Friends Meeting House History

7 Fair Street

Built 1838

In 1838, John Boadle opened the door to the new Friend’s Academy on Fair Street, a handsome purpose-built structure that would be his schoolhouse.

The two-story hip-roof building was sim­ple but functional, with a central door on the east side facing Fair Street, two windows at the second-floor level, and a chimney front and center. Two rows of tall windows on the north and south sides allowed light into the long school­rooms: on the first floor were the desks of the older scholars, while upstairs the primary students were instructed by Boadle’s assistant. An Englishman by birth, Boadle had been recommended for the job on Nantucket by Philadelphia Friends, and he arrived on Nantucket ready for the challenge. John, as he had his students call him, settled in — becom­ing one of the most beloved teachers in the history of island schools — and made the Fair Street schoolhouse his scholastic kingdom for almost twenty years.

The schoolhouse was reconfigured as a meeting house in 1865. Two thirds of the second floor was removed, leaving a balcony at the east end; simple bench pews saved from the old 1833 meeting house were added to the first floor; and a raised platform with bench seating at the west end of the room accommodated the elders. For almost three decades the old schoolhouse turned meeting house served as the site of quiet Quaker contemplation, but eventually only a handful of the faithful was left on the island.

In 1894, the meeting house was available for purchase. Many in the community were unaware of the history of the building, prompt­ing Henry S. Wyer to write a letter to the editor of the Inquirer and Mirror and lay out the facts, summing up with the statement, “Thus it is evident that the building was identified with the Friends for about 54 years, and is to all intents a landmark and a relic of them which should be preserved to futurity.” The Nantucket Historical Association had recently been organized, in May 1894, and members were actively searching for a “suitable place in which to store and exhibit the dona­tions and loans of antique and historical articles, which already began to come in.” Their June 25 meeting was held in the Friends Meeting House on Fair Street and new president, Dr. J. Sidney Mitchell, recom­mended buying the building in which the meeting was held, “. . . as an old and valuable landmark which would serve temporarily as the headquarters of the society, and the Council was authorized to pur­chase the same at once.” And so the Friends Meeting House, formerly John Boadle’s schoolhouse, became the first building owned by the Nantucket Historical Association, a place for meetings and for storing the donated material that was rapidly accumulating

Just three years after its inception, the NHA recognized the need for safe storage of the treasures in its care. Rather than buy­ing and “fitting up” a whaleship, an idea that was briefly considered but deemed too expensive, it was voted that the fund accumulating for that purpose be converted to a fund for “the most pressing need of the Association — the erection of a fire-proof building.” In 1904, one of the country’s early con­crete buildings took shape behind the Friends Meeting House.

The collection of artifacts and documents that had been growing for ten years was moved from the Friends Meeting House to the new fireproof building in 1905. Curator Susan E. Brock was happy to report that the most satisfactory part of the whole project was the restoration of the old meeting house to its former condition, as it appeared when the association purchased it in 1894, adding, “We hope to be able to preserve it forever, in its Quaker simplicity, as a type of the places of worship of our ancestors.”

The NHA has done just that, and the Friends Meeting House looks today very much the way it did in 1864.

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

Read the full history (PDF)

Learn more about the history of Quakers on Nantucket

View the Historic American Buildings Survey drawings

Banner image of Friends Meeting House, ca. 1905, showing the building after the NHA restored it to its meeting house appearance after removing the museum exhibits into the new fire-proof Fair Street Museum. Photograph by Henry S. Wyer. (GPN4313)

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.

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