Welcome to the Hadwen House. It is a Greek Revival house completed in 1846 for one of Nantucket’s wealthiest whale oil merchants, William Hadwen. By the mid-1800s, this neighborhood along upper Main Street had become the place to live on Nantucket — close to downtown but just far enough away from the congestion of the harbor and the smell of whale oil being processed.
The most famous homes in this neighborhood – the three identical houses right across the street from us and nicknamed the “Three Bricks” – had just been completed in 1838. The whaling merchant Joseph Starbuck had built them for each of his three sons – George, Matthew and William –and, as it happens, these were Mr. Hadwen’s brothers-in-law.
But that’s just the middle of the story. The story begins in 1820 when Mr. Hadwen, a Rhode Island silver merchant, came to Nantucket to attend the wedding of his cousin, Nathaniel Barney, to one of the Joseph Starbuck’s three daughters, Eliza. At the wedding, William cast his eye on the bride’s older sister, Eunice, and the rest, as they say, is history. William Hadwen promptly moved to Nantucket, married Eunice and – after several years operating a retail store in town, decided the real future here was the whale oil business.
In 1829, William formed a partnership with Nathaniel Barney, the cousin whose wedding had brought him to Nantucket. Their first venture was the purchase of 100 Main Street – just two houses up the street from here – which, fortuitously, had a candle-making shop in the back yard. The two men and their wives – the two Starbuck sisters – lived at 100 Main Street for 17 years and became wealthier with each passing year as the candles and whale oil they produced were sold throughout the United States.
By 1845, Mr. Hadwen was so successful that he was ready to build his “dream house.” He had no intention of emulating the federal architecture of his brothers-in-law’s brick homes across the street. Instead, he decided upon a grand home in the Greek Revival style to be designed by Frederick Coleman, the local builder who had just put huge columns on the Methodist Church and would go on to design our beautiful Greek Revival Atheneum. So let’s go inside and have a look.
In the front hall, we can see the interior of the house is the traditional “center hall” design that became popular in New England starting about 1725. The chimneys are now placed along the outer walls of the house, , and the Hadwen House was large enough to warrant –four chimneys, two on each side of the house. On each side of the hall are two parlors, both of which originally extended the full length of the house and enabled the Hadwens to entertain visitors on a lavish scale.
Here in the hall, we see the Greek Revival motif in the scroll-shaped trim along the side of the winding staircase and in the pediments over each doorway, calling to mind an ancient Greek temple. The niche half-way up the stairway wall might have held a small piece of statuary or a vase in the Hadwen’s day.
How was the house decorated? We know from paint samples that all the interior trim was painted in a “warm white,” as was the outside of the house. We also know that every room in the house was wallpapered but, sadly, have no evidence as to what the wallpaper looked like.
On the hall floor, we have an oilcloth painted with a marble tile design and installed during a major renovation of the house in the 1990s. This was inspired by a reference in Mrs. Hadwen’s probate records to the oil cloth on her front hall. However, we do not know exactly what this very practical floor covering looked like.
This is the East Parlor – often used as a dining room – and believed to have originally extended the full length of the house – a distance of about 40 feet. It was the perfect location for a huge dinner party with friends and business associates! The kitchen was originally located in the basement, which was the customary arrangement for large houses on Nantucket when this house was built. The kitchen wasn’t brought upstairs until sometime after 1864, when the house was inherited by Joseph Barney, the Hadwen’s favorite nephew and the only son of Nathaniel and Eliza Barney. So today, the kitchen is now located on the other side of the rear dining room wall.
Today, this room displays furniture with a Nantucket connection. Some of it was made on Nantucket, which had its share of outstanding furniture makers during the prosperous second quarter of the 19th century.
The desk by the door was made in 1820 by Nantucketer Moses Folger. The two other pieces along the front dining room wall were made by Hemen Ellis, who made fine furniture here from about 1800 until 1814, when he left for Rhode Island during the economic downturn caused by the War of 1812. The elegant ladies writing desk and candlestand you see here – with their delicate veneers and inlaid flowers – are in the federal style. The writing desk was commissioned by Captain Seth Pinkham for his wife, Mary, and used in their Fair Street home.
The large round table in the middle of the room was also made in Nantucket, but in a later era. This table’s massive size and scrolled pedestal base are typical of the Empire style, which was often the chosen furniture style for Greek revival architecture. It was made by Shadrach Gifford in 1852 while he was living near here on Union Street. It contains 1,384 pieces of veneer from mahogany, satinwood, walnut, birch, curly maple, rosewood and other hardwoods.
