This is the last in our short series highlighting the homes and buildings that inspired a few Nantucket writers. What part of Nantucket inspires you?
5 Quaise Pastures Road: Frank Conroy
Award winning author and director of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, Frank Conroy lived on Nantucket on and off from 1973 to 2004. Conroy died in 2005, but left behind a beautiful book of essays on his island life, Time and Tide.
Conroy came to Nantucket in 1955 as a college student, living in shared housing arrangements in very much the same way students today do (and one imagines, always will). His acclaimed memoir, Stop-Time was published in 1967.
Conroy moved to Nantucket in the 1970s, where he wrote magazine articles, played jazz piano, and worked as a scalloper. He taught writing at many colleges and universities, served as the director of the literature program at the National Endowment for the Arts, and was appointed director of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop in 1987.
Conroy’s Nantucket home was unique. Architect Jock Gifford (now of Design Associates) completed construction on Conroy’s Polpis barn-style home in 1973. Set back on a secluded parcel of land overlooking Polpis Harbor, it was the perfect spot for a writer and musician.
The outside oak lumber for Conroy’s barn came from a Pennsylvania sawmill, and the inside exposed chestnut beams were taken from a 160-year-old tobacco barn in PA. When the Inquirer & Mirror visited Conroy at home in 1974, he kept a photograph of friend and fellow author Norman Mailer hanging from one of the antique beams.
The Conroy house was sold in 2012. It has since been demolished.
This June, go behind closed doors with the Nantucket Preservation Trust symposium workshop Decisions in Preservation: Understanding, Repairing, and Preserving Historic Nantucket Homes. We will look at antique houses in various stages of the preservation process. Learn more at www.nantucketpreservationsymposium.org.
For many years, the Nicholson-Andrews house at 55 Union Street (ca. 1834) sat vacant in need of rescue. A casual and uniformed observer might consider a property in the state 55 Union was in beyond the pale. Nothing could be further from the truth!
A notable example of transitional Federal/Greek Revival architecture, the Nicholson-Andrews house was unoccupied and unmodified for almost sixty years. Because of this, many of its interior features were undisturbed. As architectural historian Brian Pfeiffer wrote of the house, “Among the significant architectural elements that remain are the house’s floor plan, lime plaster walls and ceilings, softwood floors, paneled doors, molded and paneled interior window trimmings, molded baseboards, mantelpieces and balustrades.”
In other words, don’t judge a house by its shingles.
Two interesting features of the Nicholson-Andrews house found during a recent restoration show us how living on an island impacted building methods.
Decorative painting was found on the underside of one of the floorboards. This points to the importance of using salvaged materials. It appears that timbers from the upper floors were a mixture of salvaged and newly-milled timbers from 1834. Puritan and Quaker ideals of thrift would have influenced building on Nantucket at the time, as well as the realities of transporting building materials to the remote island.
Eelgrass insulation was found in the west wall of the main block of the house. Yes, eelgrass, the very stuff our tasty Nantucket bay scallops like to hang out in. When dried, eelgrass is light, fire and rot resistant, and forms many small air pockets when packed into a wall which helps trap warm air. Eelgrass was plentiful in costal New England, until a disease killed nearly 90% of the eelgrass beds of the North Atlantic in the early 1930s.
Today, the house serves as a beautiful example of a typical Nantucket house and reminder of what can be accomplished with hard work and know-how.
You may already know that Nantucket boasts one of the largest concentrations of pre-Civil War era buildings in the country, with more than 800 such structures. While much work has gone into preserving the island’s exteriors, what interiors have been preserved—and what’s been gutted—has largely remained behind closed doors.
Until now! Thanks to the NPT and the University of Florida’s Preservation Institute Nantucket (PIN), some of these doors are opening for the first time as part of an unprecedented Historic Interiors Survey, funded by a grant from Nantucket’s Community Preservation Committee.
So far, the two organizations have collected information regarding more than half of the historic buildings on the island. The survey is expected to be completed later this year, but it has already identified nearly 300 houses that are in an excellent state of preservation or retain quite a bit of their original interior fabric. Over 100 structures surveyed have been heavily altered or gutted. Unfortunately, that number will only increase as time goes on, as the Nantucket is losing as estimated 20 or more historic interiors per year.
Architectural authenticity is a large part of the reason people love to live, visit, and vacation on Nantucket. Losing a historic interior is like tearing out pages from a novel—the more you lose, the less the story makes sense. People come to Nantucket for the same reason people travel to see great works of art—there is nothing like standing in front of the real thing.
