Location, Location, Location! -June 2013
“My father used to say, ‘Just bring me food, I have everything I want right here’.”
by: Joshua Balling
photography by: Courtesy of Great Point Properties
Swain’s neck sits on a 75-acre peninsula jut- ting out into Polpis Harbor. Criss-crossed by wetlands, it also has stands of mature shade trees, horse paddocks and meticulously landscaped grounds surrounding the main house, guest cottage, octagonal office and boat- house, all just steps from the water. A winding stone driveway leads from Polpis Road to a barn with a gated, passcode-controlled entry that also houses a one-bedroom apartment. Beyond that, the setting becomes downright pastoral, as the drive leads over a wooden bridge that spans a small creek into the heart of the property.
The buildings themselves are far from pretentious: Even the main house, which at 6,600 square feet is far from the largest summer get- away on the island. Their siting on the property, however, is close to perfect. Each building was designed to take maximum advantage of its lo- cation, with sweeping water views from almost every room. The rolling front lawn leads right to the water with views across the neck of Medouie Creek and Wauwinet.
never been what the property was about. It’s the perfect memories she and her siblings share of clambakes and horseback rides, tennis games, kayaking, windsurfing and sunset dinners on the lawn. Phelon visited Nantucket with his father by sailboat, and Knapp and her sister first came to the island with their parents the same way. The Phelon family can trace its roots back to island whaling captain Henry Phelon.
Russell Phelon was born and raised in Massachusetts, and was founder and CEO of R.E. Phelon Co., a South Carolina-based firm that manufactures ignition systems and engine electronics. He died unexpectedly in March 2012 of brain cancer. An avid racing fan and driver, he was also the founder of Phelon Motorsports.
Phelon searched long and hard before decid- ing to buy Swain’s Neck in 1996. The property was formerly home to Nantucket’s famous “Pink House” and before that The Polpis Club. Prior to Phelon’s purchase, it remained in the same family for generations.
“My father really valued his privacy. He worked very hard, and wanted someplace to completely unwind. When you get to the property, it’s such a serene place. Water surrounds most of it, but it’s not beach,” Knapp said. “One of the great things about Nantucket is that most of the beaches are public, which is fantastic for visitors to explore everything the island has to offer. The downside is if you have a house on one of the beaches, someone can enjoy themselves right in front of your house. Here there are no large boats or harbor traffic. Polpis Harbor is so small, so peaceful. There are no better spots to see sunsets on the island. I really think it’s the jewel of the isle. There’s no more peaceful place.”
Like the exterior, the interior of the five-bedroom, five-bathroom main house – and the guest cottage for that matter – is far from opulent. A simple, understated elegance prevails.
“Ours is a nuclear, blended, multi-generational family. My sister and I are in our mid-40s and we have kids. My father had two children from his second marriage, and they are in their 20s. At any time, there were adults, kids, teenagers, a couple of toddlers, a senior citizen – al- though dad hated to be called that – dogs, a cat and two horses at Swain’s Neck It’s no wonder dad wanted to build his office as its own building,” Knapp said with a laugh. “This property is all my father, but he designed it to accommodate this family. In the main house he made sure every room had a view. The cottage was a great place for my husband and me to be with the babies. The apartment at the barn was a great place for a teenager needing independence. What he did so well in building on this property was making something everyone could enjoy. He was an engineer and a perfectionist. A lot of thought went into everything.”
While earth tones are predominant in most of the common areas, bright colors are commonplace in many of the bedrooms, particularly those on the second floor. Burnished wood and polished stone abound and plenty of glass lets in abundant natural light. In fact, the house is characterized by space and light. Bright open areas are common throughout the first floor, and on summer days rays of sunlight stream through the windows in every room. The feel is comfortably upscale but not ostentatious. It’s the kind of house in which you feel comfortable kicking off your shoes and plopping down on the couch to watch TV or read a book.
The property also comes equipped with a sport court a comfortable distance from the main house and cottage to ensure privacy, peace and quiet. “There are so many great memories. Dad loved working the property, he loved his John Deere tractor. The grandkids would be waiting for him, and he let them lift the bucket. My brother learned to ride an ATV on the property. I remember him in his pads and helmet. There’s a sweetness to the whole thing that is very touching to remember,” said Knapp, who lives outside Boston with her husband and two boys, ages 7 and 9.
