Cyclist's guide to Nantucket


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Cyclist's guide to Nantucket
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College of Architecure, University of Florida
College of Architecure, University of Florida
Preservation Institute: Nantucket
Place of Publication:
Nantucket, MA
Publication Date:


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AFA HP document 885

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University of Florida
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University of Florida
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Full Text



This guide is intended to introduce the short-term visitor

to the predominance of historic architecture in the town of Nan-

tucket. Through the tour, provided, it is hoped that the observer

will discover the richness and variety which lies within the major

architectural styles of the area. In these styles are reflected

the economic, historic and physical factors of Nantucket. The

architecture of Nantucket offers valuable insight into the town's

past as well as creating the pleasant atmosphere of its cohesive

urban fabric.


In 1641, the Earl of Stirling sold Nantucket island to

Thomas Mayhew. However, the island was not settled until 1659

when it was procured by a group of non-Puritans seeking religious

asylum from an intolerant New England. Members of this grout

spent the winter of 1659 at Madaket as Nantucket's first white

settlers. In subsequent years and with growing numbers, the

settlers built their first houses around Cappamet Harbor (now

Capaum Pond). Finding the land unsuitable for farming, the set-

tlers followed a medieval system of dividing the lands into shares

and commons for the raising of sheep.

Through the Indians, who were experienced off-shore whalers.

the settlers entered upon their first modest encounters with

whaling from shore. In 1712, a ship was fortuitously blown away

from land where it spotted and captured Nantucket's first sperm

whale. The building of ships to embark upon whaling signaled the


beginning of island growth and prosperity. Arising from this

attachment to the sea, came architectural influence from ship's

carpenters and gained knowledge of faraway lands.

A most important factor in the development of Nantucket

was the natural sealing off of Cappamet Harbor around 1720.

With the rising interest in whaling, it became necessary to move

the town to its present site on the great natural harbor east

of Bran+ Point. In 1678, an area called Wescoe, presently bounded

by Liberty, Westminster, Broad and Federal Streets, w'
into twenty lots. However, little was built in this area until

the closing of Cappamet Harbor. With the building of wharves and

increased commercial activity, development continued to the south

along Union Street and between Orange and Pleasant Streets. Nan-

tucket had become a town.

The major factors contributing to the character of Nantucket

architecture. were the rise and fall of the whaling industry, the

period of Quaker dominance, and the influence of the sea. Much

of Nantucket,'s uniformity and quaintness stems from the strict

Quaker codes of simplicity and humble deportment. At its stong-

est between 1750 and 1825, Quakerism encouraged the functional

form and simplicity of ornament prevalent in the area architecture.

Only as Nantucket reached its peak of prosperity and worldliness

as the whale capital of the world did Quaker rigidity give way

to more fashionable modes of architecture. However, fortunately

for the charter of Nantucket, its economic prosperity failed

soon after its height in the 1840's. The scarcity of whales,

the discovery of a refining process for crude oil, the 1849 gold


rush, and the Great Fire of 1846 all created a depression From
which the town was not soon to recover,.
Tn the 1880's, Nantucket island found a new source of income
as a summer haven. Great summer houses were built at Bran-&
Point and at Mono y and Siasopnset, As the interest in Nantucket
as a summer resort has rapidly increased in the last quarter
century, the problems of modern traffic, telephone and electric
lines, and urban sprawl are threatening much of the islands atmo-
sphere. It is fortunate that the town itself was preserved by an
early necessity to economize on building materials and by more
recent protection as an historic district. The unique quality of
Nantucket can be more fully understood and appreciated through
close observation of its past and present forms,

Thrypgh its texture and form, Nantucket architecture creates
a harmonious urban environment. The streets of Nantucket are tied
together by a limited range of building styles and a traditional
use of materials. Subdued tones are in the majority with punctu-'
03 nations of brick or white columned structures that provide needed.
accents for the area. A continuity of form and closeness arises
along each street from the unbroken line of dwelling-, white fences,
and an occasional hedge. It is with surprising pleasure that one
discovers the relative openness of green spaces existing within the
uniform front. Much of Nantucket's appeal lies in its visual con-
tinuity, pedestrian scale, and earthy textures. The architectural
styles which help to produce this favorable quality can be simply

None of the first dwellings on Nantucket exist in their origi-
nal state today, although parts of houses were used in moving the
town to its present site, It is known that early dwellings were
modeled after medieval English houses. As such, the simplest of
these rigid-frame buildings consisted of a fireplace at. one end.of
a great room with stairs leading to a sleeping loft above. Larger
dwellings developed rooms about the fireplace, enabling one central
chimney with several fireplaces to serve the entire house,



