Housing Nantucket’s House Recycling Program

On Nantucket, preservation and affordable housing go hand in hand. Since 1994, Housing Nantucket has worked to “recycle” houses slated for demolition by moving them to new locations and renting them to year-round residents at below-market rates, contributing to the preservation of the island not only by saving the structures, but also creating access to affordable, well maintained rental housing for low- and middle-income residents who contribute to the island’s community vitality.

This c. 1920 house was moved from Milk Street by Housing Nantucket in 2003.

Housing Nantucket, an independent 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization, began in the early 1990s. Members of the town’s Housing Authority started Housing Nantucket as a way to create an organization that could address the islands housing needs without some of the red tape associated with being an official arm of the town government and one that could go beyond the Housing Authority’s mandate to provide housing for very low income people, those making less than 50% of the Area Median Income. The first project of the newly formed Housing Nantucket was recycling a house, now located on Benjamin Drive, that was originally constructed near Nobadeer Beach.

As of 2020, Housing Nantucket has recycled 32 Nantucket houses, including some homes that are over 100 years old. Of course, not every “Demo / Move Off” application that comes before the Historic District Commission is a good fit to be moved by Housing Nantucket. According to Executive Director Anne Kuszpa, “Some buildings are better than others.” An ideal project is less than two stories tall, located close to a paved road, and small enough that it can be moved over-the-road in one piece. In the past, Housing Nantucket has cut homes into two or three pieces to move them, but this can create longer term maintenance issues once the pieces are joined back together in their new locations.

To take on a new recycling project, Housing Nantucket must have the capability for the associated workload and available land to move a house. Housing Nantucket still works closely with the Town government, including the Nantucket Housing Authority and the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, and receives much of the land where it relocates buildings from these different town entities. Occasionally, Housing Nantucket has acquired houses to be moved and sold them to third party buyers who then move them, allowing for additional structures to be spared the wrecking ball.

Housing Nantucket’s programs have expanded beyond affordable rentals to include first time homebuyer education classes and the administration of the Nantucket Housing Needs Covenant Program. Still, the house recycling program is central to Housing Nantucket’s mission of creating housing solutions for Nantucket residents and provides an avenue for old houses to gain new lives.

This article originally appeared in the 2020 issue of Ramblings.

Mary Helen and Michael Fabacher Scholarship Recipient & NBSS Graduate Hollis Webb

“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.

This article originally appeared in the 2018 issue of Ramblings. You can read the full magazine online here.

Friday Find: Is it a Church or a Home?

1D274907613907-119-nagle-st-harrisburg.blocks_desktop_largeA passerby of 119 Nagel Street, Harrisburg PA, especially on a Sunday may expect to see church goers exiting or entering the building. Today the chances of this are very slim, considering it is now home to Tony and Carolyn Sangrey. Originally built in 1876 it ran under the name Nagle Street Church of God until becoming a Mennonite church called Peace Chapel in the early 1980’s. It wasn’t until 2002 when Tony and Carolyn purchased it that the building was converted into a residence.

10263261-01-altLocated in a historic district they felt it was important to properly convert the space into their new home by preserving elements of its original use. Main features of the church were therefore preserved, with special attention taken to the stained glass windows. Each day the Sangrey’s enter their home through a door underneath the original stained glass window and welcome sign “Peace Chapel Welcome”. The windows installed in 1923 are now protected on the exterior and visible throughout the home.

10263261-11-altThe interior was kept open to maintain the original style of the church. It features re-purposed pews, which line the living room wall and now face a pool table. At 3,085 sq. ft. the building’s interior consists of three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a dining room, loft, open living room and a large modern kitchen. The Sangrey’s bedroom is located in what used to be the church’s choir loft and the church’s office has been converted into a bathroom. The photos below depict the open interior and modern day conveniences, which were added to convert the church into a residence for two. If you’re interested in purchasing and living in a unique setting than you may be happy to hear, 119 Nagel Street is currently on the market listed at $259,900. To learn more about the property click here10263261-17-alt 10263261-03-alt 10263261-06-alt1D274907613716-peace-chapel-bath2.blocks_desktop_large


Ramblings: Insulation Tips

The excerpt below is from the 2014 Ramblings issue and features general rules for insulation. We are currently in the process of creating a resource guide focusing on issues prevalent to the island’s old houses, such as insulation. This guide will be available online for easy access. Stay tuned for more information.

ramblings photoInsulate the attic first. Heat rising through the attic and out the roof is a major source of heat loss and for many houses this step—along with window and door storms and weather-stripping—will be adequate for making your house comfortable and more energy efficient. If the attic space is not heated, insulating between the floor joists is typically the best solution. This will involve carefully taking up the floorboards and just as carefully reinstalling them.

