Featured Properties

House Histories: 86 Main Street

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.

If you want to know more about 86 Main Street, and see photos and maps, click here to read our Brief History.

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.

32 India Street

32 India Street circa 1880
32 India Street circa 1880

If you’re in the market to purchase a historic Nantucket house, we may have found one for you! A new listing came on the market, 32 India Street. Listed for $2,495,000 the historic Nantucket house has four bedrooms, two full baths, one half baths, parking and even a cute little yard! Below is an excerpt featuring the history of 32 India Street from the NPT Neighborhood Book Series titled: Off Centre: The Wesco Acre Lots.

The present day yard of 32 India Street
The present day yard of 32 India Street

“In 1803, mariner Peleg West bought the land at 32 India Street for $350. He went to sea, and his wife, Elizabeth, who held a power of attorney for her husband, sold the land – along with “our part of the dwelling house in which we now live which descended to us from our honoured father Thomas Bunker late of Nantucket, deceased, being the two west chambers and a privilege in the garret and cellar and yard” – to Peleg’s father, Charles, a ship carpenter, for $725. Charles sold the property back to Peleg, for the same price, in 1807. The sale to Charles may have been a way for Elizabeth to have some cash on hand while she and her two young daughters, living in her father’s house, waited for Peleg to return; a successful voyage allowed him to repay his father and build a new house at 32 India, where the family lived until 1815, when they sold it for $1,600 to mariner Calvin Bunker.

b6b26332It may have been blacksmith Benjamin Knowles who added the Greek Revival elements to the house in the 1930s; his deed to Henry Ingman DeFriez in 1837 refers to “the same premises which I now improve.” Greek Revival doorways and proticos had become the popular architectural fashion statement of hte day on Nantucket, and must have kept carpenters busy crafting the embellishments for the houses of the well-to-do. Few on the island were on solid financial footing in the 1860’s, however, when the economy failed due to the demise of the whaling industry. DeFriez sold the house at 32 India Street for $750 in 1866, to confectioner Francis B. Washburn, who managed to get only $400 for the property when he sold it three years later.”

To learn more about this property click here.

The Underhill Cottages

underhillThe Underhill Cottages were brought about due to the success of Sunset Heights, which drew other real estate investors to ’Sconset. In 1879, the land known as the Pochick Lot was sold by the heirs of Matthew Crosby to Edward F. Underhill of New York City. His development featured very different cottages from Robinson’s Victorians. Underhill modeled the Pochick cottages after the fish shanties in the village core along Broadway, Center and Shell streets—using the same architectural vocabulary including warts, T-shaped plans and half gable roofs. He soon purchased additional land to the west—present day Evelyn and Lily Streets (named for his wife and daughter) to extend his cottage development.

Edward F. Underhill
Edward F. Underhill

At the Pochick lot, Underhill created a road down the middle of the parcel, and immediately began construction on his own cottage, China Closet, at the east end, on the south side of the street (now a secondary cottage for the house on Ocean Avenue).

Underhill was a man of many talents and was perhaps one of the most famous Sconseter’s of the nineteenth century. He was a Civil War reporter for The New York Times in the 1860s, a journalist for the New York Tribune in the 1880s, a famous New York court stenographer in an era when a court stenographer could be famous, a vineyard owner, rare book and china collector, noted wit, and ’Sconset enthusiast. He was especially gifted as a writer and promoter and is responsible for luring visitors to the village from across the country.

Underhill’s advertising circular included a detailed description of the cottages:
They are built . . . following the traditions of the builders of a hundred years ago, who made their houses strong and compact for comfort and convenience and with no thought that the structures they reared would ever be in demand for the residences of families from distant parts during the warm season. The only variations I have made from the strict simplicity of ’Sconset architecture are to have the apartments more commodious, and to avail myself of a few accessories which improve the appearance of the dwellings without, in the least degree, giving them the ornate look of modern built cottages at our fashionable seaside resorts.