As Nantucket developed, houses expanded to provide additional

room through the unpretentious-looking lean-to (saltbox) house,

Like the easiest dwellings, the lean-to began as a modest struc-

ture with a chimney to one side. These smaller buildings, known as

half-houses, provided unused chimney space for later expansion into

full houses. Although a smaller 13/4 story version continued into

the 1800's, lean-to dwellings a.Le characterized by shingles, a two

\4 story front, an extended slope of the back roof line, a chimney

aligned with the front door, a general disregard for symmetry, and

a frequent coe- OA eal f, chimney flanges. Using their maritime

knowledge, NantucketerS often precisely oriented their houses to-

wards the south vrv'ortothe placement of streets. Southern exposure

providedsun to the facad e, while the rear slope diverted northerly

winds. The plain-but functional form of the lean-to contributed to

its Quaker popularity.


The typical Nantucket house displays the same disregard for

symmetry as does its predecessor, the lean-to. Exemplified by

a two story front and back, an off-center chimney, a four-bayed

facade, a transom over tlh front door, and an absence of ornamenta-

tion, the typical Nantucket house prevailed from the 1760's

through the first quarter of the nineteenth century. In the first

\ floor arrangement of rooms, there exist parlor, stairhall, and

closets in front, with chamber, kitchen, and smaller staircase

across the back. On .the second floor was found a similar arrange-

ment of chambers and a continuation of the back stairs to the gar-

ret., Often a ladder led from the garret to a roof walk which proved

useful for fighting roof or chimney fires. The first floor placement



Originating in fourteenth century England, the gambrel

roof was infrequently employed in Nantucket and the rest of the

New World. Although generally characterized by a central chim-

ney, the interior plan varied. The main assets of the gambrel

roof were found in the economy of materials and an unusual tax

benefit. As taxes were levied in proportion to the number of

stories in a house, the gambrel roof provided almost a full ex-

tra story which escaped taxation. The remaining eight gambrel

roof houses on Nantucket span a half-century from 1748 to 1798.


of a closet behind a main facade window exemplifies Quaker

disinterest in more than a functional use of space. Later

houses of this period include a kitchen eli in back and ex-

pand the stairhall by'removing the facade closet.


Fed al period architecture in Nantucket is marked by a

growing awareness of architectural styles elsewhere, Develop-

ing from the two story lean-to, houses acquired a two story

back with sense of symmetry in arrangement of rooms and facade.
To accompdate a greater variety of plan, the central chimney

was replaced two end chimneys1 with more prosperous structures

providing two at each end. Houses acquired an elegant air created

by classical door details, symmetrical facades, sidelights a-

bout the door with transom or blind fan above, roof balustrades

in which open and closed panels define the window openings below,

1' raised entries with gracefully curved railings, and an overall

sense of proportion. T --R' -Yt 4y< sea '

This introduction to more sophisticated architectural elements

inspired further advances as Nantucket's economy flourished in

the 1830's. Thus, the influence of classical and Greek Revival

architecture found its way to Nantucket.


Greek Revival influence reached Nantucket at the height

of F*Q prosperity in the second quarter of the nineteenth cen-

tury. I t'4 # iv-t icikK6- mo ItczeL4E'v-It 1"b F-oWlh,

OM E, A-6 EML~t -WV -ft-t. E > _Th-p OF ck4 t4HEyLS
: mn, :' .. L, : s.2. 'c -'-, .Affluence

appeared in open well staircases, suites of rooms, cupolas,

giant pilasters, and archeologically correct Greek orders. The

less ostentatious houses of the period exhibit a reorientation

of the the gable to the street facade with raking cornices, a

pediment effect, and corner pilasters.- The most magnificent

examples display colossal porticoes majestically comnle-

menting the quieter elegance of surrounding architecture.

Prevalent throughout Nantucket, Greek Revival architecture con-

tributes subtle diversity of elements with an ocassional remin-

der of the sophistication and affluence Nantucket once achieved.


Main Street

The bustling commercial district of lower Main Street is

bounded by two important brick structures, the Rotch Market at

4 the east end and the Pacific Bank at the west end. These build-

ings, along with the Philip Folger House(58-60 Main St.), are

the only buildings in the square which survived the Great Fire

of 1846.

