Ever wonder how early Nantucket houses were built? They used timber framing—the standard construction method until the mid-1800s. Building materials were scarce and, like today, had to be shipped from the mainland. Timbers were hand-hewned, joined together, then numbered for easy re-assembly by the Nantucket carpenter. Timber elements were proudly exposed on the house interior, and horizontal beams were decorated with a bead or champfer along the edges. These elements provide character and help make a Nantucket house historic.
Much of Nantucket’s historic architecture is categorized as Greek Revival—a style that was dominant on island during the whaling heyday of the 1830s to the Civil War. The reason is twofold: not only was this period the time of greatest expansion and wealth, but when one seventh of the town burned to the ground in 1846, the earlier wooden buildings were rebuilt in the fashionable Greek Revival style. Most houses in this style have classical doorways with transom, sidelights and columns. Elaborate Greek Revival public buildings include the Athenuem and the Methodist Church.
Did you know … that windows constructed before 1940 were built of high-quality, old growth wood in easy-to-assemble parts that can be repaired? These windows were built to last for generations or centuries if cared for. Most can even be reused if in poor condition and refitted sensitively with storms to make them energy efficient. The beauty of an old window is that it fits the old style of a historic building, and often holds old wavy glass sometimes with bubbles that actually mark a breath taken by the glass maker. Old windows are worth preserving and help make a Nantucket house historic.
One historic building type–identified by a barn-like Gambrel Roof–is hard to spot in the historic downtown because there are only nine remaining examples dating to the eighteenth century. But prior to the Great Fire of 1846 there were many buildings that had gambrel roofs. A gambrel is simply a roof with two planes, or double pitched per side. Many associate the gambrel with barn roofs, but historically they were used for dwellings and commercial buildings. Its advantages include increased interior space and adequate room for large windows. Today gambrel roofs are found in many newer homes across the island.
One telltale sign you are in a historic Nantucket house is the use of interior transoms. These rectangular shaped windows at the tops of doors are usually found in hallways and between interior rooms. On-island transoms usually have four panes of glass, and are used to bring more light into a room. If not fixed, they also can be opened for air movement.Transoms help brighten rooms, and are part of what make a Nantucket house historic.
Remember tune into 97.7 ACK-FM Mondays & Fridays at approximately 9:15 AM and 4:20 PM to hear the weekly preservation tip or fact!
The first “Nuts & Bolts” Segment aired yesterday, May 5th. Did you miss it or not catch the entire segment? Luckily, we’ll be providing a recap of the week’s segment along with a photograph posted here. You can read more about the first segment below and check back each week to keep updated.
May 5th & 9th Segment
Did you know that Nantucket’s early builders were ‘green’? Houses built before the mid eighteenth century were oriented towards the south so their windows could capture as much solar energy and warmth as possible. Chimneys were located near the center of the house to reduce heat lost and help radiate heat from the core out to the living spaces. A long sloping roof along the north side, known as a cat-slide or lean-to roof, directed the north wind up and over the dwelling and added extra protection from the cold. As you travel the lanes in town you will see the oldest houses are usually on the north side of the streets—the choice lots to capture the sun’s southern rays.