved from demolition. Sam Daniel sent these photos of the move in progress – click through to see more photos, and read about the history of shed, including its first move from its original location on Front Street!

Click to enlarge

Continue reading 7 North Gully Road on the Move Again

The Great Fire of 1846 and Nantucket Architecture

Today marks the 175th anniversary of Nantucket’s Great Fire. Around 11 pm on July 13, 1843, a fire broke out in William M. Geary’s hat shop on Main Street. Nantucket is 1846 was a busy commercial whaling port, with closely built homes and businesses lining narrow streets, and the fire spread quickly. Approximately one third of the town burned that night, with approximately 250 buildings destroyed. Nantucket’s architectural landscape contributed to both the spread and the stopping of the fire. The predominately wooden houses, built closely together to provide shelter from the wind, shops, storehouses filled with whale oil, and other commercial buildings quickly went up in flames.

Main Street c. 1845, the only known photo of Main Street prior to the Great Fire. Courtesy of the Nantucket Historical Association.

Along with shifting winds that contained the fire in the close vicinity of the harborfront, some of the few brick buildings that pre-dated the fire helped to stop it, too. The fire did not spread to the west of the Pacific National Bank, built in 1818, sparing the grand homes of Upper Main Street from destruction. The Jared Coffin House at the corner of Broad and Centre Streets also emerged largely unscathed, and the fire did not travel further north up Centre Street. The Pacific Club, at the foot of Main Street, was damaged in the blaze, but survived. Other buildings emerged remarkably undamaged. The 1823 Methodist Church was only minimally impacted by the fire, though surrounding buildings on Centre Street were torched to ruin. An apocryphal story claims that, when a fire company wanted to dynamite the building in an attempt to keep the fire from spreading, Maria Mitchell stood on the steps of the church and convinced them not to. A similar tale holds that when fire wards sought to blow up 72 Main Street, Lydia Mitchell Barrett, at home with her children, refused to leave.

Following the Great Fire, Nantucketers rebuilt quickly. Nantucket’s whaling economy was already on the decline by 1846, and following the fire some businesspeople chose not to rebuild, but those who did did so quickly, and with fire prevention in mind. Main Street and other streets were widened, so as to prevent a fire from being able to jump over from one side of the street to another. Particularly along the North side of Main Street, brick was the material of choice for rebuilding. The Nantucket Atheneum was the first structure in rebuilt in town, and the stylish Greek Revival building reflected the popular tastes of the era.

New Flooding Adaptation & Building Elevation Design Guidelines Adapted

On June 11, the Historic District Commission voted to adopt new guidelines for building adaptation, Resilient Nantucket: Flooding Adaptation & Building Elevation Design Guidelines. In the following article, originally published in Ramblings, Lisa Craig and Phil Thomason, lead consultants on the Resilient Nantucket project, explain its goals.

As one of the oldest and largest National Historic Landmark (NHL) districts in the United States, the island of Nantucket fosters a strong regard for the protection and preservation of historic places. Historic preservation in Nantucket promotes tourism, strengthens the local economy, protects the town and surrounding area’s historic character, and fosters community investment in protecting Nantucket’s historic identity. That identity was clearly articulated in the 2013 update to the NHL designation, which not only extended the NHL’s period of significance to 1975 to encompass the pioneering work of Walter Beinecke, but also recognized the island’s national role in the evolution of land conservation and historic preservation.

It’s therefore no surprise that the Town of Nantucket, through its Nantucket Historical Commission, Historic District Commission, and Department of Planning and Land Use Services has partnered with community organizations to address the 21st century challenge of sea level rise and flooding, which have increased both in frequency and in scope in the last two decades.

The Town’s 2019 Massachusetts Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness (MVP) Community Resilience Building Workshop and Report recognized the need to adapt historic resources to climate impacts as missing from climate change planning. Thus, in both the MVP Workshop Report and the 2019 update to the Hazard Mitigation Plan, the preservation of historic and cultural resources in response to flooding and sea-level rise became a priority for investigation and action.

