Hadwen House History

96 Main Street

Built 1846

William Hadwen stood at the corner of Main and Pleasant Streets and watched the men frame his new house, the edifice that would announce to the town that he was a wealthy man with cosmopolitan tastes.

His stature as a businessman[, whale-oil magnate,] and philan­thropist was already known to most of the community, and this Greek reviv­al-style mansion would provide him and his wife, Eunice Starbuck, with grand accommodations for entertaining the is­land’s elite. And it would complement the three houses built across the street be­tween 1836 and 1838 by Eunice’s father, Joseph, for her three younger brothers.

Now, in 1845, William and Eunice Hadwen were building two houses — their own just two doors away from their housemates, and an equally impressive companion house at 94 Main where various family members, including Nathaniel and Eliza [Barney, William’s cousin and business partner and Eliza’s sister], would live.

With their colonnaded porticoes, the houses evoke Greek temples, one Ionic and the other Corinthian. Enclosed by a common fence and sharing a rear garden, the pair made a family compound like no other, as impressive as — if not more so than — the Three Bricks across the street, which were part of the family, too. What led William Hadwen to build such opulent houses in a style that was dramatically different from the ubiquitous shingled Quaker houses and the sedate Georgian bricks of the neighborhood can only be surmised. His personal taste — formed in Newport — was obviously incompatible with the local aesthetic. Local tradition tells us that Hadwen hired self-taught Nantucket architect Frederick Brown Coleman to design and oversee the construction of the houses. Other buildings attributed to Coleman include the First Baptist Church (1840); the portico of the Methodist Church (1840), and the Nantucket Atheneum (1847).

The Hadwen House is situated on elevated ground atop a high foundation, both for the imposing visual effect and to allow for a base­ment-level kitchen and informal dining room. Instead of the massive central chimney of earlier island architecture, four end-chimneys pro­vide fireplaces in the four rooms on each of the upper two floors. A double parlor separated by sliding doors is on the west side of the first floor along Pleasant Street, directly above the kitchen and informal dining room below. On the east side of the central hallway with its elegant stairway is a larger single formal parlor that originally extended the full length of the house but was later reduced to allow for a first-floor kitchen. Four bedchambers are on the second floor.

For all its massive appearance from the street, the house is not particularly commodious by today’s standards, but well-attended en­tertainments were held there in the nineteenth century.

Joseph [Barney] was the only son of Hadwen’s partner and cousin, and he inherited his uncle’s house at 96 Main when Eunice died two years after her husband, in 1864.

Joseph Barney owned the Hadwen House from 1864 to 1905. He was married to Malinda Swain, and they had four children. Like the Hadwens, the Barneys entertained on a grand scale. An extant seat­ing chart from a gathering in 1874 depicts an outsized oval table with forty seats, plus seven side tables seating two to five people each, and a sofa seating four — all in one of the double parlors on the first floor of the house.

In 1923, heirs of Joseph and Malinda Barney sold their grandparents’ house to Charles E. Satler of Pittsburgh. Satler and his wife, Maria, were summer residents of Nantucket, along with their daughter, Jean, and son, Karl. They expanded the house with a two-story addition to the southwest corner of the building, creating a breakfast room on the first floor behind the double parlor, an expanded bedroom on the second floor, plus a laun­dry room in the basement. The grand house was the Satler summer home for more than forty years. Jean Satler Williams, who was comfortably en­sconced in her own house across the street in the West Brick (97 Main), inherited the Greek-revival mansion in 1962, when her mother died. The next year she made a charitable gift of the property, and furnishings, to the Nantucket Historical Association as a memorial to the Satler family.

Beginning in 1964, the Hadwen House was opened to the public as a house museum, furnished as the Satlers left it. A major refurbish­ing took place in the 1990s, restoring the interior to an approximation of its mid-nineteenth-century appearance. The prominently situated iconic house reminds us of the privileged lives of Nantucket’s whale-oil magnates during the height of prosperity in the whaling era, when the prospect for continued success was still rosy and no one could imagine life on the island without whaling as the driving force at the center of it all.

Excerpt from the Nantucket Historical Association Properties Guide, Hadwen House by Betsy Tyler, 2015.

Read the full history (PDF)

View the Historic American Buildings Survey Drawings

Banner image of Hadwen House, ca. 1870s. Photograph by Charles H. Shute & Son (GPN-shute-50)

The mission of the Nantucket Historical Association is to tell the inspiring stories of Nantucket through its collections, programs, and properties.

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