The end of summer events means it’s time for us to get back to our research work in earnest. I am always researching here at the NPT but fall and winter allow for more time to dedicate to research projects than the busy summer does. I enjoy finding the answer to a question buried somewhere within the registry of deeds or the archives of our local newspaper.
History and historic preservation go hand in hand. After all, the history of a house helps us understand exactly what it is worthy of preservation and protection. Architectural styles can be easy to spot from the street, but the stories of the people who lived in these important houses are sometimes hidden. Delving deep into the registry of deeds can help bring these stories to light.
You can start your search online at the assessor’s database. On Nantucket, our assessor records are all digitized and easily searchable. I’ve found that most towns in Massachusetts have easily accessible accessor records, either in an online database or online list. Assessor records will give you the location of the last few recorded deeds. Once you have a book and page number, you’re off to the races!
You can make your way backwards through the registry of deeds by following the trail of book and page numbers. Most deeds reference the deed of the previous owner, and back and back until you can find the original deed. Sometimes, property was transferred through wills and you won’t find reference to a book and page number. Instead, you’ll have to go to Nantucket’s probate court on the second floor of the Town & County building at 16 Broad Street.
Most of Nantucket’s deeds from the 20th century are digitized and easily searched online at Mass Land Records. Anything later than (and including) Book 107 is online. Everything earlier, you’ll have to head down to the registry of deeds at the Nantucket Town & County building.
Working in the registry of deeds sounds like it is stuffy and tedious—but I think of it as an adventure. You are a detective, searching through the decades, deciphering faded handwriting and ancient terms. Okay, maybe the terms aren’t all that ancient, and the handwriting is usually quite good (better than mine) but it makes me feel like a sleuth all the same.
The deeds reveal much more than who owned what property. Deeds tell of friends so close they purchased neighboring houses, with easements to allow for passage between kitchen doors. They tell of women whose husbands died at sea, but who secured life rights to their house so they would always have a place to live. Information in the deeds reflects the changing real estate market—the boom during the golden age of whaling, the crash after whaling ended, the birth of the tourism industry and the second home market. There’s a certain magic in following a thread throughout history and ending up at an answer: who built this house, and when?
From there, there are all sorts of sources that can help you determine more information about the people who built or lived in the house. The Nantucket Historical Association’s Barney Genealogical Record can help you learn more about the name you read in the deeds. It is helpful to understand family relationships, and narrow down windows of time to help you search.
The Nantucket Atheneum’s digital newspaper archive has digitized copies of The Inquirer & Mirror and other island newspapers from 1816 to just a few years ago. It is truly a remarkable database and a fantastic resource for the island community, or anyone interested in Nantucket history. You may find real estate transactions in the paper, ads for houses for sale, as well as notices that refer to the construction of the house you’re researching.
Lastly, if doing your own deed research sounds like too much work, Nantucket Preservation Trust can help. We offer a variety of house histories and house marker programs and can do the work for you!
Each year the Nantucket Preservation Trust recognizes individuals and organizations that advance the cause of historic preservation on Nantucket. Awards are provided for preservation work on historic buildings and landscapes, and for the protection and stewardship of 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.
2019 Architectural Preservation Award
86 Main Street, Jeffrey Paduch and Caroline Hempstead
A finely detailed and early example of Greek Revival style architecture, the house at 86 Main Street commands attention. Proudly perched at the corner of Pine and Main Streets, the Allen-Crosby-Macy House was constructed in 1834 for Joseph Allen, a whaling captain who also speculated in real estate on Nantucket. Though updates to the house have been made over the years, the majority of the original finishings remained in position.
Unoccupied for more than a decade, 86 Main Street would have been an intimidating project for many homeowners. Jeffrey Paduch and Caroline Hempstead were well suited for the challenge and sought out project manager Brian Pfeiffer. Decision making at 86 Main Street became a collaborative process among the owners, craftsmen, project manager, project engineer, architect, and landscape architect, all of whom have contributed to the spectacular outcome.
Jeffrey and Caroline considered the history behind 86 Main Street to be an important part of their preservation planning. They understood immediately the importance of uncovering the home’s history before work began. The scope of work was immense and included: repair and re-installation of original window sashes and glass; reproduction of louvered shutters; reproduction of replacement window sashes; four original chimney stacks with ten original fireplaces repaired and relined, fireboxes and ovens repaired; reconstruction of cupola; excavation beneath foundation walls and installation of traditional underpinning of granite stones to create interior basement height to house modern mechanicals; structural repairs to timber-frame, west wall, southeast and southwest corners of the ell; repairs to interior woodwork and interior plaster; and reinstallation of interior shutters and doors.
A project this extensive is truly a team effort. Led by homeowners Jeffrey Paduch and Caroline Hempstead, the team also includes Brian Pfeiffer, Penelope Austin, Michael Gault, Jared Baker, Amy Boyle, Colin Evans, Michael Burrey, Nathaniel Allen, Aaron Beck, Adam Zanelli, Newton Millham, D. Randall Ouellette, Gary Naylor, Todd Strout, Betsy Tyler, Luke Thornewill, Janet Kane, and Martin McGowan.