Each house has a small cellar, a cistern abundantly supplied with rain water, and is completely furnished for house-keeping, even to the extent of providing crockery, cutlery and bed and table linen. The bedsteads are of modern style and are furnished with spring bottoms and mattresses of the best quality curled hair. Each house is situated on a lot having a frontage of 55 feet with a full area of 3,300 square feet of ground.

Main Top, 9 Pochick Street, circa 1910
Main Top, 9 Pochick Street, circa 1910

One of the quirkiest Underhill creations was the construction of extra rooms on wheels that could be rolled up to a cottage for additional living space. This invention was most likely constructed by Asa Jones, along with George W. Rogers, Underhill’s carpenters of choice. The cottages along Pochick, and Lily and Evelyn (named for Underhill’s daughter and wife), appear to have been built over several years, but individual cottages were built quickly—often completed according to newspaper accounts within 10 or 14 days.

The cottage of Mrs. Evelyn Underhill, circa 1900. The walls and ceiling of the cottage interior were lined with china collections, dishes, and tea services.
The cottage of Mrs. Evelyn Underhill, circa 1900. The walls and ceiling of the cottage interior were lined with china collections, dishes, and tea services.

By the early 1890s, Underhill community was complete and was thriving with nearly two dozen cottages. It quickly became known as the village’s “Actors’ Colony,” due to it being largely populated by Broadway actors and actresses, artists and writers, and other bohemian types. The Underhill cottages continued to be rented until the mid 1920’s – often by the same families, year after year.

– text originally from the NPT 2015 August Fete Brochure

Are you interested in learning more about these cottages?
Join the last ‘Sconset Architectural Walking Tour of the 2016 season!

Date: Friday, September 11

Time: 4:00PM (75 minutes)

Location: Meet at Pump Square, ‘Sconset

Cost: $10 per person (cash only)

Details: Join NPT Executive Director, Michael May who shares his knowledge of this unique fishing settlement at  the eastern edge of the island. This will be the last public tour of the season. Private tours are available at a minimum price of $250. For more information click here or please call 508-228-1387

22 Broadway


Researching the history of a house is like playing detective—you gradually piece together who owned a house and often discover fascinating facts–sometimes buried for a hundred years or more. On Nantucket, this research is rarely boring; you can almost be certain the past owners’ lives will be linked to the events in the island’s rich history.

As the island anticipates the release of the movie based on Nat Philbrick’s In the Heart of the Sea, I thought I would share the history of one house touched by the Essex tragedy.

The cottage known as Felicite in the heart of ’Sconset is one of the seasonal fishing retreats built for Nantucketers in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Its name goes back to at least 1888, when the Inquirer and Mirror referred to it as “Felicite Cottage” in a list of the cottagers at Siasconset. Felicite is of Latin and old French origin and means blissful, fortunate, and happy (as in happy in marriage). Edward Underhill, who in the 1880s compiled early histories of the cottages, stated that John Emmett (1772–1824) owned Felicite by 1814. However, it was not until 1835 that the first record of the property is found. This record—a town survey of the village—notes the owner’s initials “IF”, for Isaac Folger (1773–1842).

Folger was married to Love Pinkham (1775–1861), whose brother owned an adjoining cottage—San Souci. Folger’s account book documenting the years 1797–1802 indicates he was a jack of all trades—a boatbuilder, wheelwright, carpenter, and grocer. In 1842, the property passed to Isaac and Love Folger’s daughter, Ruth Folger Brown (1805–77), whose husband John A. Brown (1803–56) sold the property to Benjamin Lawrence (1799–1879) in 1847.

Lawrence, who held the cottage for twenty-seven years, was one of only eight survivors of the ship Essex, which sailed from Nantucket on August 12, 1819, and was sunk by a whale in the South Pacific on November 20, 1820. A twenty-one-year-old boatsteerer at the time, Lawrence was one of three men rescued after a grueling 90 days by the British ship Indian. Accounts of the tragedy credit Lawrence with saving his whale boat—one of three used to rescue the crew—by volunteering to dive below to clinch the nails used to fix a hole with a new board.

