The Unique Construction Story of 3 East Chestnut Street

Recently, the Historic District Commission approved the demolition of 3 East Chestnut Street. The building is currently home to the Nantucket Health Department, which will move to the former fire station on Pleasant Street. The building, which has suffered from deferred maintenance, will make room for space that will help improve circulation around the downtown Visitor Services Office and its public restrooms. Though the building will be demolished, we wanted to highlight the unique story of its construction, and a simpler time for building on Nantucket.

3 East Chestnut Street was originally constructed in the spring of 1953 by members of the seven-man Nantucket Police Department, including Chief of Police Wendell Howes, Sergeant Frederick S. Chadwick, and Patrolmen William J. Henderson, John E. Gibbs, Elwyn Francis, Jr., Roland G. Huyser, and Richard Barrett. The new police station was first occupied on June 24, 1953.

Chief Wendell Howes standing in front of the newly completed Nantucket Police Station. Courtesy of the Nantucket Historical Association.

Prior to the move to East Chestnut Street, the police were headquartered in the Town offices on Washington Street. Chief Howes had originally requested space for the police in the visitor information bureau, but there was no room there to be had. Instead, Chief Howes sketched up designs for a new police building to be built next door. Nantucket summer resident MacMillan Clements of Clements Panel Company in Danbury, Connecticut took Chief Howes’ sketches and created blueprints. The Town appropriated $10,500 for the new station’s construction. Island contractor and deputy sheriff Paul Frye bid $9,000 on the job, and the remainder of the appropriation was spent on furniture and equipment. To keep the project under its tight budget, the police officers volunteered their time and labor in the construction. Furniture was made by inmates at MCI Concord.

To make room for the police station, and ell on an adjoining house was demolished, and a garage and a small shop were moved off the lot. The telephone company donated a pole, and when they saw the police officers volunteering, telephone company employees volunteered their labor in their off hours. Nantucket Selectmen George Burgess, Jr. and Kenneth N. Pease also volunteered to help in the construction.

Even at the time, people noted how unusual the volunteer effort was. The April 18, 1953 edition of The Inquirer and Mirror noted “nothing like this has occurred on Nantucket beyond the memory of the oldest citizen.”

Smith’s Point: Nantucket’s Far West End

Smith’s Point, the far western end of Madaket over Millie’s Bridge across Hither Creek, feels like a remnant of a former Nantucket. Although it is unclear how the Point got its name, the Wampanoag called this area Nopque, meaning landing place. In A Natural History of Nantucket, Peter Brace describes Smith’s Point “all outwash sand deposits held in place by American beach grass and some snow fencing,” and his part of the island is particularly shaped by eroding waves and winds. Historic maps show the Point used to extend all the way to Tuckernuck, and until 1869 Nantucketers could drive cattle and other livestock across Smith’s Point to Tuckernuck at low tide. In 1961, Hurricane Esther opened up a break in the point, and the resulting Esther Island remained severed from the rest of Nantucket until accreting sand re-connected it in 1986. More recently, in 2016, a winter storm took much of the beach away and turned Maine Avenue into a dead-end street.

Map of Nantucket including Tuckernuck, detail. 1838. Curtesy of the Nantucket Historical Association.

The Point has long been known for its excellent fishing, but few dwellings were constructed here, outside of a handful of fishing shacks and modest homes along Hither Creek. In the 1910s, Otis Emerson Dunham, owner of several hundred acres in Madaket, contracted with the Massachusetts Coastal Company to develop a subdivision he called “Maddequet Terrace,” including much of Smith’s Point. Though there was an early frenzy of buying, little development followed, and by 1920, many of the parcels were forfeited to the Town of Nantucket for delinquent tax benefits. For others, however, the ease of travel brought on by the introduction of the automobile to Nantucket inspired the building of simple cottages near the beaches of Smith’s Point.

One of the oldest buildings on Smith’s Point is the Eel Skin Inn at 9 Maine Avenue. It was originally constructed next to the Hither Creek Boat Yard circa 1910. It served as a shack for eel fisherman and others to skin their catch after a day’s fishing. It was also, apocryphally, a rumrunner’s shack during Prohibition. It was moved to its present site on Maine Ave in 1975 by Tom Lazor, also known as Colonel Bat Guano. A small addition was put on following the Inn’s move across Hither Creek, but the structure’s historic character is defined by its low roof profile and varied fenestration.

The Crooked House, c. 1950. Curtesy of the Nantucket Historical Association

Another one of Smith’s Point’s oldest homes is the iconic Crooked House, noted in Building with Nantucket in Mind as “a delightful example of additive massing.” It was built along Massachusetts Avenue before 1938. It was owned by Henry Coffin, who together with his wife Anna owned many parcels in Smith’s Point. It’s most notable summer resident, however, was Fred Rogers. After first renting the cottage in the summer of 1960, he and his wife Joanne received the house as a Christmas present from his parents, James and Nancy Rogers, and spent decades visiting each summer.

Just up the street from Crooked House is 23 Massachusetts Ave, a quintessential Madaket fishing cottage. The property was also once owned by Henry and Anna Coffin, who sold it to Mary B. Gardner in 1935. The cottage was built shortly thereafter and still retains its simplicity and charm.

Houses at the end of Massachusetts Avenue, 2020.

The eclectic mix of early fishing shacks, cottages and ranch-style houses built between the 1910s and 1940s, and more angular, mid-century homes on Smith’s Point are unified by their integration into the landscape, materials, and generally unpretentious scale and massing. As development pressures increase, care must be taken to ensure the Point retains its unique character.

North Liberty Street’s Threatened Streetscape

Friday, January 8 at 10 AM the Historic District Commission will hold a special meeting to hear a proposal to renovate and relocate on its lot  the home at 27 North Liberty Street.  Click here to view the proposed plans and other supporting documentation. View the meeting agenda here.


Threatened: North Liberty Streetscape

In 2014, the North Liberty streetscape near the Lily Pond was threatened by a controversial application to move a barn off the property at 29 North Liberty Street. The proposal was denied by the Historic District Commission (HDC) but overturned by the Select Board on an appeal. Later, the HDC reversed their own decision and approved the move. An appeal in Nantucket Superior Court resulted in the upholding of the HDC’s original denial. A later appeal in State appeals court also upheld the HDC’s initial denial.

The same developer now desires to move a cottage at 27 North Liberty Street. The home, built in 1798, was originally the Seth Ray cooper’s shop. This time, the requested move is not off the lot, but rather six feet to the southeast on the current lot, with plans to relocate the barn on the property next door. What may seem to some as slight alterations are concerning to preservationists as moving historic structures should only be done as a last resort to demolition.

It is true that Nantucket has a long tradition of house moving to ensure a structure is not abandoned or demolished, but instead reused in a thoughtful way. It is unsettling when this practice is repurposed in an attempt to justify moving a structure on the same lot.

The proposed moving of structures on North Liberty Street threatens the historic fabric of the buildings, and the streetscape itself.


This article originally appeared in the 2020 edition of Ramblings.

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. Click here to read the full restriction document. 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.