99 Main Street
Built ca. 1800, Remodeled and expanded, 1832
Eunice Coffin Macy (1788–1843) was pleased to move from her husband Thomas’s rather modest home on Summer Street to a larger and more stylish house at 99 Main Street.
The daughter of Zenas Coffin, one of the island’s wealthiest whale-oil merchants, Eunice married Thomas Macy in 1824, shortly after his first wife died. He brought four young children to the marriage and she brought the promise of an inheritance, received in 1828. From her father’s extensive estate she acquired, among other bequests, the eighteenth-century Valentine Swain house on upper Main Street, in a prime location at the “Court End” of town, but it was no more stylish than their house on Summer Street. By 1832, however, she and Thomas were remodeling, creating an elegant house that almost replicated her sister Lydia Coffin Crosby’s house at 90 Main. It would establish the Macys as one of the leading families of the neighborhood, joining all of Eunice’s siblings who had built new homes or, like Thomas and Eunice, remodeled old ones in the early 1830s: Henry and Charles G. Coffin at 75 and 78 Main Street; Henry Swift (Mary Coffin’s widower) at 91 Main Street; Matthew Crosby (Lydia Coffin’s widower) at 90 Main Street; and Matthew and Lydia’s daughter, Ann Crosby, at 86 Main Street. The Coffins claimed Main Street a decade before Joseph Starbuck’s sons moved into the Three Bricks at 93, 95, and 97 Main Street.
Mary Macy Hussey inherited the house at 99 Main from her father in 1864; but did not occupy the house, and in fact sold it to her stepbrothers Isaac and Philip in 1871. Philip and his wife, Susan, lived there for thirty years, and after them, their daughter Mary Eliza Macy became a fixture of upper Main Street for another thirty years.
Mary Eliza bequeathed her family home with all its furnishings and contents to [her cousin] Ella H. Still of Passaic, New Jersey, in 1931. One wonders about the condition of the house after Mary Eliza’s long tenure; her resistance to modernization probably ensured that the house was not much changed on the interior from its original appearance, with perhaps the addition of modern plumbing and heating. Exterior photographs, as well as Sanborn Insurance Company maps, show that the exterior of the house remained unchanged except for a few minor alterations.
Ella’s daughters inherited the house, which they sold two years later to Flora K. Todd of Easton, Maryland. Their tenure at the house was brief. A notice of the sale of the Macy house in 1945 states:
Mr. and Mrs. Charles S. Todd, who have been summer residents of Nantucket for several years, have purchased the Thomas Macy House on Main Street. Known to artists and architects as the house with “the beautiful doorway,” this typical Nantucket dwelling of the early 1800s has been sketched and photographed more than any other island house, with the possible exception of the Oldest House on Sunset Hill. . . . Mr. and Mrs. Todd are deeply interested in Nantucket and are happy to be the new owners of this fine old island dwelling.
The Todds sold 99 Main to Jacqueline Garda Stephens Harris (1892–1979) two years later. 99 Main Street would be her home until she died there in 1979 at the age of eighty-seven. In 1965, she welcomed the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) to 99 Main. The HABS report on alterations and additions to the house mentions nothing after Thomas Macy’s major remodeling in the 1830s, so any changes made subsequently were either considered minor or occurred after 1965.
Jacqueline’s daughter, Sallie Gail Harris Tupancy, and son-in-law, Oswald (“Tup”), inherited the Thomas Macy House and made it their home, with the understanding that it was Jacqueline’s wish that the property eventually be donated to the Nantucket Historical Association. Oswald observed that the absence of an endowment for the NHA’s Hadwen House was the reason that maintenance and repairs were not always timely, and he had no intention of subjecting 99 Main Street to the same fate. He set up the Tupancy-Harris Foundation of 1986 to provide funds for the permanent maintenance of the Thomas Macy house. All costs associated with the house—from major repairs to insurance, landscaping, and housekeeping—are provided by the foundation.
In 1987, the NHA became the owner of the Macy house. After repairs and improvements to house and grounds, a plan for the use of the property was formulated. A staff apartment was created in the second-floor ell, the first-floor kitchen was expanded to make it suitable for catering large gatherings, and the little Harris greenhouse addition on the first floor was turned into a service bar. The Thomas Macy House became the NHA’s site for gracious entertaining and accommodation; visiting scholars and lecturers are provided with lodging there, and the small apartment has provided housing for various staff members over the years. Thanks to the foresight of Jacqueline Harris and her daughter and son-in-law, the house that was fashioned into its Federal-style grandeur by sophisticated Quaker businessman Thomas Macy has been preserved in a streetscape of equally stately homes.
Excerpt from the Nantucket Historical Association Properties Guide, Thomas Macy House by Betsy Tyler, 2015.
Banner image of Thomas Macy House, ca. 1920s. (F402)