History

Let’s Talk Turkey (& Pumpkins & Potatoes & Squash)

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 c.1900. All historic photos courtesy Nantucket Historical Association.

Hinckley Lane Farm
c.1844

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).

Eben Hinckley

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!

Walter Burgess Farmhouse c.1912

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.

Walter Burgess Farmhouse c.1996

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.

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.

Two New House Markers!

House marker design proof before it is fabricated by the sign maker.

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.

Fort Sumter

Crosby Family

c. 1870

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

c. 1883

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.

 

 

 

Back to School…

Academy Hill in 2018.

The weather is still warm here on Nantucket, but many of our island visitors and friends have begun their journeys home as the new school year looms on the horizon.

With that in mind, this week’s post looks at the history of the Academy Hill School building on Nantucket.

Did you know that Academy Lane was not named for the big brick building that sits atop it? Instead, it was named for an earlier private school called The Academy, situated north of the public school. The Academy was in existence by 1800, but by 1818 the building had been sold to the First Congregational Church.

Academy Hill in the 1850s.

In 1856, the first class at Academy Hill had 129 students.  The original Academy Hill building was wood construction and opened on December 2, 1856. The firm of Easton and Thompson constructed the building for a cost of $20,000.

The wooden Academy Hill school underwent modernization and alterations in 1904, totaling $10,700 in improvements. Ten years later, in 1914, further alterations were made, including the addition of a south wing.

But by 1927, there was a need for a new school building. The town was split on what to do about Academy Hill. Some thought the site was too small, others wanted the new building to remain in the same location. The wooden structure was taken down and reconstructed as a three-story brick school building, opening for the school year 1929.

By 1977, the grand brick building was showing its age. It was far too small to keep up with the population on the island. That year, one-third of all Nantucket children went to school in temporary facilities.

In 1979, the Town of Nantucket sought proposals from bidders to transform the old school building into housing for the elderly. In 1986, Academy Hill reopened with 27 apartments for senior citizens on Nantucket, finding new life for the old building.

The Life & Work of Addison Mizner on August 23rd

Addison Mizner

 

We’re thrilled to partner with the Nantucket Historical Association to  present a lecture on The Life and Work of Addison Mizner with author Richard René Silvin. Join us Thursday, August 23  at 6:00 PM at the Nantucket Whaling Museum to learn more about the noted (and elusive) society architect of Palm Beach, Addison Mizner. Tickets available here.

Addison Mizner (1872-1933) spent his early life in Spain and Central America. His father was US minister to Guatemala, and young Mizner was heavily influenced by Spanish culture and heritage. He spent ten years as an apprentice before unleashing his talent on the architecture scene. Mizer’s first major commission was the Everglades Club, one of the world’s most exclusive golf clubs. Mizner went on to design many buildings in the Palm Beach area and was a driving force in the development of the city of Boca Raton.

Richard Rene Silvin

Richard René Silvin’s fascinating life has taken him all over the world. Born in New York, he grew up attending Swiss boarding schools. He earned a BA from Georgetown University and an MBA from Cornell University, after which he spent 25 years in the investor owned hospital industry. He was the head of the International Division of American Medical International, Inc. which owned and operated hospitals in ten countries.

Silvin survived a late-stage cancer and retired from his role at American Medical International, only to begin an exciting second career as an author. Silvan has published five books, including a memoir about his friendship with the late Duchess of Windsor and a history of Palm Beach as seen through the eyes of Mizner. His latest work is about the SS Normandie, the French Lien’s magnificent 1930’s flagship.

Silvin has lectured widely on hospital administration and comparative international care systems. He is currently the vice-chairman of the Palm Beach Landmarks Preservation Commission.

Get your tickets online here or by calling the NHA, 508.228.1894.

Nantucket’s Literary History Part 4

This is the last in our short series highlighting the homes and buildings that inspired a few Nantucket writers. What part of Nantucket inspires you?

5 Quaise Pastures Road: Frank Conroy

Award winning author and director of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, Frank Conroy lived on Nantucket on and off from 1973 to 2004. Conroy died in 2005, but left behind a beautiful book of essays on his island life, Time and Tide.

Conroy came to Nantucket in 1955 as a college student, living in shared housing arrangements in very much the same way students today do (and one imagines, always will). His acclaimed memoir, Stop-Time was published in 1967.

Conroy moved to Nantucket in the 1970s, where he wrote magazine articles, played jazz piano, and worked as a scalloper. He taught writing at many colleges and universities, served as the director of the literature program at the National Endowment for the Arts, and was appointed director of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop in 1987.

Conroy’s Nantucket home was unique. Architect Jock Gifford (now of Design Associates) completed construction on Conroy’s Polpis barn-style home in 1973. Set back on a secluded parcel of land overlooking Polpis Harbor, it was the perfect spot for a writer and musician.

The outside oak lumber for Conroy’s barn came from a Pennsylvania sawmill, and the inside exposed chestnut beams were taken from a 160-year-old tobacco barn in PA. When the Inquirer & Mirror visited Conroy at home in 1974, he kept a photograph of friend and fellow author Norman Mailer hanging from one of the antique beams.

The Conroy house was sold in 2012. It has since been demolished.

