Keeping History Above Water: Nantucket

Keeping History Above Water: Nantucket | Registration Open

Registration is now open for Keeping History Above Water: Nantucket! Click here to visit our symposium site and register. 


June 26-28, 2019


Nantucket Island has long looked to the ocean to determine its future. From fishing village to international whaling port to beloved seaside escape, the waters that surround Nantucket have always inspired. A National Historic Landmark with more than 800 pre-Civil War era historic structures, Nantucket is one of countless coastal communities who now must rethink its relationship with the sea.

Keeping History Above Water: Nantucket is a two-day workshop on Nantucket that will bring together members of the island community, stakeholders from other coastal communities across the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and national experts to share experiences and case studies. On Day One, participants will learn from the successes and lessons of other historic coastal communities. Participants will turn their focus to Nantucket on Day Two, using state-of-the-art laser scanning models to help envision sea level rise and an old-fashioned roundtable discussion to propose solutions. The convening kicks off with keynote speaker Jeff Goodell, author of The Water Will Come: Rising Seas, Sinking Cities, and the Remaking of the Civilized World. Donovan Rypkema, preservation economics expert, and James Balog of the film The Human Element are special presenters.

This is the fifth iteration of Keeping History Above Water and is a partnership between the University of Florida, Nantucket Preservation Trust, and Town of Nantucket, in collaboration with the Newport Restoration Foundation.

The 2019 conference is presented by University of Florida: Preservation Institute Nantucket, Nantucket Preservation Trust and the Town of Nantucket, in collaboration with the Newport Restoration Foundation and ReMain Nantucket.

Registration for Keeping History Above Water: Nantucket is now open!

Register as a Leadership Supporter to help sponsor this important symposium. 

Keeping History Above Water: Historic Flooding on Nantucket Part 2

“You’ve got to practically row to my front door as it is.” That’s what one resident on Brant Point said in 1996. This week, we continue our two-part series on historic flooding on Nantucket.

What do these flooding events mean for our historic structures? What can we do today, and how can we plan for the future?

This June 26-28, we hope you’ll join the University of Florida: Preservation Institute Nantucket, Nantucket Preservation Trust, and Town of Nantucket for a two-day symposium entitled Keeping History Above Water: Nantucket, in collaboration with the Newport Restoration Foundation and ReMain Nantucket.

We combed through the archives of The Inquirer and Mirror to see how flooding has affected Nantucket from the 1940s to the present. Click here to read Part One, from 1890 to 1930.



February: The most spectacular happening occurred when the high waves smashed the piles at Straight Wharf which supported Yerxa’s boat shop. The mishap took place Thursday morning, after the wharf had been battered all night. The beating waves did considerable damage to the south wall of the wharf and the bulkheads, and the gale blew in part of a wood shed. William Thomson, manager of Killen Bros., Inc., estimated the damage in excess of $1,000.

The steamer made her trip from the island Wednesday morning, but the down trip could not be made neither could airplane service—so the island was completely isolated. There was no boat service on Thursday, but Dave Raub made a trip over in his Nobadeer plane, bringing back Wednesday’s papers. Thursday morning the town truly presented an Arctic appearance.”


March: “An extreme high tide which occurred Wednesday night added to the discomfort of many residents living near the harbor. Easton Street and serval other roads on Brant Point were badly flooded, the water reaching a height of 20 inches or more in the cellars of some homes in the Point area.


March: “The severe flooding of the Brant Point and Washington Street areas last weekend has been the main topic of discussion in Town this week, and, unfortunately, a great deal of criticism of both the local Police Department and the Coast Guard has been heard.

This criticism has stemmed mainly from the fact that many people believe, and rightly, that advance notice should have been given of the rising waters so that families could have evacuated before the storm reached its peak. Actually, advance warning was almost impossible, due to the rapidity with which the water rose.

However, there are several things which must be considered. How many times have the reports have advancing hurricanes been cried down here on Nantucket because “they never hit here?” Perhaps more important, how many times have request by the Town Departments for emergency equipment been turned down by the Town meetings for the same reason or for economy’s sake?”

April: …There are many storms, remarked Secretary Glidden, in which the tide is exceptionally high but there is no danger to the people in the low areas. He felt many people would not leave their homes unless they believed there was a good chance there would be water in their living rooms.”


April 3rd:Another Sewer Break! A major break in the low level sewer main on Union Street, at Consue, occurred Tuesday afternoon and that section has been closed to all traffic for the balance of the week while the Sewer Department workers were making repairs. The men worked under difficulties having to cope with water continually flooding the trench as a result of recent heavy rains.

Because of the recent heavy rains that have flooded the Brant Point area it was decided to open the sewer line to help carry the flood waters water. The main was opened at about 1:20 PM and at 3 PM the sewer broke at Consue.”

