There's a romance to towns with a story, a whisper that pulls you in and invites you to find the secrets that lay hidden in history's folds. The little seaside town of Nantucket, with its nostalgic dressed streets and threads of whaling history woven into the fiber of the day is such a town.
If you're like me, the first thing you think of when you hear the name "Nantucket" is the classic novel Moby Dick. It is believed Herman Melville wrote the whaling story based on the real-life tragedy of the whaleship, Essex. Ironically, all the key elements; Nantucket, Captain Pollard, and the Pequod whale-ship were brought to life without Melville having ever been to sea or Nantucket Island. After the publication of Moby Dick (1851), Melville finally visited the island and met face-to-face with the captain of the Essex, George Pollard Jr.
History of the island
Like many of the New England townships, the Wampanoag Indians were the islands' first inhabitants. In 1602, 18 years before the pilgrim's arrival, Bartholomew Gosnold, an English explorer, and privateer discovered the island. Credited for making the first documented European visit to Cape Elizabeth and for naming Cape Cod and Martha's Vineyard, Gosnold moved on to settle Jamestown, where he would die five years later. Nantucket was later purchased by Thomas Mayhew in 1641, but was not settled until 1659 when Thomas Macy led a group of Quakers to establish a new settlement. The Jethro Coffin House, which I will share about later, is the oldest house still standing on Nantucket Island and was built in 1686.
Nantucket, just south of Cape Cod, joins with the small islands of Tuckernuck and Muskeget (gotta love the names) to make up the Town of Nantucket, and the coterminous Nantucket County. Boasting a population of 10,172 (2010 census) Nantucket's primary livelihood is tourism. While the little town sees almost 50,000 tourists each summer, the romance of this town is its authenticity. In fact, in 1966 Nantucket was designated by the National Historic Landmark District as being the "finest surviving architectural and environmental example of a late 18th- and early 19th-century New England seaport town."
The Brant Point Lighthouse with its sandy beaches and long wooden walkway greets arriving boaters and offers a quiet retreat for those seeking solace. The shanty shoreline weaves gently into the town with narrow cobblestone streets and century-old buildings.
Yes, it was definitely a buying haven for tourists, but if you came to learn its story, Nantucket was rich with narrative.
Capturing the bigger picture of what it was like to be a whaling community was found at the Nantucket Whaling Museum, an easy walk from the harbor. It was by far the best we've visited in the New England ports.
Old house(s) of America
Of course, with Tad being a builder, the Jethro Coffin House rose to the top of our Nantucket agenda. Built in 1686 as a wedding gift for Jethro Coffin (1663–1727) and Mary Gardner (1670–1767), the house represents the unity of two of the island’s oldest families. It is believed to be the oldest residence on Nantucket still on its original site. It was interesting to see how much has changed in the building of a home, and how much has stayed the same.
And why "houses" is plural!
I say houses, as The Fairbanks House is also a historic home which Tad visited with his father in 1965. Built in 1637, the house is the oldest surviving timber frame house in North America. We have a sketch of it in the hall of our home.
If it interests you, here is a video put to a poem by Mary Fairbank Brock.
We moored at the Nantucket Moorings, which was perfect for our short stay. They provide launch service until September 11th at a charge of $6.00 per person. If you prefer a slip, there is the nearby Nantucket Boat Basin. They also own The Cottages At Nantucket should you have friends visiting or don't want to stay on your boat.
Being from the west coast, we are throughly enjoying glimpses into the origin of our country!