Silk & Straw (& Spring) on Nantucket

Believe it or not, Spring is here. Well, at least according to the calendar. There are signs of life all over, and lots of work being done to get ready for the season. (I heard the peepers for the first time last night!) The quiet season is almost over.

In the 1800s, downtown Nantucket would have been anything but quiet, even in winter. The waterfront bustled with whaling and merchant ships, but other parts of town saw different industries, both of which relied on the labor of island women.

Courtesy of the Nantucket Historical Association.

10-12 Gay Street: Atlantic Silk Company

Down a narrow side street off Petticoat Row (modern day Centre Street) sat the Atlantic Silk Company. From 1835 to 1844, 10-12 Gay Street produced woven silk products like silk vesting and handkerchiefs. Many women were employed in the production of silks, and the factory held the second power silk loom ever put into operation in the world.

Silk was a deliberate choice, as the material was preferred by Quakers to cotton that was picked and processed by enslaved people. However, the mulberry trees planted to feed the silk worms did not flourish in Nantucket’s wet and cool climate.

After the factory shuttered, the building was converted into a duplex. The 10 Gay Street side has been used as a lodging house and inn since 1870 and is today the Sherburne Inn.

Courtesy Nantucket Historical Association.

76 Main Street & 17 South Water Street: Nantucket Straw Loan Association

Nantucket women also worked in the production of straw hats and mats from 1854 to 1858. At its height, the plant employed between 200 and 300 Nantucket women. The island’s rapid economic decline at the end of the whaling industry contributed to the shuttering of the factory.

The straw company’s first location was present-day 76 Main Street. The building was originally Hicksite Quaker Meeting House, built in 1829. Hicksite Quakers were the most liberal members of the sect, and by 1840 disbanded as most had become Universalists.

The building was home to a boatbuilder until the straw factory purchased it in 1853. After the straw company moved out, it became a warehouse. It was moved to Brant Point in the early 1880s and became part of The Nantucket Hotel. When the hotel went into decline, the structure was put on a barge and moved across the harbor to what is now 17 South Water Street, where it became a silent movie house.

Today, 17 South Water Street is home to the re-built Dreamland Theatre.

Two Weeks Left for Symposium Early Registration!

 

There are two weeks left to register for the Nantucket Preservation Symposium Workshop at our special early bird rate of $295 per ticket.

We hope you’ll join us for a special welcome reception and one-day immersive preservation workshop. This year’s workshop, Decisions in Preservation, will explore at least three historic properties in various stages of restoration.

You’ll get a hands-on tour of each property, have discussions with the architects, builders, craftspeople, and homeowners, and hear interesting lectures from Nantucket’s leading history and preservation experts, all in the heart of Nantucket’s downtown historic core.

Whether you are considering purchasing a historic home, a preservation professional, a history buff, or just have always wondered what was going on inside those stately Nantucket homes, we hope you will join us!

Click here to register, to email us at info@nantucketpreservationsymposium.org for more information.

 

Women’s History & the Nantucket Atheneum

Nantucket Atheneum, Courtesy Nantucket Historical Association.

The grand Greek Revival building on the corner of India and Federal Streets is the Nantucket Atheneum, the island’s library. It has been home to a cadre of exceptional women, and a place where women’s voices have always been heard.

Originally constructed in 1825 as the First Universalist Church, the building was purchased by Charles Coffin and David Joy in 1834, creating a membership library. Maria Mitchell became the Atheneum’s first librarian at age 18, eventually leaving the library to become the first Professor of Astronomy at Vassar College.

In July of 1846, the Atheneum was one of hundreds of buildings in the downtown core destroyed by the Great Fire. Astoundingly, funds were raised to rebuild, securing one of the island’s preeminent architects, Frederick Brown Coleman, by October of the same year. Coleman’s design moved the lecture hall to the second floor and books to the first floor. Charles Wood, the builder, saw to it that the project was completed within six months of the fire.

Original building, Courtesy Nantucket Historical Association.

