At the peak of Nantucket’s whaling industry wealth, the island began to see new brick buildings and whaling mansions that symbolized the stability and success of the town. In 1821, Frederick W. Mitchell (1784-1867), acquired this property on Main Street, demolishing the previous wood-frame house on the site, in preparation for his own mansion. Frederick Mitchell was a successful whaling merchant and one-time president of the Pacific National Bank. Mitchell was married twice but left no children from either marriage. The house remained in the Mitchell family until 1889 when it sold it to Caroline Louisa Williams French (1833-1914) of Boston, who summered on Nantucket until her death in 1914. A devout Episcopalian, French gifted this house to St. Paul’s Church in Nantucket for use as a Parish House. The church deaccessioned the house, and it eventually sold in 1962 to Walter Beinecke (1918-2004) acquired the house for his home. A central figure in the preservation and revival of Nantucket in the second half of the 20th century, Beinecke sought to preserve the island and reduce the damage done by tourism by creating a higher-priced resort that would reduce the number of day tourist and aim at increasing the number of wealthy tourists who would come as summer residents or for extended visits. Working towards this goal, Beinecke acquired large numbers of buildings (more than 150) in the commercial core of the town as personal investments through his private company Sherburne Associates, restoring many. The house is one of the finest examples of late-Federal residential architecture on the island with its recessed entry and fanlight transom, symmetrical five bay facade, decorative parapet and belvedere at the roof.
Nantucket Architecture Features
Eliza Starbuck Barney House // 1873
Another of the less common Victorian-era houses on Nantucket is this beauty located right on Main Street, named after its first owner. Eliza Starbuck was the third child of Joseph Starbuck and Sally Gardner, a Nantucket family that had become wealthy in the whale oil industry. At 18, Eliza married Nathaniel Barney and despite their wealth, the couple shared a home with Eliza’s sister, Eunice, and her husband William Hadwen. The husbands became business partners, opening a whale oil refinery on the site of the current Nantucket Whaling Museum. This house was built around 1873 for Eliza Starbuck Barney after the death of her husband. Mrs. Barney is best known as an abolitionist, a temperance and women’s suffrage advocate, and a local genealogist. The home is a fine example of Italianate-style architecture. Note the round-arch or Roman windows and bracketed cornice typical of the style.
Fosdick-Calder Double House // c.1745
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.
George C. Gardner House // c.1834
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!
Gorham Hussey House // c.1820
This Colonialized Federal period house sits just down Vestal Street from the Maria Mitchell Association campus on the ever-charming island of Nantucket. The home was built around 1820 for Gorham Hussey (1797-1879), who would have been around 23 at the time. He married Lydia Macy in 1820 and the couple had twin daughters that same year, likely right after this house was completed (talk about a busy year)! The home was later owned by photographer John W. McCalley, who photographed this and other houses in the area. The home retains a high-style Colonial Revival fanlight over the door, likely added in the first three decades of the 20th century as colonial homes were romanticized.
Lydia S. Hinchman House // c.1819
This late Federal style house on Nantucket was built in the early nineteenth century for Thomas Coffin, who himself acquired the land in 1818, which would date the home to around 1819. The Federal house exhibits a raised basement with a five bay facade with central entrance. The door is surrounded by sidelights and transom with Classical enframement. Like many houses on Nantucket, the house is clad with cedar shingles. After ownership by Thomas Coffin, the property passed through numerous hands until 1929, when the house was purchased by Lydia S. Hinchman (1845-1938). Lydia deeded the property to her son requesting that it go to the Maria Mitchell Association upon his death (Lydia was a first cousin of Maria Mitchell). He died in 1944, and the property transferred soon after to the Maria Mitchell Association which was founded in 1902 to preserve the legacy of Nantucket native astronomer, naturalist, librarian, and educator, Maria Mitchell.
Grindell Gardner House // 1772
In 1772, Grindell Gardner built this Georgian gambrel-roofed house on land which was part of a large tract formerly owned by his
grandfather, Abel Gardner, whose own home sits a stone’s throw away. The charming Cape house is of an unusual type, having the gambrel on the front side only which slopes to a sort of saltbox at the rear, which originally contained the summer kitchen and a water closet. The house was altered in the 1890s with the addition of dormer windows and the removal of the original large central chimney, which was removed prior to the new dormers. By the 1960s, the house had only been owned by four families.
Turner House – Nantucket Cottage Hospital // 1800
In around 1800, Baker Turner built this beautiful Federal period home on Nantucket. It typifies the best parts of Nantucket architecture: gray weathered shingles, charm and simplicity. Over 100 years after the house was built, the property became significant as a facility for saving lives. The Nantucket Cottage Hospital was founded in 1911, conceived by the visions of Dr. John S. Grouard (who lived nearby) and Dr. Benjamin Sharp, to provide centralized high-quality medical services to the residents on the island. There had been no hospital on the island beforehand. The duo bought the former Turner homestead in 1912 and moved in. The hospital was eventually outgrown, and the hospital relocated to a modern building on available land in the 1950s. This building was sold and now appears to be a home, full circle.