2019 Historical Renovation Award
51 B Centre Street, Keith and Elizabeth Roe, owners; Michael Sweeney, builder
One of the largest differences between the way Nantucket’s historic downtown looks today and the way it looked two hundred years ago is the removal of outbuildings from the streetscape. The landscape would have been dotted with outbuildings—privies, stables, hen houses, to name a few. 51 B Centre Street is a 2-story wood-framed structure originally built as a stable for 51 Centre Street and today serves as a guest cottage. The construction of the early stable is the original, surviving post-and-beam wood frame. The original structure appears on the earliest Sanborn Map in 1887. Between 1898 and 1904, a separate structure at the west end was removed.
The cottage at 51 B Centre Street contributes to the island’s historic streetscape. It is rare to have survived in its original footprint and form from its beginnings as a utilitarian stable structure.
Michael Sweeney Construction oversaw the restoration and renovation of its existing form, footprint, and original post-and-beam structure. A one-story addition was designed and constructed to harmonize with the existing building. Sweeney also used salvaged materials from the structure to echo the look of exposed beams in the new addition.
2019 Historical Renovation Award
The Helm, 6 Evelyn Street, Sias., Alec and Brigid Lamon
According to Edward F. Underhill, developer of Underhill Cottages in ’Sconset in the 1880s, The Helm was “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 cottages were modeled after the fish houses in the village core along Broadway, Center, and Shell streets—using the same architectural vocabulary, including warts, T-shaped plans, and half gable roofs.
Now an important part of the island’s architectural heritage, the Underhill Cottages (Pochick, Lily, and Evelyn Streets) are individually owned. Some of the original cottages have been heavily changed over the years, but The Helm retains much of its original architectural details and charm. The Helm has been in the Lamon family for decades, and owners Alec and Brigid Lamon recently underwent a careful historical renovation working with Angus MacLeod Designs.
The kitchen and bathrooms were updated, and windows and insulation were added in the second-floor loft. A ca. 1940s wing to The Helm housed an additional bedroom but did not harmonize with the original structure. MacLeod took advantage of the cottage’s evolution and designed a functional bedroom and bathroom, and installed windows and a door to the side yard that complemented the original structure yet worked to integrate the addition. An outdoor porch was enclosed to create a welcoming breakfast nook but retains its old exposed shingles. Overall, The Helm is characteristic of the quirky charm of Old ’Sconset that Underhill sought to emulate.
2019 Traditional Building Methods
Newton “Tony” Millham
Tony Millham began blacksmithing in Newport, Rhode Island in 1970, forging architectural hardware for the Newport Restoration Foundation, and in 1977 he moved his shop to Westport, Massachusetts. All of Tony’s work is hand forged and hand finished. Careful forging combined with filing, fitting, and finishing are necessary to reproduce the details, finish, and feel of early wrought hardware.
Tony’s careful work can be found in many island homes and buildings, including the Old Gaol, Higginbotham House, 100 Main Street, 86 Main Street, and in ’Sconset. In addition to designs in his own catalog, Tony reproduces hardware by working from client’s original examples; photographs; sketches; architectural drawings; or references to images in books.
Not only a splendid craftsman, homeowners and project managers agree that Tony is an accessible resource. He is always happy to answer a question, aid in installation, or teach a homeowner the skills required to install and care for his pieces.
2019 New Construction Award
39 Main Street, Sias., Nell and George Wilson, owners
Perhaps the best indicator of an award-worthy New Construction project is that the only thing that sets it apart from other nearby buildings are the new cedar shake shingles. Once weathered to a soft grey, the house at 39 Main Street in ’Sconset will look as though it has always been there. Working with the Wilson family, designer Milton Rowland created a stately Main Street home that echoes the details of other houses that line the street and welcome you to the village. Set back from the road, the new house still retains a large yard. Many of the homes on Main Street were added to over the years, creating a visual reminder of the passage of time and tastes. The design of 39 Main Street mimics these older structures, creating a feeling of a large family home that has been expanded over the decades. The builder for the house was Rhett Dupont of Cross Rip Builders.
2019 Stewardship Award
Shanunga, 10 Broadway, Sias., Kristen Williams Haseotes, owner
One of the most architecturally significant buildings in ’Sconset, Shanunga needed a savior. A host of issues dissuaded many potential buyers, but Kristen Williams Haseotes was ready to take on the project. The best preservation practices guided her work, and she worked with fine craftsmen including Patrick McCarty of Nantucket Carpentry, and window restorationist, Brian FitzGibbon. The exterior of the house has been carefully restored and old timbers were retained and repaired rather than replaced. Today the old fish house has been refreshed with new shingles and restored windows—and the notable addition of a carved wooden figurehead once again graces the front yard. Previously hidden behind high hedges, the house now sits proudly as an important part of the streetscape with sensitive landscaping. The interior remains relatively untouched. Haseotes updated the kitchen and the bathroom, both in a careful manner in keeping with the rustic style of the house. The footprint of the structure also remains the same, and through her efforts, new life has been breathed into one of ’Sconset’s most adored buildings.