Al Pacific National Bank

Built in 1818, the Pacific National Bank serves as the

9 major focal point for Main St. traffic. Its reserved use of

ornament in the blind panels, brownstone trim, and ionic porti-

co place it within the Federal style. The bracketed cornice and

iron railing are later additions. A2 lies to the right of the


A2 Methodist Church -- 2 Centre Street

Believed to have been designed by Federick Brown Coleman,

the 1840 colossal Greek portico was added to the original struc-

ture of 1822-23. The flush-board facade of the building exem-

plifies a method used to produce a desirable non-wood appearance

when imitating stone structures in wood Between the Methodist

Church and the Pacific National Bank lies Liberty Street.

Liberty Street

Liberty Street was laid out in 1678 as the southern bound-

ary of the Wesco Acre Lots. Typical of Nantucket streets, the

houses which line its brick sidewalks attest to almost every

style of Nantucket architecture.

A3 1 Liberty' 1.

Built ca. 1756, the five-bayed facade, shingles, twin

kcmneys, transom over the door, and olive trim typify the atmo-

sphere and quality found in so much of Nantucket architecture.

The Quaker disinterest in symmetry is evident in the cnLar


A4 5 Liberty

Now a two story structure in front and back, this house

was originally built in 1748 as a lean-to for Barnabas Pinkham.

The typical Nantucket fence with railing, the roof walk, and the


later "wart"Aon the east side contribute to the buildings charac-


A5 15 Liberty

The chopped off appearance of the east end of this full

lean-to was necessitated when the house was moved here ca. 1740

from a wider lot. Boards forming a shelf-like trim above the

windows and the flange of the chimney are frequent Nantucket


A6 12 Liberty

This building is believed to have been built at the origi-

nal settlement of old Sherburne around 1720. Sometime after

1723 it was moved to this site and enlarged. It displays the

single chimney and five-bayed facade of the full lean-to house.

A? 17 Liberty

Falling into the Federal period of architecture, this

house is characterized by two plaster chimneys, a symmetrical

faq&4e, doorway with transom, and a raised stoop with twin stairs.

The basement windows are interesting, because their absence is

common on many Nantucket houses.

A8 19 Liberty

The four-bayed facade and the chimney no longer aligned

with the front door are features associated with the typical

Nantucket house. The incongruous pedimented doorway is a later


A9 14 Liberty

Built in the mid-nineteenth century, this Greek Revival

example has its gable turned to the street with paneled corner

pilasters providing a suggestion of columns. The treatment of

the door pilkters is one of a wide variety of such ornamentation.

A10 R Winter

Facing down Liberty, this raised, 2 1/2 story dwelling

with a Greek Revival doorway creates a pleasant focal point for

the. observer. From here.continue on Liberty, following as'it

turns to the right at the end.

All 39 Liberty

Raised on its basement with a five-bayed faQade and four

chimneys, this house exhibits a more imDosing appearance. The

sidelights and paneled doorway pilasters are elements of its

Greek Revival style.

India Street

Part of the Wesco Acre Lots provision of 1678, India

Street was originally Pearl Street. It was known for the afflu-

ence of its residents and appropriately displays a number of

beautiful wardens as well as a wide variety of architecture.

A12 39 India

This late Federal style house was built for Gorham Macy

ca. 183l Its unusual features include the ornamented corner

blocks of the door and windows, fluted pilasters on the oedi-

ment window, and uncommonly large panes in the transom and side-



A13 34 India

Large, heavy looking corner pilasters rise up to an equally

heavy cornice on this small Greek Revival house. The pointed

windows of the pediment are a Gothic element found on several

other houses of the area.

A14 32 India

Although this was originally a typical Nantucket house,

the later Greek Revival doorway exhibits an unusual and interest-

ing linear design.

A15 35 India

Another example of the four-bayed, typical Nantucket

house, this dwelling was built for George Lawrence ca.1786. Like

many others, it was enlarged with dormers and the shed-roof ad-

dition on the east end.

Al6 30 India

This elegant Federal house has an elaborate doorway with

plain and fluted pilkters, sidelights, and an unusual swirled

nander motif across the top.

Al? 28 India

Corner paneled shafts, raised entry with twin stairs, roof

walk, balustrade, and doric columned portico contribute to the

sophisticated air of this Greek Revival home. Built in the

second quarter of the nineteenth century, the design has been

attributed to John Coleman who produced porticoes with heavy

looking entablatures.


A18 27 India

The wooden quoins at the corners are an infrequent rele-

S ment of Nantucket architecture. Although quoins are usually

found on buildings imitating stone elements, the rest of this

house, built in 1794, is of typical Nantucket style.

A19 18 India

This small gambrel roof dwelling was built for Silas Pad-

dock in 1767. The west end extension once housed a rum shot with

a street entry.

