The Homestead: A Warm, Inviting Home and an Island Treasure -Winter 2013

by: Leslie Linsley

photography by: Jim Powers

Stroll down upper Main Street, past sea captains’ houses, the iconic Three Bricks, and the obelisk that is the Civil War monument and you come upon a white-painted Victorian house set back from the street. The brick walkway leading up to the front door is flanked by beautiful mature trees, which provide shade in the summer, and stand sentinel in the winter. This gracious residence could be any of the old family homes on Nantucket, but it is not. This is The Homestead, a residential home for able-bodied older adults who can no longer take care of their own homes, but want to live in a comfortable family-like environment, close to town and with a lively social life.

The history of the Homestead dates back to Jan. 21, 1918, when, at a social gathering, a sum of $100 was collected as the beginning of a fund to create an Old People’s Home, a name that did not change until 1967. Then in 1919 a group met to organize as a corporation to be known as “The Old People’s Association of Nantucket” for the purpose of furnishing a good and comfortable home for aged men and women. Bylaws were adopted and officers were chosen. Six months later 32 people attended the first annual meeting. A fund of $2,357 had been raised from “Food Sales” and an auction.

Each year, through these same efforts, the monies collected grew and were invested in Liberty Bonds. In 1921 a member of the board, Emily Weeks, passed away, leaving her house at 42 Pearl St. to the OPHA. By April 1929, with assets over $46,000, it was voted to purchase the 11-room Edward H. Perry House at 115 Main St. together with the rear lot on Howard Street. for $18,000. The stock-market crash did not seem to slow them down.

Today The Homestead has 14 rooms for residents, each with a private bath, although nine are half-baths. Residents take their meals together three times a day, at 8 a.m., noon and 5 p.m., with the noon meal being the main meal of the day. To live at The Homestead, one must be 65 or older, able to make one’s own bed and keep their room tidy, and come down for all meals. An addition built on to the back of the building provides a large sunroom for socializing, listening to music, and playing cards and board games.

The founding of The Homestead is as much a part of Nantucket’s illustrious history as the stories of sea captains and those who shaped the island, as well as the historic buildings that define us. The Homestead represents an integral aspect of our island and our community. It contributes to the diverse culture and tolerant nature for which Nantucket is known.

Today the board of directors consists of long-time members of the community as well as the next generation who have fond memories of visiting a grandparent who lived at The Homestead, and they continue to be involved.

As part of a group that administers to the older segment of our population including Our Island Home, Landmark House, Sherburne Commons, the Saltmarsh Senior Center, Academy Hill apartment complex and even the hospital, The Homestead represents the very best model of a certain type of living that can only survive and thrive in a small town. It could be a model of what every tight-knit community might strive to achieve.

The Homestead Christmas party is one of many celebrations held in the great room of this elegant, 17room home. It is a place that exudes loving feelings where extended families are welcome. Members of a local musical group, The Shepcats, walk among the crowd, singing and strumming Christmas carols while grandchildren and great-grandchildren run around the place. There’s music at every event that takes place here, bequeathed by a generous donor. Fresh flowers adorn the dining tables, provided by another donation. Buffet tables are laden with food, some of it provided by the board members or family and friends, just like a potluck at any local gathering. A summer barbecue celebrates The Homestead’s birthday each year in similar fashion and there is always a resident’s birthday, another excuse for a party. It’s a happy place.

The attentive staff members fill plates for the residents who are already seated and singing along with the guests. There’s Jane, who in another life was a member of the Women’s Army Corps, and who worked at the weather bureau located at the airport in the 1950s. She will gladly show you her miniatures collection or the bird illustrations she paints. Another Jane once owned a beauty salon and her mother taught at the Coffin School. Emma Rusch just turned 103 and is funny and entertaining and sharp as a tack. She
worked in the banking business well into her 80s and celebrated her 100th birthday by going on a cruise. Lucy was a former registered nurse and member of the Gardner family. Bert was in the Merchant Marine, survived being torpedoed and came back to Nantucket to work at the old Gas and Electric Company. Dorothy and Phil Bartlett’s brother John lived here for years before moving to Our Island Home, and commuted from The Homestead to his job at The Inquirer and Mirror. Interior designer Sandi Holland’s Mom Polly was a resident for many years.

In October kids come for Halloween treats passed out by the residents who gather in the front hallway, some in costume. Front-row tickets are provided for The Boston Pops Jetties Beach concert along with transportation for the residents. The Daffodil Festival parade stops in front of the place and everyone gets invited to The Festival of Trees. In other words, this town does not ignore its elder residents. They are part of the community.

For six years my mom lived at The Homestead. When the weather was nice we’d sit on the bench out front under the chestnut tree and “watch the pass,” as Nantucketers say. We’d take short walks around the neighborhood where we knew all the houses intimately. We watched as the little cottages on Bloom Street were replaced with larger, newer homes. We commented on the gardens as the seasons changed. She had her life and her friends at The Homestead and I knew she was safe and comfortable and lovingly watched over. She knew I was three minutes away if she needed me.

Before bringing my mom to Nantucket I knew nothing about independent living or assisted living or nursing homes or senior facilities. I only knew that I didn’t like the word “facility” no matter what softening word came before it like “loving” or “caring.” It was still a “facility.” It’s difficult to decide what is the right place for another individual, especially a parent, to move to for what we know will probably be his or her final days. Undoubtedly they are leaving the comforts of a home where they are surrounded by furnishings they have lived with for a long time and people they know intimately. But, at 89 years of age, it became obvious that my mom would have to live anywhere but in her own home.

The Homestead is a very good alternative – as close as one might get – to living in one’s own home. It’s certainly better than the isolation of living with family who have busy lives outside of the house, or living alone with only the companionship of a caregiver.
What represents The Homestead is the people, the intimacy of the place and a respectful, loving staff. I spent a lot of time there, in and out for short visits on my way to do errands or to pick up something for my mom. It is open and welcoming at any time of the day and I got to know the staff and the residents as if they were my next-door neighbors. Even though my mom is gone, my family still goes to the Christmas party. As I looked around and saw extended families I’ve known for years, I was reminded of the meaning of community and the true spirit of the holidays. At heart, Nantucket embraces everyone. We all belong.

Leslie Linsley is a nationally-known author with over 50 books in print on home decor and style. She lives yearround on Nantucket and writes regularly for Nantucket Today and The Inquirer and Mirror, Nantucket’s newspaper since 1821.

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