Captain Benjamin Lawrence, c. 1860

Through researching his life, it becomes apparent there were early events in Lawrence’s life that likely gave him the strength and skills to survive. Lawrence was the eldest son of James and Jedida Lawrence of Nantucket, born on February 25, 1799. At the age of ten, his father and sister Sally were lost at sea on “a voyage to Alexandria” as reported in the Barney Genealogical Record. One month later, his mother gave birth to triplets—all three surviving to adulthood. As the eldest child of three other siblings besides the triplets, Benjamin would have helped manage a large household and probably grew up quickly. It likely gave him the skills to manage others and take care of himself.

After his Essex voyage, Lawrence married Elisabeth Pitman (1806–1900) and they had six children, born between 1825 and 1851. Like other survivors of the Essex, Lawrence returned to the sea. He went to Hudson, New York when a whaling port was established there, and between 1832 and 1836 was in command the ship Huron of that port. He later was captain of the ship Dromo of Nantucket.

Upon his retirement, Lawrence became the keeper of Nantucket’s Asylum for the Poor, caring for fifty or more indigent individuals and probably helping to oversee the construction of a new building now known as Our Island Home. His obituary notes: “his sturdy virtues commanded the esteem of all who knew him, and he leaves behind the best possible record—that of an honest man doing his whole duty.”

Lawrence’s later life was not without tragedy. In 1849, his eldest son Robert was lost at sea off Cape Horn—at the same age as Benjamin was during his Essex experience.

Only a few records of his life in ’Sconset have been found. His obituary notes “since retiring from the sea, he had employed himself busily in farming, fishing, and other pursuits, residing a portion of the time in Siasconset.” In 1859, Lawrence advertised a “fish boat and hay for sale” in his barn at Siasconset, and in May 1874, he advertised his “house for sale with good barn”.

Central Market, now a dwelling, was located on land that was once part of the Lawrence property, c. 1880
Central Market, now a dwelling, was located on land
that was once part of the Lawrence property, c. 1880 (photo credit: Nantucket Historical Association)


Lawrence sold the property that year to Elizabeth Mitchell McCleave (1820–85), wife of Captain Charles McCleave (1818–90). The McCleaves retained the property until 1889, when Captain McCleave sold the cottage and barn to Richard E. Burgess, a grocer. The barn, located on what is now an adjoining property, was altered by the addition of a new structure—the assistant light keepers’ house at Sankaty Head lighthouse—that was moved to the site to become Burgess’s Central Market.

The small cottage evolved over the years—including the addition of a two-story wing that Underhill notes was added about 1868 (during Lawrence’s ownership). It is not known who named the cottage, but I like to think the name Felicite was given to the house by Lawrence—realizing he was lucky, fortunate and hopefully happy.

-Michael May

(This article was originally written for the column “A House Genealogy ” featured in the Mahon About Town E-Newsletter – Click here)

71 Baxter Road

We believe every historic Nantucket house has a story. For this reason one of our homeowner programs offers you the opportunity, to learn the history of your historic house. The story of your Nantucket house will be preserved in our island’s history. As part of the Nantucket Preservation Trust’s educational mission, copies of the histories produced are presented to the Nantucket Historical Association and the Nantucket Atheneum for inclusion in their research collection. Below is the Brief House History of 71 Baxter Road – one of the island’s mid-twentieth century structures.