The chairs arranged on the back dining room wall show off the skill of island makers and demonstrate Nantucketers’ changing tastes for over a century. On the lower shelf are two of the most popular chair styles once found on Nantucket: the ladder-back and the Windsor. The largest of these is a generous Nantucket Windsor armchair crafted by Frederick Slade, a young chairmaker who likely learned his trade from his father, Benjamin.
The upper shelf holds an eclectic mix of chairs that highlight different nineteenth-century design trends—from early Georgian and Empire styles on the left to later Gothic Revival and a mass-produced “Fancy” chair style on the right.
The handsome clock to the right of the chair display was created in 1790 by Nantucket’s most famous clock- and instrument-maker, Walter Folger, Jr. His most noteworthy clock – the astronomical clock — stands in the Whaling Museum and displays the day of the month, the year, the motion of the sun and moon, and the progression of the sun through the zodiac. The clock in the center is by Simon Willard of Roxbury, Massachusetts, while the one on the right is by Josiah Wood of New Bedford. Note the similarity between these two clocks’ cases; they were both probably made by Willard.
The West Parlor is a expansive room that displays the grandeur of the Hadwen House. It can be one, two, or three rooms, depending on whether the pocket doors are closed or open. When they are open, the doors are simply pushed into the walls on either side.
And there, right over the fireplace, is William Hadwen, whose portrait reflects his success in business. It was painted around 1850. The column behind his chair in the painting can be read as an echo of the columns on the front of this house.
His wife, Eunice Starbuck Hadwen, is shown in the painting between the two front windows. Eunice, who was born in 1799, was about 30 when this portrait was painted. She is fashionably dressed in a black dress. Note the lace collar, gold jewelry, and patterned shawl, items that previous generations in her family might have frowned upon due to their Quaker faith. She and her husband were Unitarians and felt no such constraints.
The colorful wallpaper and carpeting you see today were installed in 1992. We don’t know exactly what the original wallpaper looked like, so the paper for this room was chosen because of its similarity to a floral wallpaper once used in the parlor of 1 Pleasant Street around the corner, also designed by Frederick Coleman. We do know that – in the mid-1800’s — it was fashionable to decorate with vivid colors The use of bright colors and reflective surfaces – such as mirrors and the crystal fixtures you see on the fireplace mantle – took advantage of the flickering quality of whale-oil and coal-gas lighting, which this house had.
This carpeting is a close copy of a swatch of carpet found in the Middle Brick across the street. In our 1992 restoration, we had it replicated for installation here. And yes, the wealthy homeowner of the 1850’s often installed wall-to-wall carpeting. After all, then everyone else had hardwood floors!
The tall bookcase and desk was made in 1845 by cabinetmaker John Lefford, a Frenchman who settled on Nantucket. The desk was made for Dr. John B. King, who lived in a house on Union Street.
Here you’ll also find a small theater space where you can relax and watch a selection of films about the history of Nantucket lightship baskets, notable basket makers, and how Nantucket lightship baskets are made. These films complement the Nantucket lightship basket exhibition and workshop space on the second floor.
In the middle room of the West Parlor, we see paintings by William Swain, Nantucket’s most prolific and sought-after portrait artist of the 1830s. In 1824, when he was 21 years old, Swain opened a studio in his hometown of Newburyport, Massachusetts, and sought commissions in Nantucket, New Bedford, and New York City. He was enormously successful and painted more than 100 portraits on Nantucket alone. He went on the Grand Tour of Europe from 1841 to 1843 with Nantucketer Paul Mitchell, but died in 1847 in Norfolk, Virginia while working on a commission there, at the age of 44.
In this room, we see just a few of the 58 Swain portraits in our collection. Particularly noteworthy is he lovely family portrait over the fireplace showing Eliza Coffin and her two children.
At the center of the room, we see a grand parlor table in the Empire style, displaying a whale oil lamp made by Cornelius & Co. in 1843. Lamps like these would have been the primary light source in the Hadwen House prior to Mr. Hadwen’s installation of coal-gas lighting around 1855. And to the right of the fireplace, yet another piece of Empire furniture, this one with a mirror on the bottom to reflect light, add the illusion of depth to the room and – it is said — so the ladies could check their petticoats!
Between 1799 and about 1812, Nantucket merchants traded directly with Canton in China, exchanging fur-seal pelts gathered on the coast of South America for tea, nankeen cloth, silk, and porcelainwares. Examples of the popular Chinese blue-and-white porcelain appear here, on the middle shelf of the display on the outside wall. On the shelf right above it, you see the popular “Blue Willow” design, adapted from the Cantonese designs by Britain and American manufacturers. Chinese manufacturers themselves targeted the American market with porcelains embellished with the American eagle, as shown in the collection on the lower shelf. Truly, a growth market in its day!
