Mizpah | Boston-Higginbotham House

Boston-Higginbotham House in 2018.

The residents of 27 York Street have always been ahead of their time.

Seneca Boston, a weaver and former slave, purchased land at 27 York Street in 1744—a full decade before slavery was abolished in Massachusetts. The house Boston had built for his wife, a Wampanoag woman named Thankful Micha, and their six children is a rare example of a middle-class African-American home in the 18th Century on Nantucket.

Seneca and Thankful’s son, Absalom Boston, was one of Nantucket’s most famous residents. Absalom was a whaling captain with an all-black crew. When his daughter, Phebe Ann, was barred from the Nantucket public schools, Absalom successfully sued the town government to integrate the school in 1845, resulting in changes at the state level. Seneca’s brother, Prince Boston, was the first enslaved person in Massachusetts to successfully sue for his freedom and his wages earned as a whaleman.

Interior of Boston-Higginbotham House, 2018.

Apart from less than one year, the house has been continuously owned by members of the Black community on Nantucket, and until 1919, by descendants of Seneca Boston.

In 1920, the house on 27 York Street was purchased by Florence E. Clay Higginbotham. Originally from Virginia, Florence Clay worked in Boston and went to cooking school. She traveled to Nantucket with friends in 1911 to work in ‘Sconset for the summer. When summer was over, she stayed. In 1917, she married Robert D. Higginbotham, also of ‘Sconset, but their marriage was short-lived.

Florence Higginbotham met the widow Evelyn Underhill, who owned a cottage colony in ‘Sconset, in 1920. That same year, Higginbotham purchased the former Boston home as an investment.

Interior of Boston-Higginbotham House, 2018.

Underhill hired Higginbotham to take over management of the cottages. When Higginbotham had a son, William, in 1921, the two moved into Evelyn Underhill’s cottage. Other black workers did not live with their employers, but rather in shanties in Codfish Park. The three lived in ‘Sconset in the summer and Waltham in the winter.

After the stock market crash of 1929, Underhill lost many of her investments. After a few years of living year-round in ‘Sconset, the two women and William moved into Higginbotham’s home on York Street. The women read poetry, listened to jazz records, and socialized with each other. However, when Evelyn Underhill’s friends came to call, Florence Higginbotham was to retreat to the back quarters of her own house.

In 1933, Higginbotham purchased the African Meeting House next door. During the 1930s and 1940s, she rented it out as storage and once as studio space for an artist.

 

African Meeting House in 2018.

The house was added to in 1830 and 1940, but nothing was taken away. The house retains much of its original 18th century fabric. Now owned by the African American Museum Boston-Nantucket, the Boston-Higginbotham is undergoing careful restorations. A preservation easement will protect the house for the future.

Interior of Boston-Higginbotham House, 2018.

Florence named her house Mizpah, a Hebrew word meaning beacon or watchtower, and lived there until her death in 1972.

Fête Flashback!

 

On a brisk February day, August seems light years away. But summer will be here before you know it, and with it comes our August Fête and house tour.

This year’s Fête will be held Thursday, August 9, 2018. Each year, the party moves to a new location, so you can get a behind-the-scenes look at some of Nantucket’s most storied private homes and gardens.

We’re keeping this year’s location under wraps for now—but join us as we look back at some of our favorite past Fête locales!

2007: A Darling Fête

Darling Street was named for John Darling, a mariner who owned the house at number 10 from 1791 to 1796. The street looks very much as it has for the last 150 years and contains eleven historic homes that date from the late 18th to the mid-19th century.

Many of Nantucket’s previously unnamed streets were named in 1798, when the federal government levied a “house” tax to raise money in anticipation of a war with France. One of the regulations for recording local property was that the taxable parcels be identified more clearly than was previously the case, so in order to clarify the ill-defined roads of the town the first list of Nantucket’s streets was compiled by Isaac Coffin in 1799. John Darling, Sarah Hussey, and their children lived on the street in the 1790s.

 2013: Get to the Point!

The 2013 August Fête took us to the Hulbert Ave/Brant Point neighborhood.

The architecture of the Brant Point neighborhood was greatly influenced by the rise in tourism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries on Nantucket. House highlight included a home with it’s original two-story cathedral ceiling that evokes a ship’s hull and one of Brant Point’s earliest constructed homes from 1888.

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Can’t wait to share our 2018 location with you! It is sure to be a fantastic evening.

Announcing the 2018 Preservation Symposium

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.

Early registration begins today and runs through April 2, 2018. Click here to register for a reduced registration rate of $295 per attendee.

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 info@nantucketpreservation.org.

Questions? Please contact 508.228.1387.

Celebrate Restoration Role Models with the Preservation Awards

Preservation is possible!

The Nantucket Preservation Trust is still seeking nominations for the 2018 Preservation Awards. Celebrating the achievements of craftspeople, the stewardship of homeowners, and the thoughtfulness of building professionals is important to furthering the message that preservation is possible.

Though Nantucket is home to one of the largest collections of pre-Civil War era buildings in the country, the island’s rapid growth and development in the past three decades continues to threaten the architectural and historical integrity of these important structures.

Simply put: when they’re gone, they’re gone.

The Preservation Awards serve an important purpose for the Nantucket community and for the historic preservation community at large. Preservation is not only possible—it is rewarding, critical to the island’s economy, and it is happening around us. Send your nomination today!

Here’s a closer look at one of our prior award winners.

 

The John A. and Katherine S. Lodge Stewardship Award

139 Main Street in February 2018

Richard Gardner II House, 139 Main Street, 2017 Award Winner

This house is believed to have been built by Richard Gardner II about 1690. The house passed out of the Gardner family in 1926, and the following year it was acquired by Gladys Wood (1886-1971), who recognized the significance of the old house and moved it from 141 Main Street about 500 feet east to its current location to complete its restoration.

Wood hired one of the leading preservationists of the day, Alfred F. Shurrocks (1870-1945) to assist her in the restoration of the Gardner house. Today, the Richard Gardner II house is one of the few surviving seventeenth-century Nantucket homes and remains in the hands of Wood descendants who, following family tradition, are fine stewards of this island landmark.

Historic American Buildings Survey of 139 Main Street. Library of Congress.

 

NPT Welcomes New Staff Members

The Nantucket Preservation Trust has some exciting news!

We are pleased to welcome Michelle Whelan, Director of Development, and Mary Bergman, Director of Media and Communications to the NPT staff.

Michelle’s work with the NPT is a continuation of her commitment to preserving Nantucket’s sense of place. She most recently served as the Executive Director of Sustainable Nantucket for the last ten years.

“It is hard to define what makes Nantucket so special, but one of the unique aspects of the island is the incredible concentration of historic architecture we have,” Michelle says.

If you have been following the NPT on any of our social media channels or reading  weekly blog posts (and if you have not—start now!) since January, then you may already know Mary Bergman.

Mary supports the NPT’s mission by getting the word out on all the exciting programming, projects, and resources the NPT offers. She recently served as the Executive Director at the Nantucket Lightship Basket Museum.

Mary and Michelle are thrilled to work with Executive Director Michael May in supporting the mission of the Nantucket Preservation Trust. You can read more about our staff members here.

We are looking for an administrative assistant to join our staff. See this week’s Inquirer and Mirror classifieds, or click here to read more.