Coleman designed other Greek Revival structures in town, including 94 and 96 Main, the interior of the Unitarian Church on 11 Orange Street, and the Ionic temple of the Methodist Church at 2 Centre Street.

The Great Hall allowed islanders to hear important speakers of the day, like women’s rights advocates Lucretia Mott in 1854 and Lucy Stone in 1886.

Librarian Sarah Barnard served the Atheneum for 50 years, from 1856 to 1906. Clara Parker also served a 50-year tenure until 1956. Both women advanced the library by embracing new technologies like typewriters, card catalogs, and telephones.

In 1955, the library was restored and remodeled. The second-floor Great Hall became a reading room. A new wing of the library, named for Starr Kynett, was added in the 1965, housing a reading room and space for a microfilm reader. Thirty years later, the Atheneum underwent another major restoration, preserving the building’s historic integrity while allowing for modern upgrades in technology. Most recently, in 1996, a children’s wing of the library was added, named for Louise Frances Walker.

Modern technology means we are now more connected to the mainland than ever, but the Nantucket Atheneum remains a critical part of the island’s cultural and intellectual landscape. Because of the stewardship of the Atheneum’s librarians, including present-day librarian Molly Anderson, and trustees, it remains a fine example of the island’s architectural heritage.

Last Chance to Submit Nominations for the Preservation Awards!

Town Crier, Courtesy Nantucket Historical Association.

Hear ye, Hear ye!

It’s your last chance to submit nominations for the 2018 Preservation Awards!

Help us recognize preservation efforts on Nantucket, and showcase the work of our island’s architects, craftspeople, and builders.

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.

 

 

 

The NPT is still accepting award nominations in the following categories, but the deadline is tomorrow!

  • Historical Renovation Award
  • Architectural Preservation Award
  • Landscape Award
  • Stewardship Award
  • Traditional Building Methods Award
  • New Construction Award

To learn more about these categories, past award winners, and to nominate a project or craftsperson, please visit: https://www.nantucketpreservation.org/preservation-awards-2.

Not sure which category your project best fits, or other questions? Call us at 508.228.1387. Nominations can be sent to info@nantucketpreservation.org.

Women’s History Month | Phebe Ann Coffin Hanaford

Walk down nearly any lane in Nantucket, past nearly every home or public building and you are likely to stumble onto a site important to women’s history. This month, we’re taking a closer look at some of the buildings where dreams of equality were first fostered.

5 New Street, Siasconset: Phebe Ann Coffin Hanaford

5 New Street Siasconset, 1910s, courtesy Nantucket Historical Association.

“That I have been successful as a preacher is largely owing to the fact of my Quaker birth, and my early education on the island of Nantucket, where women preach and men are useful at washing day and neither feel themselves out of place.”

-Phebe Ann Coffin Hanaford, 1869

Born in 1829 on Nantucket (or ‘Sconset, sources differ, and only to Nantucketers would there be such a distinction) to George W. Coffin and Phebe Ann Barnard, Phebe Ann Coffin would one day become the first woman ordained as a minister in Massachusetts, and the third woman minister in the country.

Phebe’s father, George W. Coffin, purchased a house in ‘Sconset on the bank near the gulley from Ichabod Aldridge for $30. In 1841, the house was removed from the bank during the October gale and set up on it’s present location on New Street. The house, called “Seldom Inn” by the 1910s, was added to over the years and eventually became the site of many summer vacations.

Phebe’s marriage to homeopathic physician Joseph A. Hanaford would eventually take her away from Nantucket, but the educational foundation she had built in ‘Sconset would follow her throughout New England.

During the Civil War, Phebe became an active abolitionist and suffragist, preaching and writing on the subjects. During the late 1860s, Phebe joined the Universalist Church of America, editing periodicals and studying to become a minister.

1868 marked an important turning point in Phebe’s life. She was ordained as the first Unitarian woman minister in Massachusetts, and she separated from her husband.

Phebe Ann Coffin Hanaford, courtesy of the Nantucket Historical Association.