On the top shelves of the other display case, don’t miss the guardian-lion candlesticks, decorated cider jugs, and other decorative ceramic items that Nantucket captains and their mates brought home as gifts for their families.
Note also the selection of our collection of pepper pots – shakers for pepper!
Welcome to the upstairs of the Hadwen House. Originally, the upstairs had four bedrooms, two on each side of the hall. In the late 1800’s, the Barney family expanded the rear of the house to add a fifth bedroom and space for two bathrooms.
We know that all these upstairs bedrooms originally had wallpaper, but no evidence remains of what these wallpapers might have looked like. The floors of the two front bedrooms are covered with Chinese seagrass matting, which was a popular choice for summer floor coverings when this house was built. In the winter, the wood floors would have been covered with rugs, and heavier curtains would have been hung throughout the house for additional warmth.
As you will see, most of the upstairs is devoted to celebrating our affiliation with the Nantucket Lightship Basket Museum, which was formerly located on Union Street.
Here in the hallway you can see the countertops, display cases and other materials from the workshop of José Formoso Reyes, a native of the Philippines who revolutionized the form and meaning of Nantucket baskets in the mid-twentieth century, during the three-and-a-half decades he lived on Nantucket. During his career he created hundreds of baskets. In the cases you can see examples of both finished and unfinished ivory basket ornamentation samples. Buyers could personalize their basket with these pieces or commission a custom piece.
You will see more examples of Reyes’ innovative and influential work in the West Front Bedroom after you explore the origins and early development of Nantucket Lightship baskets in the East Front Bedroom to your right.
This room contains Nantucket baskets ranging from the earliest ones in the museum’s collection, to those made on board South Shoals Lightship, and baskets made during the late 19th and first half of the 20th centuries when a robust cottage industry based on making baskets for the tourist trade blossomed.
The baskets in the center case were made by Rowland Folger, the earliest identified weaver of Nantucket-type baskets. While Folger is the earliest known maker, the similarity between his work and the baskets that followed indicates that the form was already well established.
To the right of the door you entered are baskets made aboard South Shoal Lightship. Between 1855 and 1900, sailors on board this lightship made baskets that were sold in local souvenir shops and became identified with all baskets of this type, even attaching the moniker “lightship basket” to the form. However, not all baskets were made for sale as souvenirs. The fruit basket made by Captain Thomas James shows that even in the 19th century weavers were experimenting with different shapes and designs, a trend usually associated with the present day.
The remainder of the baskets in this room were made as part of the cottage industry that grew to meet the needs of Nantucket’s growing resort economy, culminating with baskets made by Clinton “Mitchy” Ray, a prolific weaver who is one of the best-known craftsmen from this era. In addition, an early purse basket made in the 19th century by Ray’s grandfather Charles B. Ray presents a lidded form that Jose Reyes adapted and popularized in the 1950’s, redefining lightship baskets.
This room explores the work of José Reyes (whose workshop you saw on the landing) as well as the basket makers that followed in his footsteps. Some of these individuals, like Reyes, continued to produce baskets similar to those made in the past, reviving the cottage industry that fueled basket making during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Others continued to experiment, expanding the form with radical designs, complex weaving techniques, and increasingly rare materials.
The case in the center of the room shows the diversity of Jose Reyes’ work. Reyes was born in 1902 in the Philippines and moved to Nantucket after serving in World War II. He began making baskets when, due to discrimination, he was unable to obtain a teaching job at Nantucket High School – despite a master’s degree in education from Harvard. After experimenting with several designs for women’s handbags, he settled on the iconic style that features a wooden top-plate embellished with a wooden or ivory carving. While best known for his purse baskets, which he named Friendship baskets, he also produced many baskets in traditional styles. Some of these baskets are displayed here and show his experimentation with the design, including square baskets with a purse-like cloth insert and a basket with a fully woven top.
Around the perimeter of the room are examples of work by weavers in both traditional styles and those that are expanding on the form. On the more traditional side, are baskets made by several notable weavers, including a purse basket made by John Kittila in 1952, who is the last known person to weave a basket aboard South Shoal Lightship. However, the majority of the baskets displayed illustrate how the lightship basket from became increasingly elaborate as weavers experimented with technically difficult weaving styles, varied shapes, and increasingly rare materials. These baskets range from purse baskets adorned with ivory and other precious items, to miniature baskets which highlight the weavers’ skill
The art of making Nantucket baskets has even found its way into outer space. Beside the front window, you can see the three miniature baskets astronaut Daniel Bursch made during his trip into space in 2002. He made the miniature baskets you see here in the International Space Station.