1 Brock’s Court

1 Brock’s Court
A Brief House History
George Parker, Shoemaker, circa 1848


“Egypt” was an early Nantucket place name that referred to an area around Lily Pond, including the west end of India and Hussey Streets, Brock’s Court, and the sound end of North Liberty and Lily Streets; its exact boundaries are nowhere described. Why it was called Egypt is not known, although it is possible that the palpable darkness of the outskirts of the tightly clustered and more brightly lit town reminded some of a biblical reference: “And the Lord said unton Moses, stretch out thine hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, even darkness which may be felt.” (Exodus 10: 21). Although William Coffin’s 1834 map of the town labels the small lane Brock’s Court, it was later known as Pinkham’s Court because Henry C. Pinkham had a house facing the court on the west side. The name reverted to Brock’s Court in the last half of the twentieth century. Untitled-2In 1879, when Caroline Holmes sold the house at the end of Brock’s Court to Francis H. Brown, the property is described as “land and dwelling in Egypt, formerly the homestead of my uncle George Parker.” George Parker (1790-1861) was a cordwainer, or shoemaker, the youngest of Nathan and Mary Parker’s eight sons. He bought two parcels of land in Egypt from his father in the 1820s, including his father’s house, which stood somewhere near the house at 1 Brock’s Court, but was removed. It appears, both from the Greek Revival style of the house and the fact that ephemera dated 1848 was found beneath the floorboards, that the house was built in the late 1840’s, about the same time that the boat builder Barzillai Burdett built his house at 6 North Liberty, just north of Parker. The one-story building on the north side of Parker’s house may have been his cobbler’s shop.

Francis H. Brown’s family owned One Brock’s Court from 1879 until 1956, when his daughter, Mary P. Chadwick, was unable to pay the mortgage. Nantucket Institute of Savings then sold the house to Franklin and Arlene Bartlett, who held title for just three years before selling the property to Lewis and Ethel Ray in 1959; it remained in the Ray family until 2003.

The most remarkable of the neighboring buildings was a large two-story eighteenth-century structure known in its later years as Field’s Folly, in honor of Thomas B. Field (1813-95) who tried unsuccessfully to get his patented windmill, whose vanes were horizontal rather than vertical, to operate on a tower he built on the east end of the building. Some nineteenth-century photographs of Field’s Folly show the house at 1 Brock’s Court, partially obscured by the large mill building.

Prepared by Betsy Tyler
August 2011

(Text from a Nantucket Preservation Trust published Brief House History)

71 Baxter Road


The design of the house at 71 Baxter Road contrasts vividly with the earlier Victorian and Shingle Style houses along the North Bluff of Siasconset. The unornamented one-story L-shaped house with the wide chimney was built for Judge Jesse B. Cunningham and his wife, Caroline, in the summer of 1939. It is one of the first modern houses on the north bluff, with a distinctive design characteristic of the International Style of architecture so designated by Henry-Russell Hitchcock and Philip Johnson in an exhibition of modern architecture at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1931. A catalog of the show expounded on the basic tenets of a style that had evolved over the previous decade, among them an emphasis on the horizontal plane, an avoidance of superimposed decoration, and an appreciation of functionality, all characteristics suited to ‘Sconset’s architectural heritage.

71 baxter2007 Unfortunately, we have no clues about the personal aesthetic of the Cunninghams—whether they were familiar with current trends in architecture from travels in Europe and the United States, what brought them to ‘Sconset, and what influenced their decision to build their summer cottage in a modern style. Since the house is so markedly different from others on the island , it is probable that it was designed by an architect the Cunninghams knew in Pennsylvania. One of the best known American architects working in the International Style in the 1930s and ‘40s was George Howe of Philadelphia; although there is no evidence that Howe designed the house, it is possible he or an associate created a sketch of the simple cottage for the Cunninghams. Other potential candidates whose work may have influenced the design of 71 Baxter are Frank Lloyd Wright, whose sister, Maginel Wright Enright Barney owned a Nantucket summer home for more than twenty-five years (she sold it in September 1939) and German architect Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus School, and Marcel Breuer , both of whom came to the United States at this time to teach at Harvard. It is conceivable that an associate of one of these well-known architects working in New England in the late 1930s may have had a hand in the design.