The following year, the Town and Preservation Institute Nantucket launched a project: Resilient Nantucket: 3D Digital Documentation and Sea Level Rise Visualization. The project used LiDAR scanning to digitally document the core of Nantucket Town, its waterfront, and Brant Point. That work was complemented by a community workshop, Keeping History Above Water: Nantucket, which identified community values and priorities for historic property adaptation and the need for design guidance.

Now developed and presented through numerous public meetings to Nantucket residents and property owners, the Resilient Nantucket: Flooding Adaptation & Building Elevation Design Guidelines (Resilient Nantucket Design Guidelines) joins a range of other planning and mitigation documents which together provide a unified approach for protecting Nantucket’s resources from natural disasters.

The guidelines were drafted by leading preservation consulting firm, Thomason and Associates, with the assistance of The Craig Group. These design guidelines are likely the first in the nation to fully model the newly issued guidance from the National Park Service whose publication, Guidelines on Flood Adaptation for Rehabilitation Historic Buildings, now provides formal guidance to inform the decisions of historic district commissions when considering flooding adaptation designs.

The Sea Street Pump Station, an example of dry floodproofing.

The Resilient Nantucket Design Guidelines are prepared with photographs and descriptions that document Nantucket’s existing historic character, in particular, building styles, materials, design details and streetscapes, that define Nantucket’s character. They serve as a supplement to the HDC guidebook Building with Nantucket in Mind and provide current thinking on adapting properties to accommodate climate-driven change by elevating and “hardening” historic properties while still retaining overall architectural integrity.In addition, the Guidelines recommend design considerations for new construction within the historic districts that address flood risk, yet do not detract from the character of historic residential and commercial areas. This is done in a “user-friendly” by including photos and illustrations of best practices in flooding adaptation as approved by FEMA and consistent with the NPS guidance. Included are illustrated examples of how Nantucket buildings and sites can be retrofitted to accommodate flood mitigation and adaptation alterations ranging from temporary barriers, nature-based approaches, dry and wet floodproofing strategies, and even elevation and relocation.

Lisa Craig is Principal with The Craig Group, a preservation consulting firm specializing in resilience planning for historic coastal communities. Phil Thomason is Principal with Thomason & Associates, LLC with significant experience in preservation planning and design guideline development, most recently focusing on elevation guidance for historic coastal & riverine communities.

Preservation-Friendly Votes at the 2021 Annual Town Meeting

The large tents set up at the Backus playing fields last Saturday might have been mistaken for a town fair, but instead, they hosted a rather unusual Annual Town Meeting. Though many of the over 900 Nantucketers who turned out at the start of the meeting departed following votes on hotly debated Articles 90 and 97, those who remained through the afternoon voted in favor of a number of preservation-friendly articles.

Article 48, which limits pools in lots zoned R-1, SR-1, R-5, and R-5L to only those lots that are at least 7,500 square feet, passed with the required two-thirds vote in favor. This change will further restrict the construction of swimming pools in areas surrounding Town and in Siasconset. The Article had been positively indorsed by the Planning Board but not recommended by the Finance Committee, but voters on Saturday sided with the Planning Board. The tall hedges and fences required by the Historic District Commission to screen pools from view are often not in keeping with the historic feel of these in-town areas, so limiting swimming pools will help protect Nantucket’s National Historic Landmark status.

Another zoning change was approved to restrict the height of buildings in the CMI, Commercial Mid Island, zone from 40 feet to 30 feet. The article, which had been originally introduced by HDC commissioner Val Oliver and was carried over from the 2020 Town Meeting, was approved by over two-thirds of voters, with an amendment that buildings up to 38 feet may be approved by special permit.

A proposal by Sign Committee chair Kevin Kuester to limit traffic signs to the minimum permitted under state law was approved. This will ensure that the historic feel of our streets and lanes will not be marred by overly large signs. It also will prevent the use of neon colors, lighted signs, and warning signs within 1,000 feet of another sign, with the exception of pedestrian crossing signs and intersection warnings.

