Folger’s Marsh on Polpis Road is one of Nantucket’s beauty spots. Who is it named for?

On the 1869 Ewer map, the area today known as Folger’s Marsh is only identified by the creek running through it, labeled “Fulling Mill Creek.” The first mention of Folger’s Marsh in The Inquirer and Mirror does not appear until 1938 and then not again until the 1970s, when it is associated with the site of the Nantucket Shipwreck & Lifesaving Museum. This suggests that the name is recent and might refer to Dr. George Arthur Folger, who owned land adjacent to the marsh on its west side.

This is not the case. In a 1951 hand-written report on the area, Bassett Jones refers to the creek that had been known as Fulling Mill Creek as “Folger’s Run.” The folder containing the manuscript is, however, labeled “Folger’s Creek.” This leads to numerous references to “Joe Folger,” a farmer who owned a large tract of land in Polpis encompassing the back end of Folger’s Marsh. On the 1858 Waller Map, “J. M. Folger” is printed alongside the marsh. The farm appears as number 5 on the 1946 Map of Nantucket Farms by William E. Gardner and J. Gibbs. This land was eventually owned by Harry Gordon.

In 1918 The Inquirer and Mirror reported that a hill in Polpis had begun to be called Gordon’s Hill, but it had been known previously as Folger’s Hill for Joe Folger. In 1918 the newspaper reported on “Farmer Joe Folger’s cow,” and the following year identified Mrs. Mary G. Gary as “Joe Folger’s daughter.” “Joe Folger’s flat up harbor” was mentioned in 1930. Folger’s Creek appeared in The Inquirer and Mirror in 1933 and 1936. In 1969 the newspaper specifically referred to “Folger’s Creek in Polpis” and in 1970, in an article about the future Life Saving Museum, located the site next to “Joe Folger’s Creek.”

In 1955, there is a reference to “Joe Folger’s Farm now owned by Harry Gordon.” There are additional mentions from the 1960s up to 1980 to Joe Folger’s Creek, Joe Folger’s Hill, and Joe Folger’s meadows.

There have been a number of Joseph Folgers. A couple of them died at sea. A couple more moved off-island. One was Overseer of the Poor. Who was the Polpis farmer? Joseph M. Folger (1815–1895) and his son Joseph M. Folger Jr. (born 1855) are the Folgers in question.

At the beginning of the 1850s Joseph M. Folger Sr. was one of the town’s field drivers in charge of impounding stray sheep and cows on the commons. In 1854 he purchased the Quaise farm of his uncle Hiram Folger (one of several Hiram Folgers), who had died childless in 1850. In the years after his purchase of the property, Joseph M. Folger Sr. invited one and all to old-fashioned corn husking parties “on his fine farm.” From then on, he was frequently in Agricultural Society news, entering his livestock in competitions, participating in plowing contests, and making donations to the annual agricultural fair. Nonetheless, he offered the farm—complete with dwelling house, barns, slaughter house, peat house, and other outbuildings—for sale in 1862.

Thereafter Joseph M. Folger Sr. operated a meat market in town and a slaughterhouse at the head of Old North Wharf. Joseph M. Folger Jr. joined his father in the butchery business. Joe Jr. was described as a strong man whose ability “to fell an ox was an awesome thing.”

When the Shipwreck & Lifesaving Museum was under construction, there were still people who recalled that the land on which it was being built and the marsh that lies alongside had once belonged to Joe Folger, but since then the association of the place with a former land owner has slipped into obscurity.

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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