April 10th: “Former Selectman Robert B. Blair told of the flooding of Brant Point by recent rains and said he understood it was caused by sending sewage through the Brant Point main which prohibited surface drains from operating. He expressed concern the sewer situation might become a health problem…”



October: “Mr. Charles Flanagan, Disaster Committee, reported that in January there was an evacuation of families from the Brant Point section due to flooding conditions.”


March: “The raising of the height of the bulkheads along the waterfront on Easton Street from Brant Point Coast Guard Station to the White Elephant Hotel and the installation of bulkheads at the end of several town-owned rights of way along the channel side of Hulbert Avenue would assist in preventing flooding of the Brant Point area during severe easterly storms such as the island experienced Tuesday and Wednesday, in the opinion of Selectman John F. Meilbye.”


December: “Before the October noreaster, the shoreline along Hulbert Avenue was lined with bulkheads that were built by homeowners to prevent erosion. Gale force winds and raging tides ravaged the bolted wooden structures, leaving them in splintered disarray.

When a bulkhead breaks, as the Hulbert Avenue structures did during the storm, it sends chunks of wood into the water that act as battering rams and can add to damage of other structures.”

December: “Wiring work permits related to the October 30 storm are being issued at five times the rate of nonstorm permits, and Wiring Inspector Tom Cassano says this is only the beginning.

Since the storm flooded Brant Point and much of the downtown area, 403 wiring permits have been issued — 340 of them for storm-related work. Of the 129 building permits issued since the storm, 21 have been to repair damage.


December: “The nor’easter that washed six ‘Sconset houses into the sea, flooded Brant Point and sections of downtown last weekend left in its wake almost $9 million in damage to Nantucket. Damage from the storm totaled about $7 million dollars to private residences, $2.5 million to island business and approximately $400,000 to town and public property, according to Selectmen’s Executive Secretary Suzanne Kennedy.

…Downtown, flood waters breached the seawall and covered Easy Street. The sea flooded and crept all the way down to the Peter Foulger Museum on Broad Street. Almost two feet of water filled the A & P parking lot, and several buildings on North Wharf were flooded. On Straight Wharf, buildings suffered wind and . water damage, and bricks covering the wharf were washed away. The Coast Guard Station at Brant Point was evacuated Friday as flood waters began to rise, with Coast Guard personel moving their command station to the Angler’s Club on Swain’s Wharf ; The pier at the Marine Lab suffered about $60,000 of damage. Up to four feet of Water covered the area to the Folger Hotel on Chester Street and to the corner of South Beach and Broad streets at high tide Saturday. Almost all of the houses on Hulbert Avenue were damaged when flood waters surged over the road. As much as five feet of water covered Winthrop’s White Elephant property, according to some reports.”


November: Carol and Hugo Pagliccia live on a sponge. Their house sits on what used to be a cranberry bog just off North Beach Street. With the prodigious amount of rainfall this year, that bog has begun to recharge itself. The crawl space beneath their house has been filled with water for months: For a few weeks, they needed waders to get. to their front door. The Pagliccias say they have been pumping water and digging trenches to no avail.

“The water has nowhere to go around here,” Carol Pagliccia said. “It just sits there and it smells. We have never dried up since the spring.” The worry of the Pagliccias, and their neighbors behind the Stone Barn Inn, is that the Jetties/Brant Point area cannot tolerate any more building. “You hear about, all these buildings going up on lots that are already covered with water,” said Sonya Murphy, who lives three doors down from the Pagliccias. Tm just worried about the combination of all these things. Where is the water going to go?” North Beach Street is one answer.

…”Brant Point never dried out after the No Name Storm,” said ConCom member Diane McColl, referring to the storm of 1991. “We’ve had flooding problems, storm drain runoffs problems and we’re filling up the places for the water to go.” Yet Perry and ConCom members say they are largely powerless to stop further building.

…”It’s like walking through an algae pit,” Carol Pagliccia said. “I came here (three years ago) because I thought this was one place that would be protected. I thought Nantucket wouldn’t allow something like this to happen. What am I going to do if they put more buildings up around me? You’ve got to practically row to my front door as it is.”


October: Many homes in the flood plain are on the move and on the rise. The action is a result of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s updated flood maps published last July 2014. The unpredictable floodplains are impacting insurance costs, forcing some residents to raise their homes and others to get creative.

“People are starting to build moats around their electrical equipment or hanging their hot water heater from the ceiling of the basement,” Nantucket Insurance president Charlie Kilvert said.”

December: “The blizzard called Juno by the Weather Channel lashed the island with an icy vengeance Jan. 26 and 27, raging for more than 16 hours, flooding much of the downtown waterfront and significantly damaging the town pier.

