Captain Russell Grey (Gray) was one of a handful of sea-captains who lived in Wharf Village, the downtown of present-day Marion, Massachusetts. The men would own ships that were docked in the harbor or in nearby New Bedford, and would leave for months-long excursions chasing whales, fish, or other treasures. Behind, they left their young wives and growing families, who braved the harsh New England winters and the unpredictable coastal weather events. This small cottage was built around 1845, for a young Russell Grey and his wife, Sarah Luce, who’s own family was full of mariners as well. The couple’s Greek Revival style cottage remains as one of the most charming in the village.
Luce-Bates House // c.1790
Captain Elisha Luce (1786-1850) was born in Massachusetts and from a young age, loved the sea. The son of Rowland Luce, Elisha spent his childhood in the family home (featured in the last post). Captain Luce moved into half of this double-house by 1813, right after his marriage to Jane Hiller, when he was 27 and she was 19. I don’t know many 27 year olds that could afford a house like this today! Captain Elisha E. Luce’s best known ship was the Persia, which made numerous profitable trade missions and whaling excursions from her home port of New Bedford. His wife, Jane died at the young age of 29, and he quickly remarried the next year to Lucretia Clark; they had three boys. In the other half of the home, Captain Noble Everett Bates who co-owned the schooner Marmion and went on his own voyages from his wharf in town. The home was locally known as the “Two Captains House”.
Briggs House // c.1850
This tiny half-cape house in Marion was built in the mid-19th century for Timothy Hiller Briggs (1822-1877), a whaler. Based on the Federal/Greek detailing on the house, it is also likely the home was built much earlier for Timothy’s father, Silas, a sea captain, and was willed to his only son upon his death in 1833. Timothy died at the young age of 54 and his widow, Josephine, maintained the cottage until her death in 1924! The home is a half-cape as it has an off-center door with two bays of windows at the facade. A full-cape would be symmetrical with a central door and two windows on either side. The central chimney would provide heat to all rooms in the cold winter months.
Richmond-Herreshoff House // c.1803
Located on Hope Street, just south of the downtown area of Bristol, Rhode Island, this beautiful Federal-style home overlooks the water, and once oversaw a large ship-building empire. The home was built by Lemuel Clarke Richmond (1782-1876), possibly in response to his marriage to Hannah Gorham in 1803. Richmond was a wealthy whaler who owned nearly twenty ships, including the Empress, a Bristol-built bark. The Federal style home features a five-bay facade with central entry. A modest portico surrounds the door which has a fan light transom above. Oh, and there are some gorgeous 12-over-12 windows on the home, at the ground floor the windows have flared lintels above. The home was sold by Richmond in the early 1850s and rented out to Charles and Julia Ann Herreshoff, who resided there with their eight children! It was here where sons John and Nathanael overlooked the water as young boys and became consumed by the beauty of the ships that sailed by their front yard. The brothers later ran the internationally renowned Herreshoff Manufacturing Company, which occupied land all around the home (and was featured previously). The home was acquired by the family in the 1860s, and often changed hands within the family over the next decades until it was inherited by Norman F. Herreshoff. A collector of Americana, Norman Hcrreshoff completed a series of renovations to the family home, including remodeling of the kitchen to be “old-fashioned” and replacement of the front porch with the small Ionic portico which we see today. The home is owned by the Herreshoff Marine Museum, but has seen better days.
Old Whaling Church // 1843
Methodists on Martha’s Vineyard arguably left the largest lasting mark between religious groups on the island between Wesleyan Grove in Oak Bluffs and this stunning church in Edgartown. The Methodists in Edgartown grew with the success of the whaling industry there and their former church was outgrown, requiring a larger and more prominent worshipping space in town. Designed by Frederick Baylies, Jr., the Old Whaling Church was built by skilled shipwrights for Edgartown’s Methodist whaling captains and is regarded as one of the finest examples of Greek Revival architecture in New England. The Old Whaling Church was not only funded by mariners and those dedicated to seafaring trades, it was quite literally built by them, too. Baylies hired a crew of local carpenters who were equally as skilled in building churches as they were in constructing ships. The church is topped by a Gothic Revival clock tower which has crenellations, rounded arches, engaged pilasters, dentil cornice moldings and four spires capped with gilded acanthus leaf finials. The church was acquired by the Vineyard Trust in 1980, and they converted the old sanctuary into a performing arts space. The congregation meets in the former sanctuary in the summer months and in the vestry in the winter with its smaller numbers.
