Don’t Judge a House by its Shingles: 55 Union Street

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.

55 Union Street today (photo Jordan Real Estate).

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.

Register today for our 2018 Symposium Workshop to see 55 Union and other historic properties firsthand. Click here to register, or call 508.228.1387.

Nantucket Historic Interiors Survey: We Need Your Help!

 

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!

Daffodil Festival Weekend is Here

The 44th Annual Daffodil Festival on Nantucket starts today, and it couldn’t come any sooner! Winters on Nantucket are long, grey, and cold, and the Daffodil Festival heralds the coming of spring and the tourist season.

While the hundreds of varieties of daffodils that blanket Nantucket are nothing short of captivating, the true star of the weekend is the village of ‘Sconset on the island’s easternmost end.

After the antique car parade, hundreds of cars (antique or otherwise) meander down Milestone Road to ‘Sconset for an island-wide tailgate picnic.

As you admire the classic cars and creative picnic spreads, take a moment to feast your eyes on ‘Sconset’s famous cottages. Many of these historic homes were originally built as fishing shanties before becoming summer retreats. ‘Sconset’s tiny cottages are a reminder that bigger is not always better.

Interested in learning more about the cottages in ‘Sconset? You can read more about the Underhill Cottages here and  22 Broadway here. Be sure to keep an eye out for our 2018 walking tours of ‘Sconset when the weather gets warmer!

 

A Vintage Picnic for the Vintage Car Parade

Need some inspiration for your Daffodil Festival tailgate picnic next week? You’re in luck! We’ve recently received a collection of vintage recipe cards, books, and clippings from the early 1900s to the mid-1940s.

America’s relationship to food changed drastically during those 40 years. By the end of the 1930s, many homes had replaced ice boxes with modern refrigerators, ushering in a new era of “cooking with cool,” even on the faraway island. Gelatin and mayonnaise factor heavily into these recipes, creating savory or sweet salads for all occasions.

GE “Monitor Top” refrigerator from 1927.

 

Early refrigerators were smaller than the ones we have in our homes today (8.6 cubic feet of space for food compared to 18 to 26 cubic feet today). The design of refrigerators has changed. Once the centerpiece of the kitchen and a point of pride, today many favor appliances that blend in with their kitchen surroundings. Still, there are those who like the look of the retro “futuristic” appliances that hearken back to a time when refrigeration was a modern marvel.

While you’re planning your ‘Sconset tailgate picnic, take a look at some of our vintage recipe finds.

 

 

 

The Nantucket Railroad and Surfside Hotel

Courtesy NHA.

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.”

 

Courtesy NHA.

 

“Decisions in Preservation” Case Study: 6 Gull Island Lane

Built sometime after 1784, 6 Gull Island Lane was originally part of the Thomas Gardner estate. Gardner likely built it for his daughter Hannah (1782-1809) at the time of her marriage to Josiah Sheffield and remained in the Sheffield family until 1892.

In 2015, 6 Gull Island Lane was purchased by new owners, who have generously offered their house to be part of our 2018 Symposium. A new phase is about to begin for this antique.

A house like 6 Gull Island presents many challenges and opportunities for homeowners, architects, and builders alike. We are anticipating a fascinating conversation and looking forward to sharing this important building with you and following its progress.

Ready to register for the symposium workshop? Click here.

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.