When completed, the Nantucket Historic Interiors Survey will be the most extensive of its kind. It celebrates the work of homeowners, architects, and builders who put preservation at the forefront of their projects, but it reminds us there is much work ahead to educate future islanders and visitors.
We hope that 100 years from now, this survey will be used to measure Nantucket’s dedication to the people who came before us.
Now that spring is here and houses are opening up, we need your help! If you own a historic house but have not yet talked to the NPT about the inventory, please contact us today at 508-228-1387 to talk about your house!
On Nantucket, we think about transportation more than most. Will the boats run in this wind, or will they be canceled? Will the planes fly in this fog, or will they be grounded? Will I find a parking space downtown? Transportation shapes the places we live, and the types of buildings we construct.
Nantucket banned automobiles on town roads until April of 1918. Within 10 days of the repeal, 24 cars had made their way to Nantucket, and an auto dealership set up shop. The abundance of automobiles that followed allowed people to live further from the town center and the village of ‘Sconset.
“Along with the promise of profits for investors, it was the distance to the south shore and eastern beaches and the cottages of Siasconset that drove the efforts to establish a railroad, even on such a tiny island.”
-Peter Schmid, Historic Nantucket, Summer 2000
Before cars, Nantucket had a railroad that ran from 1881 to 1917. The railroad had a great impact on the way Nantucket was developed by land companies. Perhaps the best illustration of this impact is the story of the Surfside Hotel.
When the railroad tracks first took the train to Surfside. By 1884, the train followed the south shore to ‘Sconset. With it’s ocean breezes, tranquil surroundings, and views that stretched on for miles, Surfside soon became a resort destination. All it needed was a grand hotel. Lysander Flagg, a developer in Riverside, Rhode Island, had such property built in 1871—the Riverside Hotel. By 1882, the Riverside Hotel had been disassembled and transported on a barge to Nantucket. It took 34 carloads to transport the lumber to the hotel’s new site.
From 1882 to 1884, the hotel was reassembled with a name that reflected its new location: The Surfside Hotel. This five-story grand hotel had a piazza and frequent band concerts. During the same time, the Surfside Land Company subdivided most of the area between what is now Surfside Road and the Boulevard. By the end of 1882, 180 individual lots had been sold.
Unfortunately, Surfside really does live up to its name. Winter brought unrelenting storms and pounding surf, contributing to erosion and washouts that eventually forced the railroad company to close the Surfside and south shore section of tract by 1895.
A new overland route to the rose covered cottages was constructed, running from Old South & Fairgrounds Road to Tom Nevers to ‘Sconset. With no automobiles allowed on Nantucket town roads, and no railroad to Surfside, the Surfside Hotel was essentially an island unto itself. In 1895, the back steps of the hotel were 265 feet from the bank. Nantucket’s south shore was losing an estimated 40 feet per year of beach at that time.
The Surfside Land Company sold out the remaining 900 acres of land, at a loss, for $2.80 an acre. The many paper roads in Surfside are the result of the many subdivisions of land by the failed enterprise. In 1896, the hotel sold at auction for $650 to Mrs. Mary McClure of Boston. During much of 1897 and 1898, the hotel was advertised for sale in the Inquirer and Mirror.
Just as the rails could not compete with the receding coastline, the vacant Surfside Hotel was no match for Nantucket’s winter storms. In December of 1899, part of the hotel collapsed in on itself.The abandoned and dilapidated hotel was now seen as a folly at best, a danger at worst.
“The latest evidence of wanton destruction is at Surfside Hotel, which has been entered and the crockery hurled through the sash, gas fixtures broken off, clocks demolished, and other things destroyed in wholesale manner. The isolation of the building, and its easy access has given the evil-doers grand opportunity to operate undetected.”
-Inquirer and Mirrror, Here and There, March 17, 1900.
The property sold in 1901 for $90 at a tax collector’s sale to John H. Bartlett and Wallace Gardner. The Inquirer and Mirror jabbed in August of that year: “The Surfside Hotel is not open—except one end, very much so.”
Early Registration & Scholarship Application Now Available for the 2018 Nantucket Preservation Symposium Workshop
“You already know a lot about buildings,” architectural historian Brian Pfeiffer said to attendees at the Nantucket Preservation Trust’s inaugural Preservation Symposium, “You live in them, you visit them.” In our busy lives, how often do we take the time to consider the buildings around us, the commonalities they share, and the idiosyncrasies that reveal their unique stories?
This summer, join us for an evening reception and one-day Nantucket Preservation Symposium Workshop on Wednesday, June 6, 2018 and Thursday, June 7, 2018. Last year’s event attracted preservationists from around the island and across the country to celebrate and learn from Nantucket’s living classroom.
