Beach Plum, longtime residence of the Constable family on at 45 Hulbert Avenue since its construction in 1939, was lost to the bulldozer over the weekend. New owners will build a more modern gambrel-style residence in its place.
In the Boston Globe, Pamela Constable reflected how the loss of the home where she spent summers feels like the true end of childhood.
Back in the 1930s, the Constable family reflected a preservation-minded ethic when they set about to build a new home. They relocated the c. 1920 cottage that had been located at 45 Hulbert, Salt Air, from the waterfront to its present location a few blocks away on Willard Street, where it stands today.
Though Beach Plum may not have won any awards for stylish or elegant architecture, it was a contributing structure to Nantucket’s National Historic Landmark District designation, meaning the building added “to the historic district’s sense of time, place and historic development.” According to the guidelines set forth in Building With Nantucket in Mind, a contributing structure should not be approved for demolition “unless all reasonable measures to save rather than raze” have been taken.
In a Historic Structures Advisory Board (HSAB) meeting regarding the demolition, Mickey Rowland, HSAB chair and Nantucket Preservation Trust board member said, “We don’t preserve historic houses because of the way they look or because we think we can replace them with more attractive houses. We preserve them because they are a part of our island history and part of the story of the neighborhood.” Beach Plum was not only visible from Hulbert Avenue, but for over 80 years it had overlooked Nantucket Harbor, a part of the streetscape from land and sea. Rather than work with the existing historic fabric of Beach Plum, this historic structure was reduced to rubble.
Smith’s Point, the far western end of Madaket over Millie’s Bridge across Hither Creek, feels like a remnant of a former Nantucket. Although it is unclear how the Point got its name, the Wampanoag called this area Nopque, meaning landing place. In A Natural History of Nantucket, Peter Brace describes Smith’s Point “all outwash sand deposits held in place by American beach grass and some snow fencing,” and his part of the island is particularly shaped by eroding waves and winds. Historic maps show the Point used to extend all the way to Tuckernuck, and until 1869 Nantucketers could drive cattle and other livestock across Smith’s Point to Tuckernuck at low tide. In 1961, Hurricane Esther opened up a break in the point, and the resulting Esther Island remained severed from the rest of Nantucket until accreting sand re-connected it in 1986. More recently, in 2016, a winter storm took much of the beach away and turned Maine Avenue into a dead-end street.
The Point has long been known for its excellent fishing, but few dwellings were constructed here, outside of a handful of fishing shacks and modest homes along Hither Creek. In the 1910s, Otis Emerson Dunham, owner of several hundred acres in Madaket, contracted with the Massachusetts Coastal Company to develop a subdivision he called “Maddequet Terrace,” including much of Smith’s Point. Though there was an early frenzy of buying, little development followed, and by 1920, many of the parcels were forfeited to the Town of Nantucket for delinquent tax benefits. For others, however, the ease of travel brought on by the introduction of the automobile to Nantucket inspired the building of simple cottages near the beaches of Smith’s Point.
One of the oldest buildings on Smith’s Point is the Eel Skin Inn at 9 Maine Avenue. It was originally constructed next to the Hither Creek Boat Yard circa 1910. It served as a shack for eel fisherman and others to skin their catch after a day’s fishing. It was also, apocryphally, a rumrunner’s shack during Prohibition. It was moved to its present site on Maine Ave in 1975 by Tom Lazor, also known as Colonel Bat Guano. A small addition was put on following the Inn’s move across Hither Creek, but the structure’s historic character is defined by its low roof profile and varied fenestration.
Another one of Smith’s Point’s oldest homes is the iconic Crooked House, noted in Building with Nantucket in Mind as “a delightful example of additive massing.” It was built along Massachusetts Avenue before 1938. It was owned by Henry Coffin, who together with his wife Anna owned many parcels in Smith’s Point. It’s most notable summer resident, however, was Fred Rogers. After first renting the cottage in the summer of 1960, he and his wife Joanne received the house as a Christmas present from his parents, James and Nancy Rogers, and spent decades visiting each summer.
