Things You Might Not Know About Nantucket

Nantucket is a small island located about 30 miles south of Cape Cod, accessible only by airplane or boat. It’s charming, in its New England way, with cobblestone, shop-lined streets and miles of white sand beaches dotted with picturesque harbors. And while there are rarely paparazzi-studded red carpet events here, this island certainly is home to a fair share of celebrities. Nantucket is not just an island – it’s an experience.

The ever-shifting battalion of sandbars, or shoals, lurking beneath the waters that surround Nantucket have caused between 700 and 800 shipwrecks in recorded history, resulting in the area being called “a graveyard of the Atlantic.” The Nantucket Shipwreck & Lifesaving Museum preserves the memory of Islanders who risked their lives to save shipwrecked mariners.

Frequently fog-shrouded, Nantucket has earned the moniker “Grey Lady” but, centuries ago, the Wampanoag natives named the island Nanaticut, meaning ‘the faraway land.’ With its still cobblestone covered streets and weathered, shingled homes, Nantucket has blissfully defied many incursions of modernity.

This tiny island was the world’s greatest whaling port from the late 17th century through the early 18th century, when it was surpassed by nearby New Bedford. The Nantucket Whaling Museum, operated by the Nantucket Historical Association (NHA), provides a remarkable look back at the once thriving industry along with kid-friendly exhibits, a rooftop observation deck and the 46-foot skeleton of a sperm whale (taken from a whale that washed ashore on New Year’s Day of 1998).

Fred Rogers, of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood fame, summered with his family on Nantucket, living in a cottage in the island’s west side community, Madaket.
Rogers was a Presbyterian minister and devout churchgoer. With no Presbyterian church to attend on the island, his family frequented St. Paul’s Episcopal on Fair Street. To this day, St. Paul’s commemorates Mister Rogers, both as a congregant and nationally recognized neighbor to all, through a plaque in one of the church’s pews. The plaque reads, “Gentle, Kind, True” and, in the center, is a picture of a smiling Mister Rogers, wearing his quintessential red cardigan.

In the summer of 1929, artists and sisters Gertrude and Hanna Monaghan decided to follow a herd of cows up Main Street in Nantucket on a whim. The cows turned at Howard Street and disappeared into a 140-year-old barn. The sisters, who were Quakers, fell in love with the barn and eventually purchased it and turned it into an art studio and summer home, naming it “Greater Light” after Genesis 1:16 – “God made the two great lights: the greater light to have dominion over the day and the lesser light to have dominion over the night.”

What make this barn extra special are the architectural renovations made by the sisters. Hanna had salvaged 12-foot-high, wrought-iron gates from a Pennsylvania junkyard the previous spring, and they fit perfectly on the new patio they envisioned for Greater Light. The sisters fitted four church windows together to create one giant window, perfect for letting in natural light to the great room. They also salvaged yellow glass bottle windows from a Philadelphia pub and installed them in Hanna’s bedroom. These architectural elements, as well as a gorgeous garden and unique pieces of furniture, can be seen by the public from May to October.

Nantucket has been home to many notable people, and attracts many famous repeat visitors. Pop star Meghan Trainor, the mother of Benjamin Franklin Mary Morrill and children’s television star Fred Rogers all at one point lived on Nantucket; while software entrepreneur Bill Gates, football coach Bill Belichick and retail clothing executive Tommy Hilfiger are all frequent visitors.

Nantucket has ties to some of the nation’s top brands. James Athearn Folger, a Nantucket native, started the Folger’s Coffee Company after serving coffee to prospectors in the Gold Rush. William Coleman, of the famous grill and camp-light company, had direct ties to one of the original Nantucket families, the Coffins. After braving storms at sea on a whaleship, Rolland Macy branded his wrist with a red star tattoo (it is said that he was told by his Captain to steer for the red star to guide him home) – he later began his work in the retail business with Macy’s department store. George Swinton Parker of the Parker Brothers (think Monopoly) company is related to the Gardner family, another original island pedigree.

The island has a year round population of around 11,000. In July and August the population swells to around 50,000 or more.

About Ann Luongo

Ann Luongo is the Marketing Writer and Lifestyle Reporter for CapeCod.com, and has been writing for Cape Cod and South Shore publications for over 15 years.



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