A Sort of a Party, by Ginger Andrews

“So, what would you like for your birthday? I know you aren’t really much for parties, at your age…and besides, we are having a pandemic.  But’s a big one, after all… 300.”

There was no verbal answer, because of course the three-hundred-year-old in question was a house, not a person, although clearly with its own personality. Specifically, numbers One and Three Stone Alley. My home, now, although my lifetime is short in comparison.

1 and 3 Stone Alley, Historic American Buildings Survey Photo, 1970.

The house has sheltered generations of Eastons, Andrews, Parkers, their ancestors, and their friends and relations over the years. It has weathered many a storm, set back on the north side of Stone Alley since 1720. It may be older of course, as houses were moved from the original Sherburne to what became the town in 1720. Some of its hefty beams are consistent with houses that were moved, according to experts. But still, 300 years in the same spot… “pretty good for America,” as a visiting Brit once commented.

What does it mean, as Rilke asked, to live in the same house from youth to age? It takes a long time to really get to know a person, so how much longer it takes to get to know a house. Every board and brick has its personal history. Fashions, styles, preoccupations, have come, and gone, and come again, while it sat still. It holds so many memories both happy, sad, and instructive for me, accumulated from childhood to the present day.

And other memories have worked their way in along the way, connected by family story or physical evidence. The boat mast my father put in to replace a beam. The workbench for cutting slate. The floor-boards lined with 1849 newspapers, the names on the cellar wall, the business cards from days gone by, the newspaper stuffed in a crack for insulation. “Chamberlain Successful, War Averted.” Huh. I know how that one turned out.

What is the use of memory, of history? Is it only to be swept up and discarded for a momentary gratification, condemned to the C and D building* and its discontents? Or could it be an antidote to the vanity of the moment? Eighteenth Century poet William Cowper noted how we are “pleased with novelty.” Human nature has not changed, although what was once called natural philosophy is now known as science. And our little lives are still rounded in a sleep. So, an antidote to the vanity of the moment might be just what the doctor orders.

Interior, Historic American Buildings Survey, 1970

Yes, the house has its slopes and sags, its creaks and groans, and so do I, as it happens. Is age something to be respected, or simply thrown away? I am not ready to be thrown away. Yet, I have every hope that the old house will outlive me. It has had a lot of practice, after all.

So how did I resolve the anniversary?

“What do you most need?”

The answer came immediately, “the roof.”

And so that’s what I gave it. At least, the parts most needing repair. Yes, “another crisis averted.” There’s still more to do, of course. There always is. But to answer the need of the moment, without succumbing to the vanity of the moment; to have the patience to live with irony and humor, is the work of more than one lifetime. Each generation can only do its bit, and hope the next one takes the hint.

*Construction and Demolition at the Nantucket dump have their own building. In addition to the ruins of the finest craftsmanship of the 18th and 19th centuries, often the material there is practically new, un-rotted cedar or tropical hardwoods.


Ginger Andrews is a fifth-generation Nantucketer, staff ornithologist for the Maria Mitchell Association, artist member of the Artists’ Association of Nantucket, and Vice President of the Pacific Club Board of Directors.

NPT Statement on 5 South Water Street Proposed Renovation

The Historic District Commission meeting regarding the proposed renovation at 5 South Water Street, originally scheduled for October 30th at 10 AM, has been postponed. 

Click here to view the most recently proposed plans for the 5 South Water Street renovation.

October 29, 2020

To the Historic District Commissioners,

I am writing to you with respect to the proposed additions to 5 South Water Street, located in Nantucket’s Old Historic District. 5 South Water Street as proposed is not in keeping with the design guidelines of Building with Nantucket in Mind, nor with the existing historic buildings on South Water and nearby Main Street.

5 South Water Street seen from the southwest

South Water Street, originally listed as Water Street, has existed since at least 1799 and is a highly trafficked street in the middle of our downtown historic core. Any new construction here should “contribute to the overall harmony of the streets…while reflecting the traditions and character of historic buildings, are in themselves high quality designs for this area.” (Building with Nantucket in Mind, 9)

There are several guidelines from Building with Nantucket in Mind that the Commissioners should remember while reviewing these most recent plans, especially with respect to the roofline, dormers, and massing. The current proposal features an abundance of dormers on the second and third floors that create distracting disruptions in the roofline, especially as seen on the North and South Elevations, all viewable from public ways.

