A Mission of Preservation -July 2013

Preserving Nantucket's Heritage... from the inside

by: Marianne R. Stanton

photography by: Terry Pommett

If you’ve ever wanted to get a peek behind the façade of some of the stately Orange Street homes where whaling captains once lived, this month is your chance.

The Nantucket Preservation Trust is holding its annual Summer Kitchens Tour on Thursday, July 18, from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m., and the doors will be open to nine homes where ticketholders can see how home-owners have incorporated modern kitchen technology and design into an historic Nantucket house.

The Preservation Trust was founded more than 15 years ago by islanders with a strong interest in preserving Nantucket’s historic buildings, inside and out. Internationally-known architect and summer resident Graham Gund and Max Berry, another seasonal resident and former president of The Smithsonian Institution, were instrumental in getting NPT off the ground.

Part of the impetus for forming the nonprofit was to educate home-owners on the rich history within the island’s buildings, largely in the core district, and to be a resource for them. While the Historic District Commission, founded in 1955 through an act of the state legislature, has been the driving force in preserving the exterior of buildings and maintaining the look of historic Nantucket, especially in the downtown core district, there was nothing in place to assist with informing the value of preserving the interior of these homes.

That need became apparent during the 1990s when affluent buyers, new to the island and in many cases unfamiliar with its rich architectural history, began purchasing old homes and undertaking “gut rehabs,” unthinkingly destroying historic interiors while they modernized their new home to fit their needs.

The Preservation Trust recognized that these extensive renovations, where homes were essentially stripped of everything in the interior and then rebuilt anew, were destroying the architectural integrity, in ways both large and small, of many of the island’s important homes in the core district.

Ironically, it was the economic decline of Nantucket in the mid-1800s, caused by the end of whaling, the discovery of oil and the Gold Rush in California, that resulted in the natural preservation of Nantucket’s historic charm. The island was much like the mythical village of Brigadoon – isolated by the ocean, shrouded in fog and forgotten by the rest of the world, where progress marched on – for over 100 years. When economic success returned there was a need for both education and tools for preservation. That’s where the mission of the Nantucket Preservation Trust comes in as a resource for homeowners.

One of the most important things the trust does is facilitate preservation easements, through which owners of homes deemed eligible by the Massachusetts Historical Commission can place restrictions on changes to the interiors of their houses so that in the event of a sale, new owners can not destroy a home’s rich historical fabric. In this way, the historical value of a home can be protected for future generations. The trust views owners of these homes as “stewards” of a rich historical treasure, and has become a resource for many seeking to learn more about how to protect them.

The Nantucket Preservation Trust also encourages homeowners to “think green” when renovating their home, preserving existing materials as much as possible, thus reducing landfill waste and employing old-fashioned Yankee ingenuity toward preserving and restoring one’s home.

When it comes to replacing aging windows, the Preservation Trust points to the craftsmanship of old windows, and encourages homeowners to repair them rather than replace them with mod- ern materials.

The NPT also eschews the installation of central air-conditioning, and suggests homeowners take ad-vantage of the natural cross-ventilation built into old island homes and simply open the windows to let ocean breezes cool the home naturally. Likewise, in the winter, NPT points to energy audits and the generous use of weather-stripping and caulking as a way to tar-get and eliminate drafts.

If you have an old home and wonder about its history, the NPT can assist with getting a “house history” performed for you. Every house has a story, and the NPT can pull that story together from the origin of the home to today and illustrate it with drawings and maps. The end result is a book, which resides in the archives of both the Nantucket Historical Association and the Nantucket Atheneum, both repositories for island history.

The NPT House Marker program recognizes historic structures 50 years or older, which have maintained their exterior architectural integrity. Working with the homeowner, the Preservation Trust researches the original owner or builder of the home and when it was built. Cost of participation for those eligible is $750.

For more information on the work of the Nantucket Preservation Trust and to view its resources, visit www.nantucketpreservation.org.

Marianne Stanton is the editor and publisher of Nantucket Today and The Inquirer and Mirror. She writes frequently about food, travel and lifestyle for both publications.

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