The property at 71 Baxter changed hands twice before it was purchased by long-term owners Sidney and Dorothy Dillon in 1973. The Dillons, who lived in Oldwick, New Jersey, had five children who attended boarding schools and colleges in the Boston area, so the summer house at Nantucket was a convenient destination for the younger generation. The five siblings, who were given partial shares in the property by their parents, established the Rugosa Cottage Trust in 1995. The Trust sold the property to John Merson and Carol Bunevich in 2004.Modernism 032

The erosion of the North Bluff of ‘Sconset over the last fifty years or more imperiled the house, so plans were made to move it to a safer location on the west side of the lot. In the fall of 2009, the north ell of the house was removed, as was the garage situated near Baxter Road, but the great room was relocated and enlarged following the tenets of the classic International Style. A dominant feature of the west façade of the house, the wide brick chimney was rebuilt, and a kitchen was added to the north end of the great room. Careful attention was paid to all the elements of the design, particularly the horizontal line emphasized by the red cedar clapboard, exterior fences, and interior stair rails. New rooms, like the squat bedroom tower and the basement suite of bedrooms, baths, and sitting area, create nearly the same floor space as the original house in half the footprint. East facing windows on the lower level—made possible by the creation of a sunken patio—and five skylights below grade on the west side, fill the interior with light. Architect Timothy Lindman created the new design and Ted Lambrecht supervised all the work, completing the project in the Spring of 2010.

11 Baxter Road

11 baxter111 Baxter, built circa 1885 is a stick-style historic cottage located in the village of ‘Sconset. According to the deeds the property was sold by William Flagg to Abraham W. Rice in 1884. Shortly after the cottage was built and completed in the spring of 1885 based on records from the Inquirer and Mirror. It is known by the name of Idlemoor and believed to have been one of the first house’s built on the north bluff. The names derives from the moor view and the relaxing or “idle” nature of the visits by past owners, the Rice family.


35 Milk Street

b932dfb835 Milk Street, built circa 1817 at one time was known as The Big Shop and was used for the building of boats until the mid 1800’s. It had been occupied and owned by the same family since 1947, until its recent sale in 2010. It is part of the historic Milk Street neighborhood most likely, named because it was the early route taken by dairy farms west of town near Hummock Pond to the densely populated part of town where milk was delivered to households and shops. Many early houses are in the area, which once was the center of the local government. The Town House, or court house, was moved from its original location on West Chester Street near No Bottom Pond to the corner of Milk and Main Streets in 1783, and remained the hub of local government until 1836, when the town purchased 2 Union Street, previously the home of the NPT, for that purpose.

circa. 1900 (photo courtesy of Nantucket Historical Association)


Today the property is among a list of 10 houses participating in the 9th Annual Tour of Lights. Houses on the list each have elaborate holiday light displays, which can be voted on up until Friday, December 19 at Noon.

*Click HERE for a ballot and complete list of houses

55 Union Street

Untitled-1Chances are you have driven past 55 Union Street numerous times and may or may not have given it a second glance. The historic building dates back to 1835 and has been in desperate need of a restoration for quite some time. We are so happy to announce its new owners are true preservationists at heart: Michelle Elzay and Pen Austin. Elzay has been an active NPT member for many years and recently joined the NPT board. She is co-owner of Sparrow Design a Branding and Interior Design Company with her husband Matthew Brannon and understands the need for preservation projects,

“I think it is important, as Americans, to acknowledge that even as a very young country we have an architectural legacy worth saving and protecting. I love both Nantucket and old houses I am pleased to be a part of the NPT’s preservation efforts that will aid in preserving both the architectural and therefore social history of our historic buildings.”

She has taken on the latest preservation venture with partner Pen Austin. Austin is an expert craftsman in architectural finishes, plaster and lime. She has a true passion for her work and is committed to proper restoration practices. Austin has worked on many historic Nantucket buildings including: 9 New Mill Street, 60 Cliff Road, 18 India Street, and institutions such as the Maria Mitchell House and the Unitarian Meeting House. We will be documenting the restoration progress from start to finish. The photos below feature the beginning phases and were taken on November, 11th.

Stayed tuned for updates!