Second, consider insulating from below—the basement and/or crawl space. Insulating these areas is complicated due to the possibility of trapping moisture, but proper installation of insulation can ensure a more comfortable living area and protection for the wood elements. In unfinished spaces without a furnace or heating source, insulation in the basement’s ceiling or first-level floor joists is possible. Vapor barriers should generally face upward to avoid trapping moisture in the insulation. In areas where there is a furnace or in a heated basement, ceiling insulation is usually not recommended. Adding a vapor barrier on the ground is also critical for crawl spaces and other areas where the ground is exposed beneath the house.

Don’t add wall insulation. It is surprising to most people, but insulating the exterior walls of a historic house on Nantucket is not recommended due to the high potential of trapping moisture in the wall and causing serious damage. In addition, there is a high cost for remediation when problems arise. Introducing insulation in wall cavities without a vapor barrier and adequate ventilation will lead to disaster—insulation will become saturated, lose its thermal properties and actually increase heat loss. Well-meaning property owners who add wall insulation also greatly increase the risk of doing more damage to their historic house and creating potential health risks. Trapping moisture in the cavity will advance rot and deterioration of wood elements that are not visible, such as sills, and can introduce mold. In addition, some blown-in installation has been known to damage building elements as it expands, including plaster keys that hold the historic plaster in place.
Wall insulation has been successfully installed during major renovations when vapor barriers and adequate air infiltration will be maintained or reintroduced. However, to preserve a building’s historic plaster, removal of the exterior shingles or clapboard is highly recommended to access the area and to repair any wood rot or damage. Damaging the interior plaster is not a preservation solution; plaster, unlike wallboard, “breathes” and with proper maintenance can survive for centuries—examples of this abound on Nantucket. Ensuring that an insulated wall area is well vented inside and out is critical, and in some cases dehumidifiers have been added to help ensure moisture is held in check. If wall insulation is still desired after knowing the risk and conducting an assessment, well-qualified professionals familiar with historic houses should be engaged to complete the work.

To read the complete 2014 issue of Ramblings click here.

Greek Revival Architecture


Much of Nantucket’s historic architecture is distinctly Greek Revival—a style that dominated the island during the whaling heydays 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 the fire on July 13, 1846, the early wooden buildings that had served as the whaling port’s commercial heart were rebuilt in the architectural fashion of the time, namely Greek Revival.

Classical Roman architecture, the basis of Georgian and Federal architecture, had influenced architecture in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, but after the War of 1812, the island as well as the entire nation turned away from many British customs. Greek Revival architecture was embraced as the predominant national style, and Nantucket followed suit. While the Greek War of Independence raged in the 1820s and 30s, American admiration for the Greek people grew dramatically, as did adoption of the Greek Revival style. Public buildings, banks, and private houses from the East to the Midwest used elements of the style for both new construction and updating older buildings.

During the second quarter of the nineteenth century, examples of both high style and the vernacular were found. On Nantucket, the earliest examples of the style are considered transitional Federal and Greek Revival. These include some of the island’s best known buildings such as the Three Bricks, and the Henry and Charles Coffin houses on Main Street. The center hall plan of these houses is similar to earlier Federal houses, but the elaborate doorways, high granite bases, and stretcher-bond brickwork are associated with the Greek Revival. The most elaborate Greek Revival houses are of course 94 and 96 Main, known as “the two Greeks.” They were designed by Frederick Brown Coleman, and both feature colossal porticos. The house at 94 Main is the more refined example, employing dentils, modillions, and Corinthian columns.

Coleman is credited with changing the appearance of the island more than any other single person. Among his other fine work is the portico of the Methodist Church (c. 1840), the Summer Street Church, and the Atheneum—with its temple form and monumental Ionic columns.

The style, however, is associated not only with those impressive building. Everywhere you look in the old historic district Greek Revival elements can be found. Among the most common elements was the use of a Greek Revival doorway framed by broad, flat pilasters void of elaborate detail, with a simple base and crowned by a flat-and- broad entablature. Transoms above the door replaced the fanlight of the Federal period (Greek architecture does use an arch) and sidelights were introduced to enhance the opening and provide the entry with additional light. The Federal six-paneled door was often replaced by two narrow upright panels or a door with two upper vertical panels and two to three lower horizontal panels. In homes of successful merchants, whaling captains and tradesmen more decorative features are found at the doorway— such as dentil bands, fluted columns, and Ionic or Corinthian capitals and the Greek key design as well as other classical details.