Building with Nantucket in Mind stresses that the “massing of a new building in the town should employ the traditional form types seen in the town… A simple main mass should be placed on the street side of the building and be in harmony with the form and orientation of existing buildings along the street.” (68)

The West Elevation, facing South Water Street, is the simplest of the four faces, but the second and third floors take many of their cues from residential architecture (dormers, roof walk, shutters) As Building with Nantucket in Mind reminds us of commercial architecture, “Street-facing elevations should try to reflect Main Street design elements.” (151) This building should relate to the others nearby.

Overwhelmingly, the Historic District Commission’s design guidelines stress simplicity and harmony. (With regards to roofs: “In any case, roof designs should harmonize with the rhythm of roofs along the street.” (72) and dormers: “Dormer design and placement should not destroy the simplicity of the roof plane of Nantucket buildings, which is an important aspect of the character of its architecture.” (72) A simpler structure, even a large structure, would fit in with the historic surroundings in a way the proposed building does not.

We ask the Commissioners to remember that the HDC has not only the authority but the responsibility to see that any new construction in this location should enhance the historic district, not detract.

Respectfully submitted,

Mary Bergman
Executive Director
Nantucket Preservation Trust

NPT Assumes Administration of 31 Western Avenue Preservation Restriction

In a unanimous decision on Wednesday, October 14, the Nantucket Select Board voted to reassign the enforcement and management of the preservation restriction at 31 Western Avenue, the former Star of the Sea Youth Hostel, from the Nantucket Historic District Commission to Nantucket Preservation Trust.

The Star of the Sea Youth Hostel. Courtesy of the Nantucket Historical Association.

Hostelling International compacted with the Town of Nantucket to place a preservation restriction, also known as a preservation easement, on the property in 2007. The restriction protects the historic character of the property. The main building was built as a lifesaving station in 1874.  The iconic Stick style structure was the first of four lifesaving stations build on Nantucket, and it is the last that survives. It served as a lifesaving station until 1921.

The federal government retained ownership of the site until 1962, when Lilye Mason, a longtime housemother for  American Youth Hostels, Inc. successfully bid to purchase the property and convert it for use into a hostel. In 1963, Ms. Mason sold the property to American Youth Hostels, Inc., now known as Hostelling International.

The property operated as a hostel until 2019. In August 2020, Hostelling International announced their intentions to sell the property and in September announced Blue Flag Partners as the winning bidders. The sale closed on Tuesday, October 6.  The preservation restriction at 31 Western Avenue protects the main lifesaving station building, a historic cottage, and a former stable that was converted into an additional hostel dormitory.  The restriction exists to protect the architectural, historic, and cultural features of the buildings at 31 Western Avenue. Under the preservation restriction, there can be no changes to the exterior appearance of the historic buildings without approval of NPT and the HDC. Any construction of new buildings or relocation of the existing buildings would also require approval.

Blue Flag Partners has announced intentions to develop the site in keeping with its historic hostel past. The transfer of the enforcement and management responsibilities of the preservation restriction from the Historic District Commission to Nantucket Preservation Trust, which holds 25 other preservation restrictions, will allow for an additional layer of preservation-minded review to any proposed changes to the Star of the Sea. NPT looks forward to ensuring the stewardship of these important historic buildings for generations to come.

4 Traders Lane – Buying a Home with a Preservation Easement

“Traders was not what I was looking for, but I stumbled upon it,” Ed Mills says of the Peleg Bunker house at 4 Traders Lane. Ed and his wife had been riding their bikes around the island and seen an ad for 4 Trader’s Lane. They biked past the house and stopped to take a look. “At that moment, Mr. Gosh came outside and said, “Hey, do you want to buy a house?” He invited us in, we walked around, and the seed was planted. My natural instinct to want to fix up the building came to the surface,” Ed says.

4 Traders Lane, 2020

The former owners of the house, Bob and Billi Gosh, had the thoughtful foresight to place a preservation easement on 4 Traders, preserving the exterior and some of the interior in perpetuity.