Captain Valentine Pease House // c.1830
This charming little Greek Revival house has a lot of history, tied to literature and the whaling industry that shaped Edgartown in the 19th century. The home was built in around 1830 for Captain Valentine Pease (1797-1870), a master mariner and captain of the Acushnet, a prominent whaling vessel which often departed from New Bedford. In 1841, Captain Valentine Pease, his crew, and a 21-year-old Herman Melville shipped out of New Bedford 1841 for eighteen months as Melville’s only whaling voyage. Melville took part in the hunting and killing of whales and in harvesting and processing whale oil aboard ship. He endured gales and calm, experienced excitement and boredom, followed ship’s discipline, all the while absorbing the lore of the veteran seamen who made up the Acushnet’s diverse and colorful crew. It is speculated that Valentine Pease was an inspiration for the character of Captain Ahab in Melville’s book “Moby Dick”.
Captain Fisher House // 1892
Standing out amongst the Federal and Greek Revival homes in Edgartown, this Victorian home was constructed in 1892 by Captain Charles W. Fisher (1835-1905) for his new wife. The Fisher family includes many members who were active in the local whaling industry. Fisher is said to have caught the largest sperm whale on record in 1884 and apparently loved being on the open ocean. The next year he married Parnell Pease and she sailed with him to the Pacific on a whaling voyage, lasting five years! At the time of their marriage, Fisher was in his 50s and his new wife in her 20s. Upon their return, Fisher built his wife this “modern style house on the pretentious side with Victorian ornamentation.” Unfortunately, his wife preferred her former house, which was a block a way and obscured any views of the water. Tradition states that apparently, Mrs. Fisher had seen enough of the water during her voyage, as her diary on the five year trip detailed her many unfortunate bouts with sea-sickness, a stay on an island, and dangerous storms.
Captain Edward Penniman House // 1868
The Edward Penniman House is the finest example of Second Empire style in Eastham, and is one of the finest examples of this architectural style on Cape Cod. The grand home was designed and occupied in 1868 for Edward Penniman (1831-1913), one of the most successful whaling captains in New England.
Born in 1831 in Eastham, Edward Penniman set sail for the first time at age 11. The voyage was to the dangerous and unpredictable waters of the Grand Banks, a rich fishing ground off the coast of Canada’s Newfoundland. Nantucket had a flourishing whaling industry as early as the late 1600s, but it was New Bedford with its deep water harbor and railway system that would become New England’s whaling capital. In 1852 at the age of 21, Penniman would journey to New Bedford and sign on to his first whaling expedition. Later when Penniman became a captain he would select New Bedford as his home port setting sail seven times to hunt whales.
With whale over-harvested in the Atlantic along the shores of New England, whalers were forced to go further and further from home to hunt. Whaling expeditions often spanned three or four years, and it was not uncommon for wives and families of ship captains to go along on the trip. Penniman’s wife, Betsy Augusta Penniman, called “Gustie” by her husband, went on three such voyages often assisting with navigation and other shipboard matters. In addition, each of the three Penniman children accompanied their parents on various journeys with eldest son Eugene eventually becoming a whaling captain himself.
After the Captain’s death in 1913, Mrs. Penniman and their daughter, Betsey, continued to live in the home. Mrs. Penniman’s died in 1921. Betsey Penniman, who never married, stayed around and raised her niece, Irma. Upon Betsey’s death in 1957, the home was left to Irma Penniman Broun. Irma and her husband sold the house with twelve acres to the National Park Service in 1963 when the Cape Cod National Seashore was formed.