A20 12 India

A brick Federal house, this is the only three-bayed example

in Nantucket. The recessed doorway, window lintels, raised base-

ment, and brownstone door lintel define it as a simple but ele-

gant style.

Hussey Street

Hussey Street was originally two courts, Bunkerfs Court on

the west end and Hussey Court on the east side. Beyond the limits

5 of this tour stand the 1733 Caleb Gardner house at number 25 and

antunusual 1772 gambrel roof dwelling at number 30.

A21 3 Hussey

This small Greek Revival is typically gable-fronted with

paneled corner pilasters. Like A13, it has a side entry and

pointed gable windows of Gothic influence.

A22 10 Hussey

Another Greek Revival example, this house has a double-stair

entry with a somewhat different effect in the criss-cross design


of the railing sucrorts.

A23 22 Hussey

The outstanding feature of this transitional Federal to

Greek Revival the leaded window in the pediment. Other

interesting elements include the window trim and the fluted

corner pilasters.

Westminster Street

Connecting portionsof Academy Hill, Westminster Street was

established when the Academy was built in the early nineteenth

century. Extant historic buildings are two shingle structures

with Greek Revival doors at numbers 8 and 12.

A24 11 Academy Lane

Approaching Academy Lane from Westminster, this typical

Nantucket house forms a splendid focal point. Its roof walk,

four bays, simple chimney, and railing fence are true to style,

but the doorway is a Greek Revival addition which spans two

of the first floor bays.

A25 12 Academy Lane

A charming, small Greek Revival house, 12 Academy Lane

retains its gable at the side, but provides pilasters at the

corners and around the door.

A26 6 Academy Lane

Similar to A25, this 1 3/4 story house is an example

of Federal style. Built ca. 1820 for Capt. Alexander Bunker,

it possesses a modillioned cornice on roof and door. However,

it lacks the heavy Dilsters and entablatures found on the cor-

ners and door of number 12.


Centre Street

Centre Street came into being with the layout of the

Wescoe Acre Lots in 1678.. Although much of the south end was

destroyed in the Great Fire of 1846, Surviving architecture in-

cludes a house of which part is claimed to be from the original

settlement of old Sherburne.

A27 56 Centre

Built in 1842 for Harrison Otis Gray Dunham, this 2 1/2

story Greek Revival house exhibits a distyle ionic portico and

an interesting tripartite window in the'side extension.

A28 43 Centre

Sources place the date of this structure as ca. 1765 when

it was built for Levi Joy. It combines an early evoa.Val Cotle

chimney with a later Greek Revival doorway.

A29 45 Centre

Built ca. 1830, this is a fine example of the Federal style

with a five-bayed facade, end chimneys, and a blind fan above

the door.

A30 62 Centre

The First Congregational Church has elements of both Rococo

Gothic and Gothic Revival. Built in 1834 by Samuel Waldron of

Boston, the facade includes an ogee arch with tracery mullions

about the entry and large pointed windows on the side flanks.

The original steeple had to be renmed in 1849 due to the bat-

tering of storms. Now dominating the Nantucket skyline, the

present steeple was added in 1968. Behind the church can be

found the Old North Vestry ca. 1725 which was moved from Capaum

Pond in 1834.

A31 53 Centre

The side entry of this 1840 Greek Revival house, orients the

building to the south. An ionic portico, pediment fan window ,

and raised entry add to its handsome appearance. However, the

square cupola is an odd element on a classical structure.

A32 70 and 72 Centre

These matching mid-nineteenth century Greek Revival houses

display the 1/4 round heads often used on gable windows because

of space limitations.

A33 2 Chester

The four-bayed facade, shingles, simple doorway with tran-

som, and ridge chimney mark this as another typical Nantucket


North Water Street

Originally given as Water in the 1799 Isaac Coffin Survey,

North Water is the continuation of South Water north of Broad

St. There are numerous examples of typical Nantucket houses

lining its sides.

A34 15 North Water

Known as the Hussey House, this Typical Nantucket house

was built in 1795 for Robert Brayton. South of here stands A35.

A35 13 North Water

The strange ornamentation on this house derives from the


designs of Charles Eastlake, who was an English proponent of the

Gothic Revival.

A36 8 North Water

A pure example of the Greek Revival style, this house is de-

fined by giant pilasters which separate its 3 bays.

A37 4 North Water

This house possesses a strange quality of eclecticism.

Built after 1846, it combines Gothic gable windows with a

classical columnar effect across the front and sides.