Decisions in Preservation: Understanding, Repairing and Preserving Nantucket Houses is a one-day intensive session that focuses on the difficult decisions property owners, architects, and builders face in restoring houses, and how they balance preserving features and making a home livable in the 21st century.
While the workshop will focus on Nantucket’s architecture, lessons learned from Decisions in Preservation will be useful to anyone who works with or owns a historic home. Whether you’re an architectural historian, a local history buff, or just want to know more about the buildings you pass by every day, we’d love you to join us on Nantucket this summer.
The NPT is offering a limited number of scholarship tickets to the workshop.
To apply: please submit a one-page letter of interest detailing how the symposium would benefit you and if applicable, how it would advance your career or studies.
Applications are due by May 1, 2018. Recipients will be selected and notified in early May.
Applications can be submitted via email to email@example.com.
For this week’s “Friday Find” we found a reason why you may want to watch or re-watch a few of the 2016 Academy Award nominated films. The 88th award show airs this weekend, on Sunday, February 28 at 7pm. Did you know today’s films often feature historic locations? The following films, nominated for a 2016 Academy Award, feature a historic location and/or building: Steve Jobs, Trumbo, Bridge of Spies, Brooklyn, and The Revenant.
The film Steve Jobs, which has been nominated for the best actor in a leading role and best actress in a supporting role, shows the childhood home of Steve Jobs –today a designated historic site. The property, located at 2066 Crist Drive in Los Altos, California, is not only where Jobs lived from 7th grade through high school, but also the house’s garage is where the very first Apple computer was designed. The computer was one of 50, which were designed and created by Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak and Ronald Wayne in the late 70’s. At the time they each sold for $500. Little did they know that their design and those 50 computers would lead them to a company that today could soon be worth over a trillion dollars!
The house is still in the family, owned by Job’s adopted sister, Patricia Jobs. Since the house has a historic designation any renovations or changes made to the building must first be approved by the town of Los Altos. If you haven’t seen the film but plan to, make sure to look for the shot of this 20th century landmark!
The Nantucket Preservation Trust has many reasons to express loveon Saturday, Valentine’s Day! We wouldn’t be here if weren’t for the support of our members, board, event attendees, business sponsors, underwriters, homeowners, and most importantly the historic island Nantucket! We lovethe historic island and all that encompasses it.
Do you share our love for Nantucket’s architectural preservation? Become a 2016 member to help us protect what we love, historic architecture and most importantly its interiors! Show us your care and join today by clicking HERE!
The 2016 Preservation Awards: call for nominations will run now through Friday March 25 at 5:00 PM. The Preservation Awards honor projects, individuals and organizations that have made a positive impact in preserving Nantucket’s historic character. NPT hopes that the awards will continue to encourage proper preservation work, broaden outreach to the building community, and ensure the protection of the island’s historic resources. For nomination forms and further information visit the Preservation Awards webpage, click here.
The 2016 Preservation Awards program, now in its tenth year, recognizes individuals and organizations for historic preservation related projects, stewardship of island landmarks, sensitive landscape design associated with historic buildings, historical renovations, new construction, and the promotion of traditional building methods. Nominees are reviewed by The Preservation Award committee and then given to the NPT board for final decisions. Award recipients will be notified in late April and announced during Preservation Month in June via the Nantucket Preservation Trust website and advertised in The Inquirer & Mirror. Award recipients are annually honored at the private Preservation Awards Ceremony, which will be held on Thursday, June 23. By recognizing preservation projects and the work of individuals, property owners, design and construction professionals and organizations, the NPT hopes to encourage proper preservation work and broaden outreach to the community.
We are asking for nominations of an individual or organization that qualifies for one of the following award categories: Architectural Preservation, Landscape, Stewardship, Traditional Building Methods, Historical Renovation and New Construction. All nominations must include nominee’s name, location of project and how it supports preservation on the island. To download a nomination form click here or for more information call the NPT office at 508-228-1387.
The old Easy Street Gallery building at 27 Easy Street will be demolished unless a proposal to move it from its waterfront site is completed in the next few weeks. In December, NPT–concerned about the loss of an important element of Nantucket’s early art colony–reached out to the Land Bank, which allowed us to complete an assessment of the building with timber frame expert Michael Burrey and preservationist Pen Austin. These experts concluded that the structure is a candidate for preservation.