Ed has spent much of his life working with houses, and his family ties on Nantucket go back to his grandparents. On his mother’s side the family once owned the Wireless Cottage in ’Sconset. “My grandmother on my mother’s side was coming to Nantucket in the late 1920s and early 1930s and took an interest in protecting Nantucket’s history. That was part of my childhood.”

On his father’s side, it was Ed’s paternal grandfather who, upon his return from World War II, had a cabin built on Hinkley Lane. Ed’s grandfather and aunt built a second cabin in 1973. These beach cabins were simple—no insulation, no interior walls, made of eastern white pine. Ed’s family enjoyed many summers on Hinkley Lane.

“Nantucket has been a constant in my life,” Ed says. “The thought of doing one more big project that has more of a restoration quality to it was attractive.” Ed and his sister purchased the house at 4 Traders’ lane. His sister works for a preservation land bank in Western New York, so both Mills are concerned with saving places.

“As we dug into it and learned more about it, we learned it had an easement on it,” Ed explains, “At first it was a concern, but as we considered it, it became less so. It’s a historic building and should be protected. 4 Traders Lane has an incredible history—it’s clearly a building you’d want to work with as opposed to try to modify. That has its own challenges, but I don’t see why, with a little bit of effort, creativity, and planning, a 250-year-old house can’t maintain its historical significance yet be appealing to a modern owner.

“Nantucket is a wonderful place, and I’d like to help keep it that way,” Ed says. We are excited to see how the Traders Lane project progresses.


This article originally appeared in the 2020 edition of Ramblings.

Codfish Park and 10 Beach Street

Fish houses and bank, 1870s. Nantucket Historical Association (NHA) image.

Tucked away on the far eastern edge of Nantucket, Codfish Park is one of the island’s most interesting neighborhoods. Codfish Park did not actually exist until the late 19th Century. The beach below the ’Sconset bank was narrow and precarious. The October Gale of 1841 undercut ’Sconset’s bank, causing several houses to give way to the sea. Other houses were moved out of harm’s way to other areas of the village.

In the decades following the October Gale, the beach accreted naturally. Soon, the beach became an area for boat storage and fishing shacks. This land below the bank belonged to Henry Coffin, who deeded it to the Proprietors of Nantucket in 1886. Three trustees were given the power to regulate the beach.

Men playing the banjo and fiddle outside a Codfish Park shanty, c. 1890. (NHA image.)

This land was to be used to public enjoyment, and one of the stipulations of Coffin’s deed was that “no building or other obstruction of any kind be erected or maintained on the premises, except bath houses, to be used as such.” The beach grew quickly, tripling in size in three decades. It wasn’t long before fishermen erected cottages, shacks, and drying racks.

Continue reading Codfish Park and 10 Beach Street

Housing Nantucket’s House Recycling Program

On Nantucket, preservation and affordable housing go hand in hand. Since 1994, Housing Nantucket has worked to “recycle” houses slated for demolition by moving them to new locations and renting them to year-round residents at below-market rates, contributing to the preservation of the island not only by saving the structures, but also creating access to affordable, well maintained rental housing for low- and middle-income residents who contribute to the island’s community vitality.

This c. 1920 house was moved from Milk Street by Housing Nantucket in 2003.

Housing Nantucket, an independent 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization, began in the early 1990s. Members of the town’s Housing Authority started Housing Nantucket as a way to create an organization that could address the islands housing needs without some of the red tape associated with being an official arm of the town government and one that could go beyond the Housing Authority’s mandate to provide housing for very low income people, those making less than 50% of the Area Median Income. The first project of the newly formed Housing Nantucket was recycling a house, now located on Benjamin Drive, that was originally constructed near Nobadeer Beach.

As of 2020, Housing Nantucket has recycled 32 Nantucket houses, including some homes that are over 100 years old. Of course, not every “Demo / Move Off” application that comes before the Historic District Commission is a good fit to be moved by Housing Nantucket. According to Executive Director Anne Kuszpa, “Some buildings are better than others.” An ideal project is less than two stories tall, located close to a paved road, and small enough that it can be moved over-the-road in one piece. In the past, Housing Nantucket has cut homes into two or three pieces to move them, but this can create longer term maintenance issues once the pieces are joined back together in their new locations.