Just up the street from Crooked House is 23 Massachusetts Ave, a quintessential Madaket fishing cottage. The property was also once owned by Henry and Anna Coffin, who sold it to Mary B. Gardner in 1935. The cottage was built shortly thereafter and still retains its simplicity and charm.
The eclectic mix of early fishing shacks, cottages and ranch-style houses built between the 1910s and 1940s, and more angular, mid-century homes on Smith’s Point are unified by their integration into the landscape, materials, and generally unpretentious scale and massing. As development pressures increase, care must be taken to ensure the Point retains its unique character.
In 2014, the North Liberty streetscape near the Lily Pond was threatened by a controversial application to move a barn off the property at 29 North Liberty Street. The proposal was denied by the Historic District Commission (HDC) but overturned by the Select Board on an appeal. Later, the HDC reversed their own decision and approved the move. An appeal in Nantucket Superior Court resulted in the upholding of the HDC’s original denial. A later appeal in State appeals court also upheld the HDC’s initial denial.
The same developer now desires to move a cottage at 27 North Liberty Street. The home, built in 1798, was originally the Seth Ray cooper’s shop. This time, the requested move is not off the lot, but rather six feet to the southeast on the current lot, with plans to relocate the barn on the property next door. What may seem to some as slight alterations are concerning to preservationists as moving historic structures should only be done as a last resort to demolition.
It is true that Nantucket has a long tradition of house moving to ensure a structure is not abandoned or demolished, but instead reused in a thoughtful way. It is unsettling when this practice is repurposed in an attempt to justify moving a structure on the same lot.
The proposed moving of structures on North Liberty Street threatens the historic fabric of the buildings, and the streetscape itself.
This article originally appeared in the 2020 edition of Ramblings.
In a unanimous decision on Wednesday, October 14, the Nantucket Select Board voted to reassign the enforcement and management of the preservation restriction at 31 Western Avenue, the former Star of the Sea Youth Hostel, from the Nantucket Historic District Commission to Nantucket Preservation Trust.
Hostelling International compacted with the Town of Nantucket to place a preservation restriction, also known as a preservation easement, on the property in 2007. The restriction protects the historic character of the property. Click here to read the full restriction document. The main building was built as a lifesaving station in 1874. The iconic Stick style structure was the first of four lifesaving stations build on Nantucket, and it is the last that survives. It served as a lifesaving station until 1921.
The federal government retained ownership of the site until 1962, when Lilye Mason, a longtime housemother for American Youth Hostels, Inc. successfully bid to purchase the property and convert it for use into a hostel. In 1963, Ms. Mason sold the property to American Youth Hostels, Inc., now known as Hostelling International.
The property operated as a hostel until 2019. In August 2020, Hostelling International announced their intentions to sell the property and in September announced Blue Flag Partners as the winning bidders. The sale closed on Tuesday, October 6. The preservation restriction at 31 Western Avenue protects the main lifesaving station building, a historic cottage, and a former stable that was converted into an additional hostel dormitory. The restriction exists to protect the architectural, historic, and cultural features of the buildings at 31 Western Avenue. Under the preservation restriction, there can be no changes to the exterior appearance of the historic buildings without approval of NPT and the HDC. Any construction of new buildings or relocation of the existing buildings would also require approval.
Blue Flag Partners has announced intentions to develop the site in keeping with its historic hostel past. The transfer of the enforcement and management responsibilities of the preservation restriction from the Historic District Commission to Nantucket Preservation Trust, which holds 25 other preservation restrictions, will allow for an additional layer of preservation-minded review to any proposed changes to the Star of the Sea. NPT looks forward to ensuring the stewardship of these important historic buildings for generations to come.
“Traders was not what I was looking for, but I stumbled upon it,” Ed Mills says of the Peleg Bunker house at 4 Traders Lane. Ed and his wife had been riding their bikes around the island and seen an ad for 4 Trader’s Lane. They biked past the house and stopped to take a look. “At that moment, Mr. Gosh came outside and said, “Hey, do you want to buy a house?” He invited us in, we walked around, and the seed was planted. My natural instinct to want to fix up the building came to the surface,” Ed says.
