The white Victorian-era home standing in an open field at 61 Pleasant Street is a favorite sight for many Nantucketers. Its neighbor, 65 Pleasant Street with its restored decorative porch, is another iconic Nantucket home. Samuel King (1810-1899), a cooper and whaleman, constructed the home at 65 Pleasant shortly following his purchase of land and marriage to Mary Phelan (1810-1876) in 1841, and Mary’s son John Phelan (1835-1908), built the larger house at 61 Pleasant in 1895. Today both homes are still owned by the Phelan family.
The removal of more than 30 invasive sycamore maple trees from the grove that separates the two homes has attracted attention over the past week, and while it is a dramatic change to the streetscape, the action is part of the Phelan family’s long-planned restoration of the historic landscape to its turn of the 20th-century appearance.
Samuel King established a nursey on his property, with apple, pear, and Russian mulberry trees, as well as grapevines. He also maintained a classic New England-style garden with not only fruit trees, but also boxwood hedges, horse chestnuts, flowering bushes, and English ivy. The removal of the sycamore maples will allow for the restoration of this historic garden. The King garden was documented by noted landscape architect Arthur A. Shurtleff for House & Garden magazine in 1902, and Shurtleff’s documentation will be the basis for the Phelan’s recreation. Some changes will be made; the 1902 plan shows a high fence surrounding the garden, but the Phelans wish to allow public visibility into the property. They also hope to work with the Town of Nantucket to create a much-needed walkway.
The Phelan’s care deeply about the preservation of their historic family properties, and in 2021 were awarded NPT’s Stewardship award, for their continued care. While the initial clearing of the land appears to the casual observer as a drastic change, it is a necessary step towards the preservation of a unique aspect of Nantucket’s history.