Welcome to our Basket Weaving Workshop! Every day but Sunday, the Nantucket Lightship Basket Museum offers demonstrations on basket weaving. As you will see, all you need are four things:
- a basket mold to determine the shape of the basket,
- a solid wooden base,
- rattan staves, the sturdy vertical pieces traditionally made from the rattan palm, and
- cane made of rattan or other materials to weave around the staves.
Today (unless it is Sunday), the weaver will let you try basket weaving yourself! And you will join the company of the lightship crewmen who worked this art form on the high seas, astronaut Daniel Bursch as he made on his miniature baskets in outer space, and even local bank manager William Chadwick, who took up basket weaving to pass the time in the Old Nantucket Gaol after he was imprisoned in 1885 for embezzlement!
This room features several late 19th century maps from the NHA’s collection that were created to promote speculative “cottage cities” across the island. Most of these plans were commissioned by enterprising on- and off-islanders who hoped to capitalize on Nantucket’s growing appeal as a summer resort.
The 1874 “Map of Nantucket” you see reproduced at the bottom of the exhibition’s introduction shows names and locations of the developments featured in this map exhibit. Sited on sand bars and remote stretches of beachfront, most failed to attract buyers and none were built as proposed.
On your left is a large “Map of the Village of Siasconset” dated 1888, created by Harry Platt, a native of Georgia who sold views of the island in his town shop. It gives a detailed view of ‘Sconset, Nantucket’s original summer outpost on the island’s far eastern shore. The village offered a range of amenities which are identified in the map’s key, making it a magnet for seasonal development. On the southern edge of the village, you can see the terminus of the Nantucket Railroad, which was extended to ’Sconset in 1884, and the Ocean View House hotel and restaurant, which anchored the Sunset Heights development for decades (on your right is the 1873 plan for the Sunset Heights venture).
Just beyond the fireplace is the small “Plan of Great Neck,” which is just one section of the much larger plan on its right, the “Subdivision of Madaket, Great Neck, and Smith’s Point” from 1873. Named the “City of the Sea” by its founder, Worcester-based architect Stephen D. Tourtellot, this development was proposed for the far western edge of the island and shows thousands of tiny house lots along curving streets that stretch over the area’s many waterways. Less than a year after launching this ambitious plan, its designer passed away unexpectedly, and the proposal foundered. Today, most of this area is underwater.
Nearby is one of Nantucket’s most notorious failed subdivisions—beautifully illustrated in the large “Map of Surf-Side” dated 1873. It shows a fantastical development of 480 building lots with graceful curving streets … a perfect place to build your “seaside cottage.” Efforts to spur interest included creating a railroad line, and even bringing a second-hand hotel from the mainland, but the dream languished. In the end, fewer than 30 lots were sold and not one cottage was built.
Although the speculative schemes of 19th-century boosters failed, Nantucket’s appeal as a summer resort never waned, and islanders’ eagerness to embrace real estate ventures has been proven spectacularly successful in the long run.
In the center of this room, we see a variety of walking sticks, many of them made by whalemen using the bones and teeth of sperm whales. In the case on the wall, there is a set of 12 napkin rings carved by one whaler during the 1854-58 voyage of ship Oliver Crocker of New Bedford, commanded by Nantucketer Capt. Robert McCleave. The rings later formed part of Eliza McCleave’s private museum on Main Street.
Other items on display are a low-relief carving by James Walter Folger, several handsome decoys, and that whimsical Nantucket favorite – the sailor boy whirligig!
We invite you to stroll through the formal garden behind the Hadwen House. The Hadwens and their neighbors along upper Main Street were intrigued by gardens, and a formal garden was thought to be the perfect enhancement to their grand homes.
Elaborate garden plans were drawn. Unusual plants and rare species were collected, installed, and admired at garden parties and other gatherings.
Often, the inspiration for those gardens – and sometimes even the plants – came from Europe. Nantucketers traveling in Europe wrote letters home that included descriptions of the gardens and parks they visited, and the unique flora encountered. Root cuttings and plants were packaged carefully in barrels and sent back to America. Greenhouses were constructed to nurture delicate specimens through the winter. Upper Main Street on Nantucket was a gardener’s delight!
So please step back in time and enjoy the Hadwen garden.