Early in the meeting, on the consent agenda, voters approved an appropriation of $2.8 million in spending for the Community Preservation Committee, $730,000 of which will go to historic preservation projects. The money will be split between two projects, with the Nantucket Historical Association to receive $395,000 for repairs to the Hadwen and Barney Candle Factory, and the Landmark House benefiting from $335,000 to restore its exterior trim. The CPC appropriation also included $1.696 million for community housing initiatives, and $284,515 for open space conservation and recreation.  Additionally, Article 81, also passed via consent, simplifies CPC member terms.

In the final article voted on at this year’s Town Meeting, the hearty souls who stayed through to the end of the day passed a resolution 81-49 recognizing the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples Day, as opposed to Columbus Day. Article sponsor Emily Osley noted how Nantucket place names are derived from Wampanoag terms, yet the town does little to officially acknowledge the island’s original inhabitants. We applaud the Nantucket community for taking votes that will enhance our island’s National Historic Landmark status and maintain our unique sense of place.

Nantucket’s Historic Paint Colors

There is a widely held belief that only twelve paint colors may be approved by the Historic District Commission for exterior use on Nantucket. The HDC maintains a list, and we know them well – Hamilton Blue, Essex Green, Quaker Gray, Main Street Yellow, Nantucket Red, to name a few. Despite this notion, the HDC can technically approve any exterior color they see fit, as long as it can be considered to be in keeping with Nantucket’s historic character.

According to the guidelines set forth in Building With Nantucket In Mind, “The colors of Nantucket should be a reflection of its sprit, an old weathered and peaceful town. It is recommended that the colors on walls of buildings be of subdued hue intensity and light to medium value. Foundations and trim may be a subtle variation or contrast with the color of the house.” The guidelines do make color recommendations for specific architectural features. The colors listed for doors include: white, black, brewster green, dark green, beige, barn red, gray blue, and yellow. These are the inspiration for the familiar colors we see on a visit to Marine Home Center, yet there is ample evidence around Nantucket for other colors.

On an island where so many homes, even those with clapboard facades, are clad in bare natural to weather cedar shingles, a little trim color can make a big impact. Tastes have changed over time, as has paint technology. In the 17th and 18th centuries, Nantucketers did not have lead needed to mix white paints and generally employed earth tones. Josiah Quincy, visiting Nantucket in 1801, recorded in his journal that most houses were “without paint, and with those which have it, red is the predominant color.” By the mid-19th century, lead white paints were available and widely employed on Greek Revival homes like 94 and 96 Main Street, constructed in 1847 and 1846, respectively. Still, white paints of the 19th century lacked the brilliance of today’s pigments, created with titanium dioxide instead of lead.

Most color choices that deviate from the “standard” Nantucket colors are based on historical evidence for a similar color, either based on historical images, or on historical paint analysis.

The paint color guidelines in Building With Nantucket in Mind note that “The choice of color for a building must blend with the colors of adjacent buildings and the overall setting.” So, don’t expect to see any neon oranges or purples anytime soon. Nevertheless, here are some of our favorite “nonstandard” paint colors that can be spotted around the Old Historic District.

The George Garnder House at 8 Pine Street, which is protected by an preservation easement held by NPT, has an vibrant robins-egg blue door and shutters. Similar shades can be seen around Cliff Road and other areas.

The door of the Zenas Coffin House, across the street at 9 Pine, is a vibrant chartruse.

14 Lily Street has pretty in pink clapboards, similar to the door at 56 Fair Street.

The former Centreboard Inn, on the corner of Centre and Easton Streets, has an ecclectic color scheme with pale blue and dusty mauve, suitable to its Victorian style. Other Victorians with period-appropriate paint jobs that differ from the HDC’s “approvable” list of colors include 19 and 21 Broad Street.