The former owners of the house, Bob and Billi Gosh, had the thoughtful foresight to place a preservation easement on 4 Traders, preserving the exterior and some of the interior in perpetuity.
Ed has spent much of his life working with houses, and his family ties on Nantucket go back to his grandparents. On his mother’s side the family once owned the Wireless Cottage in ’Sconset. “My grandmother on my mother’s side was coming to Nantucket in the late 1920s and early 1930s and took an interest in protecting Nantucket’s history. That was part of my childhood.”
On his father’s side, it was Ed’s paternal grandfather who, upon his return from World War II, had a cabin built on Hinkley Lane. Ed’s grandfather and aunt built a second cabin in 1973. These beach cabins were simple—no insulation, no interior walls, made of eastern white pine. Ed’s family enjoyed many summers on Hinkley Lane.
“Nantucket has been a constant in my life,” Ed says. “The thought of doing one more big project that has more of a restoration quality to it was attractive.” Ed and his sister purchased the house at 4 Traders’ lane. His sister works for a preservation land bank in Western New York, so both Mills are concerned with saving places.
“As we dug into it and learned more about it, we learned it had an easement on it,” Ed explains, “At first it was a concern, but as we considered it, it became less so. It’s a historic building and should be protected. 4 Traders Lane has an incredible history—it’s clearly a building you’d want to work with as opposed to try to modify. That has its own challenges, but I don’t see why, with a little bit of effort, creativity, and planning, a 250-year-old house can’t maintain its historical significance yet be appealing to a modern owner.
“Nantucket is a wonderful place, and I’d like to help keep it that way,” Ed says. We are excited to see how the Traders Lane project progresses.
This article originally appeared in the 2020 edition of Ramblings.
Tucked away on the far eastern edge of Nantucket, Codfish Park is one of the island’s most interesting neighborhoods. Codfish Park did not actually exist until the late 19th Century. The beach below the ’Sconset bank was narrow and precarious. The October Gale of 1841 undercut ’Sconset’s bank, causing several houses to give way to the sea. Other houses were moved out of harm’s way to other areas of the village.
In the decades following the October Gale, the beach accreted naturally. Soon, the beach became an area for boat storage and fishing shacks. This land below the bank belonged to Henry Coffin, who deeded it to the Proprietors of Nantucket in 1886. Three trustees were given the power to regulate the beach.
This land was to be used to public enjoyment, and one of the stipulations of Coffin’s deed was that “no building or other obstruction of any kind be erected or maintained on the premises, except bath houses, to be used as such.” The beach grew quickly, tripling in size in three decades. It wasn’t long before fishermen erected cottages, shacks, and drying racks.
With the news that Governor Baker has extended Massachusetts’ stay at home order to May 18, you may be looking for more ways to fill your time. Luckily, May is National Preservation Month, and there are many preservation-related activities you can undertake while you stay home!
The Society of Architectural Historians maintains SAH Archipedia, a nation-wide collection of peer-reviewed resources to learn more about architectural styles in the US, and specific buildings.
Archipedia New England was founded to be a resource of 400 years of New England architecture. Archipedia New England’s founding editor is Brian Pfeiffer, a longtime partner of NPT, and the site features contributions from many other members of the Nantucket preservation community.
If you would like to research the history of your own home, there are resources online that can help you. Although the Town of Nantucket’s Registry of Deeds is currently closed to the public, records from the registry are digitized dating back to 1931, or Book 106. These records can be accessed at masslandrecords.com/Nantucket. Deeds are searchable by name, street name, or book and page number.
