This 2 ½-story, five-bay house was built for Benjamin Fosdick (1713-1801) and his family on Nantucket. After Benjamin died in 1801, the house was inherited by two of his surviving sons and they divided the house into two, creating a double-house for them and their own families. The symmetrical home was divided down the middle at the central chimney, and two front doors provided access to the two dwellings. The right section was once the home of Capt. William Calder, who escaped shipwreck at Cape Horn on his first voyage at age 13. He later was captured by the British during the War of 1812, and escaped from Dartmoor Prison in England, making his way back to Nantucket. The double house has retained much of its original design since 1801 until the 1960s when the projecting entrance porch was added.
The United Methodist Church of Nantucket stands prominently at the top of Main Street on land was obtained from Peleg Mitchell in 1822. Construction on the site began in 1823 with the massive structure originally built with a pyramidal hip roof of enormous timbers brought to the island on whaling vessels. In 1840, the roofline was amended with the present gable roof, constructed over the original hip roof. The church is a highly significant example of Greek Revival architecture on the island and a more rare example of the temple-front form seen there. Deferred maintenance threatened the building to the point that in 1995, the building was listed as one of the most endangered buildings in Massachusetts. A restoration was undertaken funded by private contributions and the Massachusetts Preservation Project Fund, preserving the building for another 200 years.
On Nantucket, even the little houses can pack an architectural punch! This is the George C. Gardner House. The house on Main Street was built in 1834 for sea captain George Gardner, a descendant of Richard Gardner, an early white settler on the island (who’s house stands nextdoor). The house exhibits a five bay facade with Ionic columned portico and balustrade at the roof and widow’s walk. By the end of the 20th century, the house was sitting, decaying after years of deferred maintenance caused by a bitter divorce dispute between the owners. From this, locals told stories about the house being haunted, including stories of a Chinese servant of the Gardner family who was hanged after becoming infatuated with one of George Gardner’s daughters. The body is rumored to have been buried on the grounds of the house. There is not much to substantiate these stories of local lore, but they are always interesting to hear. A truth is that the home was purchased in the early 2000s for millions and restored faithfully before being sold for shy of $10 Million. Now that is really scary!
In 1690, Richard Gardner Jr. (1653-1728) received the land and dwelling house from his late father Richard Gardner (1622-1688) who was born in England and settled in Nantucket by way of Salem upon his death. The primitive, First Period home was occupied by subsequent generations of the Gardner family, and altered and expanded to fit the growing needs and wealth of the family. By 1840, the house was owned by George C. Gardner, a whaling captain and descendant of Richard Gardner. The original home was located on what is now Lowell Place, just off Main Street, and the Gardner Homestead was converted to a carriage house for the more modern George Gardner Home. By 1927, Ms. Gladys Wood purchased the deteriorating and heavily altered structure, and moved it to its current location on Main Street. Ms. Wood hired architect Alfred Shurrocks, who summered on the island and was restoring the Jethro Coffin house nearby, to restore the former Gardner Homestead, but this one was all based on conjecture and historical precedent. The home looks much like a 17th century saltbox and has stood the test of time.
Although Hezekiah Swain built this house in 1790, the property is better known as the home of Maria Mitchell and is to this day, preserved to interpret her amazing legacy. Maria Mitchell’s father William bought the house in 1818, and Maria was born there later that year. Maria grew up on Nantucket and she became the first female astronomer in America. After she discovered a comet in 1847 (which was named Miss Mitchell’s Comet), her international recognition led to many awards and that acclaim enabled her to continue her work. She accepted a position as professor of astronomy at Vassar College by its founder, Matthew Vassar, in 1865 and became the first female professor of astronomy She established the Association for the Advancement of Women and became the first female member of the American Academy of the Arts and Sciences. She was also very involved in the anti-slavery movement in New England. After Maria Mitchell died in 1889, the Maria Mitchell Association, was established in Nantucket to preserve the sciences on the island and Mitchell’s work. On July 15, 1908, the Observatory on Vestal Street near the Science Library and Mitchell House was dedicated. The Observatory, built by the Nantucket Maria Mitchell Association, stimulated local interest in science. The success of the Observatory’s programs prompted the construction of an astronomical study in 1922, joining the existing facility with the Maria Mitchell Birthplace. The museum operates in Summers to this day, and continues Maria’s rich legacy in the sciences.
Nantucket built its first jail in 1696 on Vestal Street, which was at the time, far from a lot of the houses and businesses on the island. In 1805, taxpayers decided to spend $2,090 (roughly the cost of building a whaleship at the time) to build a new, sturdier jail nearby the original structure. Opened in 1805 and dubbed the “New Gaol,” the wooden structure represents colonial-era architecture with exceptional reinforcements, as to keep the prisoners inside those small four walls. The Gaol was constructed using massive oak timbers with iron bolts running the length of the walls, iron rods across the windows and heavy wooden doors reinforced with iron. The small structure saw a new neighbor when in 1855, the House of Corrections was moved from the Quaise Asylum and situated next to the Old Gaol. The House of Corrections was used for debtors, habitual drunkards, mentally ill, and juvenile prisoners—also used as a workhouse where debtors could ply their trades to pay their bills. It was no longer needed by 1933 and dismantled in 1954. Like with the old House of Corrections, the old jail saw its last prisoner in 1933, and sat underutilized (but surviving) until it was acquired by the Nantucket Historical Association in the 1940s and restored in 2013.
The First Congregational Church is one of Nantucket’s most prominent historic landmarks and is prominently located on a hilltop, being one of the first buildings you’ll see when arriving to the island by ferry. Constructed from a design by Samuel Waldron, a Boston housewright, the present church blends the Greek and Gothic Revival styles elegantly into a single composition. The interior of the church was painted with architectural trompe l’oeil paintings by E.H. Whitaker of Boston in 1852. The steeple was removed in 1849, likely from engineering concerns and high winds on the island. In 1968, the steeple was reconstructed from historic drawings by Philip Graves of Ames & Graves.
Located on the island of Nantucket, this barn, now known as Greater Light was built circa 1790. Although the exact date of construction is unknown, historic research indicates it was built sometime during the ownership of two early Macy family members who held the property between 1748 and 1814. The barn remained in the Macy family until 1866, when Zephaniah Macy (then in his eighties) sold the property with the barn to their neighbor David Folger. Folger most likely used the barn for his herd of milking cows. In the summer of 1929, Hanna and Gertrude Monaghan, two Quaker sisters, discovered the barn and saw it as a perfect structure to become their home and art studio when vacationing on the island. The sisters began working on the dilapidated building and set about transforming it into their own summer oasis, adorning it with cast-off architectural elements, decorative objects, and eclectic furniture. Hanna Monaghan, the surviving sister, bequeathed Greater Light and its contents to the Nantucket Historical Association in 1972. The building is open in the summers for visitors who can catch a glimpse at the spirit of Nantucket as an artist’s colony in the 1920s and beyond.