One of the most characteristic moldings found throughout Greek Revival houses is a flat splay or bull-nose molding that is rounded under at the outer edge. This molding was commonly used in the exterior cornice, interior doorway and window trim, as well as to encase door panels. Corner blocks on interior door and window frames are widespread throughout the town and were often decorated with bull’s eyes, or in more elaborate buildings, acanthus leaves.
One of the most dramatic changes to occur during this period was the orientation of the house. On many Greek Revival houses the gable end becomes the main elevation and faces the street. This temple form was often emphasized by the use of a protruding entablature or cornice that formed a pediment in the upper “attic” story. In many cases, elaborate window shapes such as bull’s eye, lunette, or elliptical-shaped lights were employed to give individuality to the house. In smaller buildings, the entablature was removed and returns added. Second-floor windows replaced the elaborate gable-end window at the peak. Pilasters were often found at the corners of these houses for decoration and to emphasize the verticality of the “Greek” temple.

For those who wish to learn more about the architectural features of the Greek Revival style and other architectural terminology, we recommend participating in the Main Street walking tour.

A Brief History of Marine Home Center

The land on which Marine Home Center is located was originally part of the West Monomoy subdivision laid out by the proprietors in 1726. Although at the edge of the town, this area held several early houses by the 1750s and the Walling Map indicates scattered development along Orange Street at the site by 1834. This development included the homesteads of Benjamin Manter, mariner, and Caleb Cushman, which comprised most of the current Marine Home Center property. In 1871, the “homestead of the late Caleb Cushman” was purchased by the Burgess family, who held the property into the twentieth century. In 1895, with a bicycle-racing craze hitting the island, Eugene S. Burgess constructed a quarter-mile bicycle racetrack known as Centennial Park Bicycle Track on the property. According to the Inquirer and Mirror, the park also included a grandstand, tennis courts, and baseball grounds.

The success of Centennial Park appears to have been short-lived, and in 1928 Burgess sold a portion of the property to the Sears Lumber Company of Middleboro, which used the site as a lumber yard. The company had supplied building materials to the island for at least a decade prior, and sold the facility to their on-island employee, Howard U. Chase, during the height of the Great Depression. Chase operated the yard as the Chase Lumber Company until 1944 when it was relocated and the property sold to the Marine Lumber Company—part of the Island Service Company Nantucket’s main supplier of ice, lumber, coal and fuel oil. For much of its history, Marine was held by Walter Beinecke Jr. as part of Sherburne Associates and was managed by Albert “Bud” Egan before Egan acquired it in 1966.

Like its predecessors, Marine started out as a lumber supplier, but the firm diversified to offer a host of products and services. Over the years, Marine opened the first garden center, the first home center, and the first modern department store on island. This expansion offered customers the opportunity to shop for not only building supplies, and home and garden products, but specialty items. A wine and cheese shop, hairdresser and high end dress shop were among its departments. Expansion began in the 1950s with the addition of a downtown hardware and appliance store and a flower shop along Petticoat Row. In addition the lumber division expanded by building panelized homes such as those found today along Goldstar Drive. The original site also grew to house these new services and included the purchase of the former Colonial Craft Shop—a millwork shop— located just east of the lumber yard. In 1966 a new building with large display windows was constructed to display its products and many services. In 1973 the company changed its name to Marine Home Center, and in the 1980s it expanded across Orange Street where its kitchen design and appliances sales are located.

Did you know?

View of ‘Sconset, by Rev. L. W. Bostwick, 1879

That ’Sconset was among the first summer resorts in the nation? Established as a fishing station in the late 1700s, its unique charm eventually lured many of Nantucket’s leading families to settle there on a seasonal basis.

Beginning in the mid-eighteenth century, they would spend the spring, summer, and sometimes early fall in ’Sconset to fish, relax, and to catch a cool breeze away from the bustling town. Among those calling ’Sconset their home away from home were whaling captains’ families who summered in the historic fishing shanties along Broadway and Center and Shell Streets and prosperous whaling merchants several of whom built summer cottages along ’Sconset’s Main Street in the 1830s. ’Sconset was often home to retired mariners, including Benjamin Lawrence, a survivor of the ship Essex, as well as several “whaling wives”—those who accompanied their husbands on the long whaling voyages. It was not until the second quarter of the nineteenth century when the village became to lure large numbers of mainlanders for the season. By the end of the century the village became known as the Actors Colony due to the large number of Broadway actors and artists who summered there.

The History of The Coffin School

The imposing Greek Revival structure on Winter Street known as the Coffin School has played an important educational role in the lives of Nantucketers since its completion in 1854. The school, however, can trace its origins to 1827, when Admiral Sir Isaac Coffin,a veteran of the Royal Navy with ties to Nantucket’s Coffin descendants,provided funds for the establishment of the school. Known as the Admiral Sir Isaac Coffin Lancasterian School, this educational institution was founded by Coffin for the purpose of “promoting decency, good order and morality, and for giving a good English education to youth” who were descendants of the late Tristram Coffin, one of the original proprietors and to whom a great many Nantucketers were related.