Nantucket Nominated for the World Monuments Fund Watch List

Every two years, the World Monuments Fund selects 25 cultural heritage places from around the globe for its World Monuments Watch. The World Monuments Watch is “a global program that seeks to discover, spotlight, and take action on behalf of heritage places facing challenges or presenting opportunities of direct relevance to our global society.” Nantucket Preservation Trust, in collaboration with the Town of Nantucket, has nominated Nantucket for the 2022 World Monuments Watch.

Sites for the Watch are selected based on their cultural importance, the cause for action in relation to internationally pressing issues, and the ability for the WMF to make a difference. For 2022, the Watch is focused on illuminating sites responding to the challenges of climate change, imbalanced tourism, and the need to amplify underrepresented voices and cultural narratives.

We understand the existential threat that rising sea levels and increased extreme storm events pose to our fragile island thirty miles out to sea. We know how tourism and the island’s thriving second home market fuel both Nantucket’s economy and living conditions and housing prices that make it difficult for the some on island to enter the real estate market. Nantucket’s collection of over 800 pre-Civil War-era buildings provide a tangible link to our past for islanders and visitors alike. However, so much of the research and attention paid to Nantucket history has been focused on the whaling era we do not have a comprehensive survey of 20th century historic structures, nor do we have a good understanding of what sites are important to traditionally underrepresented groups.

Today, Nantucket is home to many different immigrant communities from around the world. Historically, the whaling industry was made up of a variety of diverse people. Nantucket is a place where many progressive social causes were fostered in their infancy. The abolition of slavery, women’s suffrage, and the temperance movement all were celebrated causes. In the 1950s, a burgeoning LGTBQ scene existed in some of the island’s bars and boarding houses. There are many opportunities to amplify these histories and make Nantucket more meaningful to more members of our community.

If selected to the Watch List for 2022, Nantucket would have the opportunity to work with cultural heritage experts from the World Monuments Fund to engage more people from our diverse island communities. The more people who see themselves reflected in Nantucket’s history, the more they will want to work to protect the island for the future.

Hugh Newell Jacobsen’s Nantucket Modernism

Noted modernist architect Hugh Newell Jacobson died last month at the age of 91. Jacobson and his Washington D.C-based firm, Jacobson Architecture, primarily worked in residential architecture, and completed a number of projects on Nantucket. Jacobson studied fine arts at the University of Maryland and earned a master’s degree in architecture from Yale University in 1955. His first job out of Yale was with Philip Johnson, and he founded his own firm in 1958. His designs were sometimes referred to as Monopoly houses, for their resemblance to the board game pieces, with simple massing and steeply pitched gables.

In 2003, Jacobson completed a renovation of the Vorhees Barn on Liberty Street. The building was originally constructed as a stable, an outbuilding of the Henry Coffin house at  nearby 75 Main Street. The structure retains full height barn doors on the exterior, but when opened, the all-white interior, a hallmark of Jabobson’s designs, is flooded with light. The design won an award for Excellence in Architecture from the Washington chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

Jacobson once told the Washington Star Good architecture never shouts. It is like a well-mannered lady, kind to its neighbors. It takes a double take to know that she is there at all.”

One of Jacobson’s most well-known designs was Jackie Kennedy Onassis’ Red Gate Farm on Martha’s Vineyard, which was completed in 1981. Jacobson took inspiration from neighboring Nantucket for the project, saying “[Jackie] wanted it to look like Nantucket. Nantucket is filled with 19th century architecture, so she wanted a modern house that looked like a 19th century house.”

Jacobson Architecture’s designs for new houses on Nantucket reflect the firms hallmark of simple gabled structures and take cues from 19th century island homes. A home overlooking Polpis Harbor features and exaggerated central chimney pass. A 2013 design by Simon Jacobson on Middle Valley Road is composed of 12 small, interconnected cottages, which also won an Award for Architecture from the Washington chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

Jacobson’s work on island reimagined historic forms in modernist contexts and exemplifies the opportunities for creativity and innovation that exist within the guidelines set forth in Building With Nantucket In Mind. It also serves as a reminder that Nantucket’s architectural landscape is always evolving, and sensitively designed 20th and 21st century buildings already contribute to the island’s sense of place.