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!
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.
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.
There is so much to love about this house! The lot here was purchased by Paul Macy and Gideon Folger in 1807, and they had this house built on the site that year. Paul Macy and, Gideon Folger were two major shareholders in the ill fated whaling schooner “Essex”. In 1820, while at sea in the southern Pacific Ocean under the command of Captain George Pollard Jr., the ship was attacked and sunk by a sperm whale. Thousands of miles from the coast of South America with little food and water, the 20-man crew was forced to make for land in the ship’s surviving whaleboats. The men suffered severe dehydration, starvation, and exposure on the open ocean, and the survivors eventually resorted to eating the bodies of the crewmen who had died. When that proved insufficient, members of the crew drew lots to determine whom they would sacrifice so that the others could live. Seven crew members were cannibalized before the last of the eight survivors were rescued, more than three months after the sinking of the Essex. This ordeal was inspired Herman Melville to write his famous 1851 novel Moby-Dick. The Folger House was owned for some time by Walter Folger, a lawyer who served in the state senate.
Another of Nantucket’s old Colonial homes is the Abel Gardner House, which was built in 1733 by its namesake. The saltbox Georgian house was constructed on a large plot of land which was farmed for some time by the Gardner family. Decades later, a portion of the estate was subdivided for the erection of a home for Abel’s grandson, Grindell. The Abel Gardner House was eventually owned by Caleb Gardner and became known as Wisteria Lodge for the climbing wisteria vines up the facade and on arbors. I can only imagine how glorious this colonial would be covered in purple!
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.