Nantucketers developed the island’s first amenities for tourists in the late 1840s. In the late 1860s, they began concerted efforts to advertise Nantucket as an ideal “watering place.” A rush of hotel building and land speculation followed in the 1870s and 1880s, setting in motion an economy based on real estate sales, land development, and construction. Today, nearly all of the island’s economic activity, including house sales, building, landscaping, and hospitality services—even fishing for the bay scallop—is driven by the needs and demands of the summer resort.
Learn more about the island`s resort economy in the NHA`s exhibition Summer on Nantucket: A History of the Island Resort at the Whaling Museum, at 13 Broad Street, open daily, 10am–5pm.
Image Credits: Waiting at Steamboat Wharf, ca. 1928 Courtesy of Joan Wilson Godeau and Vivian Wilson Richardson, SC642-14-5...
It may be the last day of summer, but the season lives on in our featured exhibition, Summer on Nantucket: A History of the Island Resort. See it now through November 1 at the Whaling Museum, 13 Broad Street, open daily, 10am–5pm.
Containing more than 200 artifacts from the NHA collection, this exhibition tells the story of Nantucket as a summer destination, from the opening of the first tourist hotels in the 1840s to the multi-billion-dollar real-estate, construction, and rental economy of today.
The exhibit begins with “Impressions of Summer,” a feast of paintings, trade signs, souvenirs, and other items capturing the flavor of Nantucket in high season. “The Resort Economy” traces the island’s transition from a whaling port to a vacation spot. “Must See, Must Do” explores beach and water recreation, entertainment and dining, and changing tourist activities across more than a century. “Where to Stay?” demonstrates how summer-home options have changed as more of the island has been developed. “Who’s Here?” features new acquisitions from the NHA’s costume and textile collections showing island summer fashions.
“It’s Not All Roses” recognizes the hard work seasonal employees and year-round residents put into making summer happen for everyone and explores some of the downsides to the island’s popularity and success: crowding, traffic, housing insecurity, and economic inequality. The exhibit concludes with “Winter,” a look at the continuation of island life after the crowds depart....
For centuries, a sandbar blocked the entrance to Nantucket harbor, hindering the passage of heavily laden vessels above a certain size. As early as 1827, islanders discussed using a mobile dry dock to float ships over the bar, based on a Dutch invention, the “ship camels,” from more than a century before. Shipping merchant Peter Folger Ewer (1800–55) revived the idea and, in early 1841, hired boatbuilders John G. Thurber and Jesse Crosby to make this working model, complete with a sample ship, to demonstrate the concept and attract investors.
The camels comprised two separate flat-bottomed hulls, each 135 feet long, linked by submerged chains. Positioned around a vessel and drawn together by the chains, the hulls would be pumped out, raising the assembly and its burden high enough to be towed across the bar by a steamboat. Each hull had a steam plant to power windlasses, pump, and a four-horsepower engine driving a propeller. The model shows the windlasses used to haul the chains, but the propellers, rudders, and smokestacks that were aboard the real camels are not shown, perhaps because they were not yet part of the design when this model was made.
Successfully funded and built, the full-sized camels carried their first ship over the bar in September 1842. They operated until 1849, by which time the reduced whaling traffic in the harbor could not sustain their expense. They were broken up in 1853.
The model of the Nantucket marine camels can be seen at the Whaling Museum`s Candle Factory, at 13 Broad Street, open daily, 10am–5pm.
Image Credit: Models of the Nantucket Marine Camels and the ship Wm. H. Harrison, 1841 Thurber & Crosby, Nantucket. Painted wood, 13½ x 92¼ x 59½ in. (camels), 501/2 x 100 x 20 in. (ship) Gift of the Nantucket Atheneum, 2020.26.2–.3...
The baskets pictured here are the work of Rowland Folger (1803–1883), the earliest identified maker of what we now call lightship baskets.
Folger was a shopkeeper and does not appear to have gone to sea. The earliest surviving examples of his work may date from the 1840s—well before crewmen on the South Shoal lightship began weaving baskets at sea. While we do not know if Folger invented the form, his work indicates that it was already highly developed by the time they started being made aboard the lightship.
Check out our Nantucket Lightship Baskets exhibit at Hadwen House to see this basket on display. Open Mon–Sat, at 96 Main Street, 11am–4pm, through October 9.
Image Credit: Nest of three baskets Hardwood, cane Gift of Samuel Shipley, A2012.2.1–.3...
On this day in Nantucket history, Rev. Louise Southard Baker died in 1896. Born in 1846, Baker was the only daughter of Arvin and Jerusha Baker. For many years the family lived in the James Easton House on Orange Street. A former teacher, Baker was engaged as the minister of the North Church (First Congregational Church) in 1880. After four years, the church found her ministry and preaching "most acceptable" and voted unanimously to grant her the right to administer the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord`s Supper, to admit members of the Church, and to perform all duties of the ministerial service. After her ordination, she refused several calls from other churches.
Louise Baker had a deep interest in literature. In 1893, she published a volume of her collected poems entitled "By the Sea". The majority of the poems are about Nantucket, and the book was illustrated by Alexander H. Seaverns. She also wrote a book of fiction, Eunice Hussey: A Nantucket Story, which was published, forty years after her death, by The Inquirer and Mirror. In a foreword by I&M editor Harry Turner, he said, "This book is published as a memorial to a woman who filled the pulpit of the First Congregational Church from 1880 to 1888, who contributed much, both in prose and poetry, to Nantucket literature, and who lived and died a woman of wonderful character, who kindly face and loving manner left its impression on all who knew her."
Edit: publication date corrected
Image Credit: Reverent Louise Baker (portrait), January 1883 Glass plate negative, 4" x 5" GPN1558...
Nantucket ceased to be a competitive whaling port in the 1840s and 1850s, due to its shallow harbor entrance and the development of railroads on the mainland. As the whaling industry collapsed, people and investment moved away. The residents who stayed sought new ways to survive. Farming, sheep-raising, and cranberry-harvesting increased. The disused Friends meeting house on Main Street became a straw-hat factory in 1853, and investors established a mackerel fishing fleet in 1864. None of these ventures filled the void. Only the gradual and intentional development of the island as a summer resort proved capable of generating meaningful economic impact.
Learn more in the NHA`s exhibition Summer on Nantucket: A History of the Island Resort at the Whaling Museum, at 13 Broad Street, open daily, 10am–5pm.
Picking cranberries, ca. 1900 Gift of James O. Stokes, A98-45d
Cranberry rake Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Marland Rounsville, 1971.13.1
Straw hat Gift of Preservation Institute Nantucket, 1986.137.2
Sheep shears used on Nantucket, ca. 1850 Gift of Ann M. Coleman, 1895.189.1
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The Nantucket Historical Association preserves and interprets the history of Nantucket through its programs, collections, and properties, in order to promote the island’s significance and foster an appreciation of it among all audiences.