The school first opened in a pre-existing building at Fair and Lyons streets with 130 children aged seven to sixteen; girls and boys were taught separately in the Lancasterian style—a discipline where older students served as tutors and monitors and taught the younger classes.

In 1846, the Fair Street School was closed, most likely due to the island’s declining population and economy. At that time, the Coffin School Trustees decided to allow the endowment to grow with the hope of opening a new facility on land they had acquired on Winter Street. By 1852, funds had increased significantly and construction began.

The architect of the present structure is unknown, but early records show that the builders were James Thompson and Edward Easton. In 1854, the brick school opened its doors to the first students, now with an expanded faculty (the Lancasterian method had been abandoned in 1831) and classes that ran six days a week. During its early years, however, the Coffin School struggled to maintain a steady number of scholars, largely due to competition from mandated public schools. An upsurge in enrollment occurred in the 1870s as the island economy improved, which allowed for construction of a rear addition, but in 1898 the school again fell on hard times and was forced to close.

Rebirth came in 1903, when the Coffin School Trustees, working with the public schools, offered ninth- through twelfth-grade students subjects such as woodworking and mechanical drawing for boys and home economics for girls. With the introduction of electricity, evening classes in specialized skills such as basketry and sewing were offered for adults.

In 1918, another addition at the rear of the school was built to serve the home economics courses. By 1941, the school was fully integrated with Nantucket’s public school system and classes continued until 1968. The following year, the school became the site of public kindergarten classes that continued until 1978. Throughout the late twentieth century, the building also served island nonprofits for purposes such as lectures, classes, and musical events.

In 1996, the Coffin School Trustees provided a long-term lease for the building’s interior to the Egan Maritime Institute, providing a home for the new organization. Today, Egan Maritime Institute shares use of the building with Nantucket Community Sailing, and the main hall continues to be used for lectures and concerts by other island groups. The Coffin School Trustees, some of whom are descended from the original trustees, or who went to school at the Coffin School, or who had family members who were teachers at the school, continue to own the Coffin School and continue their work of education – providing grants and scholarships to island youth and island youth-oriented programs.

Written by Jascin Leonardo Finger, a Coffin School Trustee, and curator of the Mitchell House, Archives, and Special Collections at the Nantucket Maria Mitchell Association.

Liberty Street

Excerpted from Off Centre: The Wesco Acre Lots The Houses and Their Histories
An NPT publication written by Betsy Tyler

Laid out in 1678 as the southern boundary of the Wesco Acre Lots, Liberty Street is older than Main Street, which was created by the Proprietors more than thirty years later but did not become widely used until after Straight Wharf was built. The dwellings on Liberty Street are some of the earliest in town, but among the eighteenthcentury dwellings are a few houses built in the mid-nineteenth century, and even in the 1870s and ’80s, on sites where much older houses once stood.

It was the custom on Nantucket in the seventeenth century, and for most of the eighteenth as well, to build houses facing south for the obvious benefit of light and warmth, making the north sides of the parallel streets in the Wesco Acre Lots the preferable house sites. This is certainly true of Liberty Street, where the houses on the north side are generally older than those on the south, which is broken up by the side streets Walnut and Winter. At Liberty Street’s origin on the north side of the Pacific Bank there is little distance from Main Street, and up to Walnut Street there is but one dwelling squeezed behind the Main Street mansions. As Liberty Street heads directly west, Main Street veers slightly southward, creating more expansive lots for those grand houses and providing room enough for dwellings on the south side of Liberty as well.

An important house no longer standing on the northeast corner of Winter and Liberty Streets was the home of Walter and Elizabeth Folger and their children, one of Nantucket’s most accomplished and interesting families. Walter (1735–1826) married Elizabeth Starbuck (1738–1821) and they had eight talented offspring, among whom were Walter Folger Jr., inventor and state representative; Phebe, a talented artist and poet who also taught both navigation and needlework; Gideon, who was a whale oil merchant; and Rebecca,whose only surviving son, William C. Folger, became a renowned historian and genealogist. The Folger’s eighteenth-century dwelling was replaced by a new house in the 1830s. An eighteenth-century house belonging to Silas Jones Jr. at 20 Liberty was also removed, and a new house built there in 1885. East of Jones’s house was “a small piece of common land next to the claypit.” Henry Barnard Worth, author of Nantucket Lands and Land Owners, confirms that the clay-pit area included Winter Street and land extending about fifty feet west. Perhaps island potters and brickmakers used the clay in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, but there is no evidence of it today.