To take on a new recycling project, Housing Nantucket must have the capability for the associated workload and available land to move a house. Housing Nantucket still works closely with the Town government, including the Nantucket Housing Authority and the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, and receives much of the land where it relocates buildings from these different town entities. Occasionally, Housing Nantucket has acquired houses to be moved and sold them to third party buyers who then move them, allowing for additional structures to be spared the wrecking ball.

Housing Nantucket’s programs have expanded beyond affordable rentals to include first time homebuyer education classes and the administration of the Nantucket Housing Needs Covenant Program. Still, the house recycling program is central to Housing Nantucket’s mission of creating housing solutions for Nantucket residents and provides an avenue for old houses to gain new lives.


This article originally appeared in the 2020 issue of Ramblings.

Taking Pride in Nantucket Architecture

For Pride month, NPT Executive Director Mary Bergman explores two homes on Nantucket associated with pioneering members of the LGTBQ community.

31 Pine Street: Tennessee Williams & Carson McCullers

“It was a crazy but creative summer.” –Tennessee Williams

How did two of the 20th century’s greatest southern writers find themselves 30 miles of the coast of New England?

In June of 1946, Tennessee Williams rented a house on the island for the summer. “I seldom remember addresses, but this was 31 Pine Street in Nantucket, an old gray frame house with a wind-up Victrola and some fabulous old records, like Santiago Waltz and Sousa band numbers,” he said in an interview with Rex Reed.

The Glass Menagerie was on Broadway, but Williams and his partner Pancho Rodriguez were looking to get out of New York. Williams had long admired Carson McCullers—he called her the greatest living writer—and wanted to meet her.

Williams was in poor health when he wrote a characteristically dramatic letter to McCullers, declaring that he had gone to Nantucket to die, and he’d like to meet her before his death. The two had never met before, but McCullers took him up on his offer and arrived on the boat.

“This tall girl came down the gangplank wearing a baseball cap and slacks. She had a radiant, snaggletoothed grin and there was an immediate attachment,” Williams said.

While their time in Nantucket was marked with unrequited love, whiskey, and endless days at the beach, the two writers found inspiration at 31 Pine (ca. 1850). Williams recalled “…The fireplace was always filled with beautiful hydrangeas, and we sat at opposite ends of a long table while I wrote Summer and Smoke and she wrote The Member of a Wedding as a play.”

Williams and McCuller’s time in Nantucket has inspired two contemporary plays, 31 Pine Street  by Derek Bothelo and Rancho Pancho by Gregg Barrios.

 

 5 New Street, Siasconset: Phebe Ann Coffin Hanaford

5 New Street, Siasconset, childhood home of Phebe Ann Coffin Hanaford.

“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 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 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 its 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.

Her marriage to homeopathic physician Joseph A. Hanford would eventually take her 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.

Phebe Ann Coffin Hanaford, 1860s. Courtesy of the Nantucket Historical Association.

Phebe Ann Coffin Hanaford, 1860s. Courtesy of the Nantucket Historical Association.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.

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.

They Don’t Make Them Like They Used To, by Mary-Adair Macaire

“You know you really don’t have to come.  It’s just a formality of signing checks and documents.  Just mail them in; the attorneys will take care of the rest.”

My realtor was trying to tell me that it wasn’t necessary to fly from London where I worked, to attend the settlement of my first Nantucket house.

But, I was determined … Even if it was “off season”, rainy and cold.

“You know how long I’ve pined for a place here, Robert!  I’m coming!”

I’d long ago fell in love with this small strip of well-preserved sand called Nantucket; spending summers during college in a room rented on Centre Street from a nice elderly lady; and later during my years in NYC – avoiding the LIE/Hamptons crawl for long weekends in one or the other of precious few town rentals that would permit a well-mannered dog.

Now finally, there would be a set of keys belonging to me!  Keys that fit the door of a house built in 1837 … A door that swung open for 19 former custodians before I knew it existed.

Continue reading They Don’t Make Them Like They Used To, by Mary-Adair Macaire

Steeped in History, by Martha Johnson

The stairs in our house are steep.

