Did Step Lane originally have steps?

Yes. Nantucket once had at least three passageways with steps in them: Stone Alley, Break Neck Alley, and Step Lane.  Up until the Coffin Family Reunion of August 1881, cobbled Step Lane was described as containing “a veritable stairway” halfway between Centre Street and North Water Street.

Step Lane lost its steps as a consequence of the Coffin Reunion.  Just six months prior to the reunion, Nathan Chapman purchased a house on Step Lane and also a piece of nearby land down on North Water Street. His intention was to make his home in the house on Step Lane.

As hundreds of off-island Coffins began to seek accommodations for their August visit, however, every lodging house on the island was fully booked, and would-be visitors still without a place to stay sought rooms in private homes. Mr. Chapman was prevailed upon to take in some Coffin descendants, and he immediately saw a future business opportunity. He expanded his existing house and opened the Veranda House hotel the following summer.

This spelled the end of the steps in Step Lane. The Inquirer and Mirror reported that the “only regrettable incident” in the progress of Mr. Chapman’s business venture was “the necessary grading and filling up of old Step Lane in order that carriages and other vehicles might reach its veranda.”  The foundation of the new, improved Step Lane was said to have been “laid in the great Coffin Reunion.”

This was only the beginning of Mr. Chapman’s empire building. In 1883 he bought a house next door and connected it to his building, thereby enlarging his hotel capacity. The address of the hotel changed too. Step Lane was renamed Chapman Avenue.

F3660. August 1920, view looking east, of Sea Street at the intersection of North Water Street, from the lower veranda of Veranda House, on Step Lane.

In 1884, Nathan Chapman and partners proposed to build a skating rink down on a vacant lot on the corner of Sea Street and North Beach Street. But the next year fate intervened. In November 1895 Nathan Chapman died, and the property passed to his daughter, who carried on the hotel business.

The name Chapman Avenue did not stick. A letter to the Inquirer and Mirror in 1895 asserted, “Step Lane will always be Step Lane.”  (And for good measure the writer added, “Stone Alley is sacred as Stone Alley.”)  In 1903 abutting property owners made a request to the Board of Selectmen that Chapman Avenue be dropped, and “the name of that thoroughfare be changed to Step Lane, under which it was originally known.”

Having been renamed The Overlook for nearly sixty years, the hotel reverted to Veranda House in 2005 and is still in operation. The steps in the lane are long gone and the cobbles have been asphalted over, but the restored name Step Lane endures.

 

 

 

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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