Although left to deteriorate for many years, the Easy Street Gallery building is structurally sound and there are no apparent “red flags” that would hinder a move from the site or its restoration. Surprisingly, the interior contains eighteenth century elements, including paneled walls, doors and timbers—all obviously repurposed from earlier structures in the Nantucket fashion. The central section of the building is of mid-nineteenth century vintage, but attic beams are hand-hewn and this section is timber frame construction, which would make disassembling relatively easy. A north wing was added about 1923 when the building was relocated to this site. The evolution of the building is still evident in late nineteenth and early twentieth century details such as whimsical door surrounds with columns and transoms for ventilation, and a large sliding doorway that reflect its use as a seaside bath house and art gallery.
Besides its architectural features, the building also has a very interesting history. It was originally built as a cooper shop, and acquired and enlarged by Charles E. Hayden for use as a heated saltwater bathhouse called the Clean Shore Bathing Rooms. Hayden established his bathhouse on the harbor near South Beach Street (just north of the present -day Nantucket Yacht Club) with bathing rooms and changing rooms on two floors. Hayden’s remained a popular destination for the early tourist trade for many years, but by the 1920s it was no longer in fashion. In 1923, the building was purchased by Florence Lang and relocated to its current location on the Easy Street basin. A nationally-renown art patron, Lang transformed the building into the Easy Street Gallery (consider a predecessor of the Artist Association), which opened in 1924 and remained a driving force of the art colony until her death. The gallery was part of a larger effort by Lang to acquire, transform and save the fish houses, the railroad depot, and other structures along the wharves and at the same time assist artist by providing reasonable rents for studios and craft shops. With the lost of its patron the gallery closed in 1943 – and became a home before being converted for commercial use.
In recent years historians and preservationists have embraced the importance of the art colony and deemed structures associated with it as community landmarks worthy of preservation. The old Easy Street Gallery is significant for its role in Nantucket’s late nineteenth century tourist industry as well as the emergence of the island’s early twentieth century art colony. In fact, in 2012 Nantucket’s National Historic Landmark status was expanded by the Department of Interior to include the art colony’s role, noting it is not only of local importance, but of significance to the nation.
Unless rescued, the demolition of the building will occur by early spring. Last week the Nantucket Land Bank developed an RFP for interested nonprofit groups to remove the structure. Although NPT has no funds to complete a move or restoration project, we could team up with a private developer who would be willing to take on a renovation project. Although in the eleventh hour, our hope is that the building can be rescued and remain a part of Nantucket’s architectural heritage.
We are thrilled that Esta-Lee Stone, NPT board member and Preservation Month committee chair found the 2016 Preservation Month opening film, Raise the Roof! We would like to thank The Nantucket Atheneum and Congregation Shirat Ha Yam for co-sponsoring this event. The film has been provided by The National Center for Jewish Film, www.jewishfilm.org
The two screenings will take place on the following days and both will conclude with a Q&A session featuring special guests: Rick and Laura Brown and Filmmakers Cary and Yari Wolinsky.
Saturday, June 11 at 6:30 pm
Seating is limited. Reservations required.
Please call NPT at 508-228-1387 to reserve your seats.
Sunday, June 12 at 6:00 pm
Seating is limited. Reservations are not required.
“Artists Rick and Laura Brown are not Jewish and not Polish, and yet they set out to rebuild Gwoździec, one of the magnificent 18th-century wooden synagogues of Poland, the last of which were destroyed by Nazis during World War II. Their vision inspires hundreds of people to join them. Using their hands, old tools and techniques they rediscover Gwoździec’s history, culture, and art.
Raise the Roof follows the Browns and the Handshouse Studio team to Sanok, Poland, as they begin building the new Gwoździec roof. The crew has six weeks to hew, saw, and carve 200 freshly logged trees and assemble the structure. Working against this deadline and despite torrential downpours and exhaustion, the team must create the structure, and disassemble it again for shipping and eventual installation.
To paint the intricate ceiling murals, the Browns face another challenge: the 1914 photographs of Gwoździec are black and white and there is only one, partial color study. Using that as their Rosetta Stone, the Browns slowly build a library of Gwoździec’s colors.
Armed with pigments and stacks of wooden boards, the team sets up to paint the ceiling mural in what seems to be an art gallery in Rzeszów, Poland. In fact, this building and those in seven other Polish cities where they will work during the summers of 2011 and 2012, are all former or active masonry synagogues. Each Handshouse-trained painting leader is tasked with creating the mural’s most iconic images and training students to paint thousands of flowers and vines.
Although Rick and Laura Brown chose to rebuild the Gwoździec because it was one of the best documented, the historic material they found was spotty. Many questions about the synagogue were left unanswered:
What sparked this period of profuse and energetic construction and painting?
Why were the Jews of this time willing to break the Second Commandment prohibition against graven images in decorating this building?
What cultural and artistic movements inspired artists to create these resplendent spaces?
Raise the Roof takes us on this journey of discovery.”