Searching in the registry of deeds to reveal the former owners of a house opens up possibilities for searching beyond the registry. The Nantucket Atheneum’s Digital Historic Newspaper Archive allows users to search issues of more than twenty island newspapers, including the Inquirer and Mirror dating back to 1821. Consider searching past owner’s names to reveal their occupations or family members. Searching by street name or house name can also turn up results. The archives of the Nantucket Historical Association are also online, including thousands of historic photos and maps, like Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps of Nantucket Town and ‘Sconset, from 1889 to 1949. A new search interface makes it easy to search across the NHA’s various collections, from images, to letters and historic documents, to material culture objects.
As always, though we may not be working from our usual offices, Nantucket Preservation Trust is here as a resource for your preservation-related questions and concerns. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Every year, Nantucket Preservation Trust’s Sense of Place Exhibition and Auction offers bidders the chance to win unique, hand created items from dozens of Nantucket makers and artisans. Among these special auction items this year will be the Nantucket Dream Dollhouse. Volunteers led by Gussie Beaugrand, Beth Davies, Barbara Halsted, and Michael Sweeney have been spending countless hours creating a representation of a Nantucket house that models modern living in a historic home. The completed dollhouse will have three bedrooms and sleep nine, with custom hand-dyed gray shingles; hand painted walls, clapboards, and trim; tiny curtains; and custom furniture. Thank you to the volunteers who made this unique project possible!
Originally published in the 2019 issue of Ramblings magazine.
If you have been to the Nantucket Preservation Awards ceremony in recent years, you might have already met Colin Evans. In just six years on Nantucket, Colin has already made a name for himself as a craftsman with a solid grounding in historic preservation. He’s worked on numerous award-winning projects alongside master craftsman like Pen Austin and Michael Gault, and recently established his own business—Colin Evans Preservation and Restoration. With a hand in everything from timber frame repair to masonry and lime plaster work, Colin approaches a project with a whole-house understanding.
Originally from New Hampshire, Colin arrived on the island late one summer. With a background in mechanics, he secured work at the docks. But when the rest of the summer crowds left, Colin stayed and began working with Pen Austin. “In my life before,” Colin says, “everything I knew was modern, but I took a liking to traditional materials.” Colin stresses the importance of the on-the-job training he received while apprenticing with Pen. There are some lessons you just won’t learn in any classroom.
It wasn’t long before Colin saw that the island’s historic structures were threatened. “Even in those first few years, I saw building material get lost and destroyed on Nantucket,” he says. Recalling the demolition of 27 Easy Street, he says, “I saw a perfectly fine structure that was destroyed.”
In speaking with Colin, it is clear he has a real reverence for the past and for the work of those who came before him. He wonders what his historic counterparts might have thought when they encountered a new hand tool—objects that seem old fashioned to us today were at one time technological innovations. How long did it take for new technologies to reach the faraway island?
While Colin can’t talk directly to the people who originally constructed or even repaired the properties he works on, they’ve left clues to be decipher. “You can see the repairs, their thought process,” he says, recalling a recent project on Fair Street. And despite the centuries that span between Colin and the work of the original craftsman, he considers the rhythms of island life that link them. He knows what it is like to work in terrible weather, to wait for the boats to start running again, and to dig out from a sudden April snow squall.
It should come as no surprise that someone as curious as Colin makes for a great instructor. Colin has led traditional building demonstrations for North Bennet Street School students, and those just entering the field often seek Colin out to learn more. Educating the homeowner about the importance of historic building materials, their history and their care, is an important part of preservation and one Colin enjoys
With projects from Main Street in town to Broadway in ’Sconset, you may have already admired Colin Evans’ work.
Contact Colin Evans Preservation and Restoration, LLC by visiting www.ceprllc.com.
Nantucket Preservation Trust’s August Fête is one of the summer’s most memorable evenings. This annual celebration of the island’s historic architecture and neighborhoods always sells out with more than 300 guests.
Imagine an elevated block party with Nantucket’s best caterers, libations, and raw bar, coupled with a chance to peek inside some of the island’s most unique historic homes. This year’s Broadway Revival Fête will take place in ’Sconset and honor the village’s historic actors’ colony and the golden age of the silent screen.