Nantucket’s Literary History Part 3

Gilbreth Family. Courtesy NHA

 

92 Hulbert Ave “The Bug-Lights”: Ernestine Gilbreth Carey & Frank B. Gilbreth, Jr.

The twin lighthouses that dot the extension of Hulbert Ave are officially called the Nantucket Cliff Beacons but more often called the bug-lights (1838). These structures were the unlikely summer home of industrial engineers and efficiency experts Frank B. Gilbreth, Sr., Dr. Lillian M. Gilbreth, and their 12 children.

Originally located on Cliff Beach, the lights worked in conjunction with the range lights on Brant Point and buoys to guide vessels into the channel. The bug lights were decommissioned in 1908.

Courtesy NHA.

The Gilbreths purchased the property with the keeper’s toolhouse and the smaller light in 1921. By 1952, the keeper’s toolhouse was replaced with a larger cottage. The larger light tower was moved (by horse!) to the Gilbreth property. The towers were converted to dormitories for the many Gilbreth children.

Frank Jr. and Ernestine wrote two books together chronicling their unique family, Cheaper by the Dozen and Belles on Their Toes. Frank Jr. authored other books inspired by his life on the island, including Innside Nantucket and Of Whales and Women. Ernestine wrote Jumping Jupiter and Rings Around Us.

In 1991, Frank Jr. wrote “We have lovingly preserved [the bug lights], but I can’t overstress how well the structures were built and how amazingly sound they are today. In the seventy years we’ve had them, not a single shingle has needed to be replaced on the sides of either structure.” The bug lights and cottage are still in the Gilbreth family today.

Courtesy NHA.

Nantucket’s Literary History Part 2

In honor of Preservation Month & the upcoming Nantucket Book Festival,  this week we’re taking a look at some of the architecture of Nantucket’s literary history. Our short series continues…

7 Silver Street: John Guare

From 1975 to 1978, 7 Silver Street (ca. 1830s) was the home of playwright and author John Guare. Guare wrote Landscape of the Body and Marco Polo Sings a Solo during the years he owned 7 Silver Street.

The 1970s saw a bustling theatrical scene on the island, with many of Guare’s plays performed at the island’s local stages. Guare’s time on the island informed his “Nantucket” series of plays: Gardenia, Lydie Breeze, Women in the Water, and Judith.

Guare met his wife Adele Chatfield-Taylor, an architectural preservationist, in 1975 on Nantucket.

Guare came to Nantucket in the 1960s while a student at Yale Drama School, as a caretaker for C.L and Marion Sibley at 111 Main Street (1746). He returned to the island throughout the 1980s to work on his plays.

 

Nantucket’s Literary History

Nantucket has been home to many novelists, poets, playwrights, and lovers of words over the years. It’s currently the year-round home to (at least) three New York Times bestselling writers, and the summer home of countless others.

This month, we honor Nantucket’s literary history through buildings where great writers found inspiration.

31 Pine Street: Tennessee Williams & Carson McCullers

“It was a crazy but creative summer.” –Tennessee Williams

How did two of the 20th century’s greatest southern writers find themselves 30 miles of the coast of New England?

In June of 1946, Tennessee Williams rented a house on the island for the summer. “I seldom remember addresses, but this was 31 Pine Street in Nantucket, an old gray frame house with a wind-up Victrola and some fabulous old records, like Santiago Waltz and Sousa band numbers,” he said in an interview with Rex Reed.

The Glass Menagerie was on Broadway, but Williams and his partner Pancho Rodriguez were looking to get out of New York. Williams had long admired Carson McCullers—he called her the greatest living writer—and wanted to meet her.

Williams was in poor health when he wrote a characteristically dramatic letter to McCullers, declaring that he had gone to Nantucket to die, and he’d like to meet her before his death. The two had never met before, but McCullers took him up on his offer and arrived on the boat.

“This tall girl came down the gangplank wearing a baseball cap and slacks. She had a radiant, snaggletoothed grin and there was an immediate attachment,” Williams said.

The two writers found inspiration at 31 Pine (ca. 1850). Williams recalled “…The fireplace was always filled with beautiful hydrangeas, and we sat at opposite ends of a long table while I wrote Summer and Smoke and she wrote The Member of a Wedding as a play.”

Williams and McCuller’s time in Nantucket has inspired two contemporary plays, 31 Pine Street and Rancho Pancho.

 

The Levi Starbuck House

Photos Michael Rynes.

We’re thrilled to add another house to our 2018 Nantucket Preservation Symposium. The Levi Starbuck house at 14 Orange Street (built 1837) was home to whale oil merchant Levi Starbuck and is an iconic example of a grand Nantucket home. Built by William M. Andrews, 14 Orange Street is one of the earliest examples of Greek Revival architecture on Nantucket.

Andrews was only 26 years old when he completed 14 Orange Street, after completing another house with Greek Revival features at 22 Hussey Street. Andrews may also have built 24 Hussey and 8 Orange Street.

Levi Starbuck purchased the Andrews house in 1838, by which point the 69-year-old was already a successful businessman. He was a member of one of the most prominent whaling and merchant families on the island. He spent the last ten years of his life in the opulent new house on Orange Street.

Over the years, owners of the house have been thoughtful stewards and additions and upgrades have been sensitive, keeping at the forefront the home’s historic interior.

Join us on June 7th for a look at this gorgeous Greek Revival home and step back in time.