Her ministry took her all over the northeast. Controversy regarding her commitment to women’s rights and unorthodox personal life resulted in the loss of her New Jersey pulpit. No matter; Phebe started another church in the same town. Phebe and her partner Ellen Miles lived together for 44 years, separated only by Ellen’s death in 1914.

Phebe Ann Coffin Hanaford died in 1921. Her childhood home still stands. Perhaps she would have enjoyed the name Seldom Inn, as her talents took her far from Nantucket’s shores.

 

Letter to the Editor Regarding Pending Demolition of Jacobs House

This letter originally appeared in the March 1, 2018 issue of the Inquirer and Mirror. 

We are sad to report that the Jacobs House was demolished on March 6, 2018.

Jacobs House February 2018

HDC guidelines for demolitions need to be updated

To the Editor: Soon, Madaket is likely to lose another
unique structure, this time an important example of
mid-20th Century architecture. Unlike other homes in
Madaket, the Jacobs House at 31 Starbuck Road will
not fall victim to the western shore’s rapidly eroding
coast line, but instead to a flaw in our system of
approvals and permits which stems from a lack of
understanding about the need to protect the next
generation of Nantucket landmarks. The history of
many buildings is undocumented and, as it stands,
there is no burden on the owner and/or applicant to
provide a professional, unbiased assessment on the
historic or architectural importance of a structure prior
to HDC approval for demolition.

Jacobs House, February 2018

The Jacobs House, built in 1968 (now half a century
ago), was designed by renowned Boston architect
Frederick “Tad” Stahl (1931-2013), working with
former owner, artist and architecture student Marjorie
Jacobs. Stahl was best known for his work on the State
Street Bank, the restorations of Quincy Market and the
Old State House (all in Boston), and for designing over
25 community libraries in Massachusetts.The Jacobs
House is one of only two dwellings Stahl designed in
his entire career.

House Beautiful magazine, 1970

There is no question that the Jacobs House is unique.
Anyone seeing it realizes it is different than most
Nantucket houses. At the time of construction, many
felt it was out of character with the island’s historic
architecture. But times change and in the past decade
communities throughout the country have embraced
landmarks of the 20th century. Today the Jacobs House
is one of the prime examples of mid-century modern
architecture on island. House Beautiful thought so as
well and profiled it in a 1970 issue, describing it as
“Commanding a wild stretch of beach like an ancient
citadel.” And in the 1960 and 1970s, Madaket was
Nantucket’s wild west, home to surfers and artists, to
Millie and Mr. Rogers. The Jacobs House represents an
important moment in Nantucket’s history, when one
could take a risk, when the peaked roofs of a summer
house mimicked the ocean’s roaring waves.

Jacobs House interior 1970, courtesy Jacobs Family.

Stahl embraced contemporary designs, but was, above
all, a preservationist. Perhaps it is this fact that makes
the pending loss of the Jacobs House so distressing.
The HDC was established to protect the historic
architecture of Nantucket, and a significant building,
even one constructed in 1968, is part of that history. In
this instance, the Commission was not presented with,
nor did they gather all the facts before voting 5-0 to
allow for the demolition of the structure.

Nantucket has already lost many architecturally
interesting 20th Century structures (a house designed
by Philip Johnson and an early Buckminster Fuller
inspired house to name a few) and will lose more.
Their relatively recent dates makes it easy to dismiss
them but saving the best of the era, any era, is
important.

We urge the HDC to make changes in their
system to better document and to gather all the facts
about a building’s past before demolitions are
approved. In many communities a preservationist on
the HDC staff is charged with undertaking historic
research, but when town resources are unavailable to
complete this work it should be the burden of an
applicant to prove that a structure, regardless of the
date it was built, is not of historic or architectural
importance if they desire to demolish it. Doing so
would enhance the HDC’s mission to protect all of
Nantucket’s historic architecture.

Michael May, Executive Director

& Mary Bergman

Nantucket Preservation Trust