2019 Landscape Award
Florence Merriam Hill, posthumously
Perhaps no one person has had as much of an impact on the garden landscape of Nantucket—especially Siasconset—than Florence Hill. Hill, a Starbuck descendant, grew up on Upper Main Street in the stately Middle Brick mansion. But it was ’Sconset where Florence Hill’s influence is still felt today. Florence and Frederick Hill owned Starbuck Cottage in the easternmost village. A landscape architect, Hill was single-handedly responsible for the proliferation of American Pillar roses on Nantucket. In 1909, she bought 1,500 roses for 22 cents each and sold them to her neighbors in ’Sconset at cost. Over the next few years she repeated this feat. The iconic rose-covered cottages exist today because of Florence Hill.
“I get excited when I see a timber frame house on Nantucket,” Hollis Webb says, “What do I have to do to get other people excited about them, too?”
A Nantucket native, Hollis is one of just eleven students who graduated this past June from the North Bennet Street School’s (NBSS) heralded Preservation Carpentry program. He is the 2017 and 2018 recipient of the NPT’s Mary Helen and Michael Fabacher Scholarship.
Carpentry has been a part of Hollis’ life for as long as he can remember. Family and friends worked in the trades on Nantucket, and Hollis has experience in many different aspects of homebuilding. Prior to enrolling in the Preservation Carpentry program, Hollis worked as a carpenter, including on some traditional projects with Pen Austin.
“Nantucket has a solid community working in preservation and historical architecture,” Hollis says, “All these first period homes are just five minutes away.”
With Nantucket’s high concentration of historic homes, Hollis knew a program in preservation was the right next step in his career.
Preservation Carpentry first-year students learn basic woodworking skills in the shop, with an emphasis on the use of hand tools. “We applied some of the basic timber framing we learned in the first year to a first period home. That was incredible,” Hollis says.
Second year students take their skills on the road. Hollis’ class recently completed a sill restoration on a 1720s house in Norwell, MA. Sill repair was one of the more challenging projects Hollis has encountered at NBSS, “You’re working on projects with no easy solution. You’re figuring everything out as you go.”
Attending the NBSS has changed the way Hollis views his hometown. “I remember coming back home during Christmas after my first semester, and it was like seeing Nantucket for the first time. I was seeing the island through a different lens.”
After graduation, Hollis plans to return to Nantucket full time to live and work. “I’m excited to get back. There are projects in every direction,” he says, “The best thing that could happen would be to work with a homeowner who really appreciates the idea of restoring their home.”
Hollis encourages anyone interested in applying to the North Bennet Street School to work in carpentry for a few years, and “find a way to study Nantucket’s old houses, not just to study the frame, but to dig into the history of the house.”
At the Nantucket Preservation Trust, our doors are always open to help you learn more about the history of Nantucket’s architecture, or about our scholarship programs for students who want to learn traditional trades.
Brian FitzGibbon, antique window-restoration expert, has taken out only one ad since he began working on historic homes. At age seventeen, he started a painting business and put a small classified ad in his New Jersey hometown newspaper. His phone has been ringing ever since.
The youngest of seven children, Brian grew up in a Victorian house. When he was still in high school, his parents hired Italian master craftsman Antonio Pinola to work on the house and Brian spent thousands of hours working alongside Antonio. “He hated doing windows, and our house had tons of windows, so he trained me to work on them,” Brian says.
While well versed in many trades, Brian had dedicated his work to saving Nantucket’s antique windows. Why windows? There’s beauty in looking through the imperfect, hand-blown glass. When you look through old windows, Brian says, you are looking back on the world the way it would have been seen two hundred years ago. Nearly all window frames made prior to 1940 were made with old growth wood. Antique window frames were made from the finest grades of lumber, easily disassembled and repaired, and meant to last for generations. Before machines, each sash was carved by hand. It is an exceptional feeling to hold in your hands a window made by a Nantucketer more than two hundred years ago. You think of all the storms the paper-thin glass has endured.
So why are these beautiful, impeccably made antique windows rapidly disappearing from Nantucket, and from countless houses across the country? One of the biggest misconceptions about antique windows is that new windows are more energy efficient.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Manufacturing replacement windows is highly energy intensive, and often involves long-distance shipping that uses even more natural resources. It would take many years to recoup the cost of replacement windows through energy savings—often longer than the life of the replacement windows themselves. With proper installation, copper weather-stripping, and exterior storm windows, antique windows can equal or beat the insulative value of new windows.
“I want to help these houses live for generations,” Brian says. This year, he worked on restoring the windows of 100 Main Street and Shanunga in ’Sconset. That’s over a hundred sashes. Brian does all the work himself, by hand.
Brian’s especially thrilled to be working on Shanunga, one of his favorite houses on the island. The historic cottages of ’Sconset are an absolute delight to all that stroll by them, and he’d love to do more work on these important cottages. Imagine what the island would have looked like when all windows were handcrafted glass.