“The horses were an amazing addition. Riding with my stepmother Debra was amazing. There are so many acres of trails in the moors. We used to love getting lost in the moors together. In the off-season, going down and riding on the beaches was so much fun. We had an annual lobster dinner, where the whole family would gather. My husband would be there, my sister’s husband would be there. We’d eat an enormous amount, and spend days coming up with creative ways to finish all that lobster.”
In recent years, Knapp recalls developing an even greater love for the rest of Nantucket. But the family always came back to Swain’s Neck.
“The best part of the last few years, when my father was retiring, and had somebody he trusted running the business, was that he was able to relax more. We all sort of spread out through the island. My brother loved to surf, my sister would take her toddler to Children’s Beach or Jetties at low tide. My kids were ready for bodysurfing at Surfside. My father was out sailing. But at 5 p.m. we used to joke that there was an invisible cannon that only my family could hear, and we’d all come back and sit in Adirondack chairs, have a glass of wine and watch the sunset,” she said.
“My father used to say, ‘just bring me food, I have every- thing I want right here.’ We were very lucky and very blessed.” Phelon was an avid small-boat sailor, and kept his boats moored just off the front lawn. The family also frequently kayaked, sailed and windsurfed Polpis Harbor. Nautical touches and ship’s carpentry add custom touches to the inside of the home as well, seen in the lapstrake tongue-and-groove ceiling in the powder room, and the highly-polished custom- built canoe that dominates the second-floor landing overlook- ing the great room. In many ways, the house appears designed
to welcome the outdoors in.
“What is so special about the property? Polpis Harbor itself.
Kayaking and windsurfing, taking little sailboats out. Taking the grandkids over to Nantucket Community Sailing in Polpis Harbor to take lessons. We’d wave to them as they sailed by,” Knapp said.
“It’s a beautiful place in the off-season too. It’s so spectacular. Spending Thanksgiving there was wonderful. There’s a rugged beauty to Nantucket. If you’re just a summer visitor you don’t have an appreciation for how spectacular it is year-round. It’s going for a walk on the beach with the dogs, coming back with a chill, smelling the turkey in the oven and sitting down with a hot toddy in front of the fire. It’s the small things I remember.”
So why sell?
Those childhood – and more recent – memories were simply too strong. With her father’s passing, Knapp and her siblings felt the time had come to move on. They still plan to stay on Nantucket, but want to pass the property on to someone else who can enjoy it. Given the price, they know the field of potential new owners will be small, but they are hopeful someone can enjoy it as they did.
“It was a very hard decision to sell. My father was taken very quickly from us. He was taken at the prime of his life. He was retiring, and embracing life. For any of us to now imagine going there without him, we couldn’t do it. This place was his dream, his baby. Every aspect was his. It’s not right being there without our patriarch,” Knapp said.
“I don’t think I can live the rest of my life without Nantucket, but I feel like it’s time now to pass it on to another family. I have a very heavy heart, but it’s too emotional a place right now. I hope it’s somebody who knows the island, who comes to the island wanting to experience all of it. There’s so much to enjoy. If you’re lucky enough to live here, you’re constantly surprised. I hope that whoever ends up there, can’t help but enjoy the peace and serenity.”
In the end, Knapp is hoping whoever buys the property will be able to create the same type of memories she treasures so much from her years on Swain’s Neck.
“I think a lot about the property, seeing it now on- line, and I try to step back as somebody who didn’t live there, and wonder about it. We are not a perfect family. We had the usual battles, the ups and downs in life. But there was something about the quiet, the beauty, the serenity. It was almost like we left our troubles at the gate. Life wasn’t perfect, but when I think about the most perfect memories I’ve had in my life, most of them were at Swain’s Neck, and the incredible serenity we felt there,” she said.
“Wherever my dad is now, I’m sure it looks a lot like Swain’s Neck.”
Swain’s Neck is listed by Great Point Properties. http://www.greatpointproperties.com.
Joshua Balling is the associate editor of Nantucket Today, and the assistant editor of The Inquirer and Mirror, Nantucket’s newspaper since 1821