…Newly-elected Gov. Charlie Baker arrived by helicopter and toured the island when the blizzard finally subsided, meeting with emergency-management officials at the Fairgrounds Road public-safety building and visiting the damaged town pier, which officials estimated would cost nearly $1 million to fix.

He also took an aerial tour of a flooded Brant Point and the Sheep Pond area, and later issued a disaster declaration that helped the town secure federal aid to make repairs.”



January:  “The winter storm that brought a good chunk of the Northeast to a standstill today due to near blizzard-like conditions pummeled Nantucket with just rain and wind, and there was plenty of both, along with significant downtown flooding.”

Keeping History Above Water: Nantucket | Historic Flooding on Nantucket Part 1

Postcard image of the Easy Street boat basin full of fishing fleet boats gathered for protection escaping the storm on 1917. NHA archives.

Winter on Nantucket means punishing winds, high tides, and storm surges. Many of the low-lying areas of Nantucket town experience flooding during storm events. What do these flooding events mean for our historic structures? What can we do today, and how can we plan for the future?

This June 27-28, we hope you’ll join Preservation Institute Nantucket, Nantucket Preservation Trust, and the Town of Nantucket for a two-day symposium entitled Keeping History Above Water: Nantucket, in collaboration with the Newport Restoration Foundation. We’re building on the important foundational work started in Newport. Click here to read more about Newport Restoration Foundation and past Keeping History Above Water events. 

In the months leading up to the symposium, we’ll feature different topics related to sea level rise and historic preservation. Since we’re in the middle of winter and severe weather concerns are on the mind, we thought we’d kick off this series by looking at flooding on Nantucket throughout history.

We combed through the archives of the Inquirer and Mirror to see how flooding has affected Nantucket since the 1890s. Read on to learn more…


February: “On the petition of the Nantucket Railroad for leave to move its track back 1,000 feet from the beach, to better protect it from damage by ocean storms, the committee on railroads were addressed by SK Hamilton, Esq. for the Railroad Co. There was no objection to the prayers of the petitioners, and a bill will be reported.”


October: “The harbor was lashed into seething foam, and at flood tide in the afternoon the waves were breaking savagely across the wharves. Small boats in the docks and vessels moored at the piers tugged and strained at heir fastenings, and in one or two instances prompt work was necessary to save some of the small craft from damage. Many ladies braved the blast to view the wild turmoil of the waters. Brant Point was flooded, and was passable to pedestrians only as far down as the corner of Easton and Beach streets, the street below being completely submerged…”

December: “The partially complete bulkhead, belonging to Captain John Killen, connecting the Straight Wharf with Old North Wharf, was torn up and drive in alongside the wharf.


December: “To particularize in detail the damage wrought by the storm would be impossible…”

The railroad bed across the Steamboat dock and on the marsh, likewise the car house on South Beach, are damaged by the waves.”

“All along the southern and eastern seaboard a tremendous surf rolled in, one of the highest ever known. It broke into all the ponds along the shore and swept across the beach at Wauwinet and into the inner harbor, surrounding at times and threatening to engulf the chapel and several summer cottages.”


January: “…it experienced a phenomenal high tide, which submerged the wharves, flooded the streets and property near the water front, and made things somewhat lively for a while.”

“The tide rose to a height not known for many years, and shortly before noon on Sunday the sight witnessed along the water front called many of our citizens from their homes to view the unusual conditions.”

Brant Point was completely submerged.”

“The view of the point, covered with water all the way from the cliff beach bath-houses to the inner shore of the harbor, was a sight that has not been witnessed before for many years.”


February: “A large crowd of skaters were in evidence Sunday afternoon, on the meadows at Brant Point, which had been flooded with water since the high tide of the 13th [of January] and were frozen over by the cold snap of Friday and Saturday.”


September: “The Brant Point meadows were flooded; the bathing beach road was transformed into a river; residents had to wade in order to reach their cottage; all of the low sections were under water.”

But the memory of man is fickle, for it happened that August in the year 1889 knocked this year’s record all to smithereens, for that month showed a total of 11.05 inches, 5.00 inches of which fell in twenty-four hours. If you keep a diary, just look back to August 1889, and you will see that August in that summer was far ahead of this one in rainfall.”


August: A number of cars were stalled in the water which flooded Brant Point Road in places; and all over town car owners were having trouble in getting their machines to percolate properly, as the water found its way under the hoods and caused trouble regardless of the make.”

 Next week, we’ll look at 1930 to the present. Do you have memories of flooding on Brant Point or other areas of town? Please email us at and let us know if we can use your recollections for our blog and archives.