When Simeon Long built it in 1791 for his family, I imagine he was young and agile, but because of the steep slope of the stairs, necessitated by ceilings fairly high for that era, his grandmother must have had hard work hoisting her skirts and hiking up to the second floor. The front stairs are, we believe, original. Interestingly enough, one of the risers, about halfway up, is taller than the rest, requiring care not to trip. Our Scottie dog, Stuart, has fallen down them enough times to avoid the ‘very front hall’ altogether and carefully makes his way up and down the kitchen stairs, much newer, but still a mountain to a short dog.

When the house was raised in 1995, a full basement was added with a laundry and a family room where the ‘big TV ’ goes, something not imagined in Simeon’s wildest dreams. In his era, the family would have crowded into much smaller rooms, and we think the el in the back was not added until many years after he moved his family off island to Claremont, New Hampshire, where Longs still live. These underground stairs are steeper yet, and Stuart requires a human elevator to navigate them.

We are thinking we’ll carpet the newer stairs to give him a fighting chance for a longer life, and to help our old bones as we climb, carrying fresh sheets, from the basement to the top floor, pausing briefly in the kitchen to catch our breath. ‘Our own stair machine.’ We laugh. These are steep stairs. We are senior citizens, optimistic for our energy levels to remain high with this added exercise.

Our children are encouraging us to move to one floor living. We are encouraging our children to mind their own businesses.It takes a certain kind of person to live in an old house, and a few sacrifices as well. Chilly breezes sneak through ancient windows, heating ducts need clever placement on the uneven wide pine floors, and fireplace wood is expensive on this island.There’s a little sag on a house that has been settling for more than 200 years. But can anyone not find the romantic pull of history and the nighttime sense that we are surrounded by past tenants drifting through the rooms with a candle? We won’t find that in a new ranch in a housing development.

We are proud to know that our names will someday be added to the long list of previous caretakers. So many feet have climbed our stairs, puffing a little at the top, perhaps, carrying a baby, or firewood, fresh sheets, or a shaking small dog.


Martha Johnson is an aspiring essayist who keeps her family and friends amused with short glimpses into her life. There is usually a dog involved.

Just Give Me a Wall and a Door, by Sherry Lefevre

Businesses with au currant open-plan offices are now spending thousands to revert to health protecting partitions. Covid-19 has also caused a reassessment of the value of an open plan in domestic architecture, but for different reasons. With everyone at home trying to get some work done, what they need is a good ole house with interior walls and doors. My daughter who is practicing law from her dining room in Washington DC is very grateful that she opted out of a spacious open plan apartment in favor of a small Victorian house. Her husband works from a room on the second floor. It took a pandemic to bring home the wisdom of old houses. Too bad it came too late for house gutters.

My Pine Street house was built in 1819 by a man named Walter Cure who had had four children in the previous seven years. The house’s lack of ornament suggests he was in a hurry to tuck them in. It has a wonderfully ordinary Nantucket floor plan meaning that it’s a square box with a chimney down the center. Even so the box accommodates a living room, dining room, den downstairs, and upstairs three bedrooms. Like most Nantucket houses there is a one story shed of a kitchen in the back and a “wort” on the front side that affords an additional bedroom. It doesn’t really matter that the rooms are small; what matters is that when Josiah, the first born, needed a quick exit from his younger brothers Charles and John, he had plenty of options. He could run into bedrooms and dens and slam any of six doors.

I am sharing my 14 day quarantine in my Nantucket house with a couple who came with me from Philadelphia. We designated ourselves a “safe pod” at the start of Philadelphia’s stay-at-home order. Now we are alternatively working, reading and socializing in rooms that for two hundred years, graciously offered privacy when desired. One can work on the dining room table, another in the den, and another in the living room. When we sit with our books, newspapers or laptops around the kitchen island it means we are inviting interruption and sharing. But when we sit in different rooms, it means that we need to concentrate.

We all hope that normal healthy life will return. But many believe it will be altered by the values realized in the crisis. These values include flexibility in where and when we work and new ways to make contact with others. Even seaside retreats might no longer function primarily as party spaces. In the past months many Nantucket houses have needed to shelter working people who rightly panic at the sight of a vast living room, dining room, kitchen expanse. Might heart goes out to them…sort of.


Sherry Lefevre is a writer based in Philadelphia and Nantucket. She is the author of The Heirloom House: How eBay and I Decorated and Furnished my Nantucket Home.