joysofdickandjune

Nantucket as a Duty Station!

In Information-Interesting on April 10, 2011 at 6:45 pm
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Charles M. Morgan-Whaling Ship

The last year of my enlistment (1953) was fantastic. I was assigned to the Loran station at Siasconset on Nantucket Island , off the coast of Massachusetts.  We rented a two bedroom house right on the beach in Siasconset, between the ocean and the bluffs. What a stroke of luck we had here. In looking for a place to bring my wife with our  five month old  son, I came across a  Lady (who lived off of the Island) and who had just bought an old house that had not been lived in for the past ten years, as an investment. I needed a house to live in and she needed her investment  fixed up. We came to an agreement. She would buy the necessary supplies and I would repair and paint the inside of the house. I would also paint the outside trim and make any other repairs necessary.In exchange I would pay a very reasonable rent.

We absolutely fell in love with Nantucket and with the Islanders. We met and became friends with several families. We had  cook outs and played cards with our new friends and covered about every part of the island from lighthouses to swimming beaches.We found relatives I didn’t know we had, wanting to visit for a week- end during the summer!. In the winter we collected driftwood and any thing else that came ashore after a storm. We hired out in the spring to help the summer people to open their homes, doing cleaning , painting and small repairs in our spare time.

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Here are some very brief facts  and history of Nantucket Island!

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Nantucket cobble stone streets

The National Historic District  has architecturally changed very little since the 17th century.  Seaside cottages and old-fashioned lamps still line its streets.

The three Brothers Buildings

At the harbor front, where the great whaling ships set out on their hazardous journeys to return years later – if at all -is now filled with  pleasure boats that find safe harbor in one of the finest docking facilities in the world.

When you go inland on this idyllic “elbow of sand,” the wild moors open to the endless sky. Nearly 40 percent of Nantucket Island is protected conservation land. Several areas and habitats, natural groups of plants and animals, are rare to this region and even the world.

Walk the wide sandy beaches, as beautiful as any in the world. Swim in the still, cool, sparkling waters of Nantucket Sound to the north. Sign on for a guided tour of the island or pick up a picnic lunch and rent a bike or a jeep and discover Nantucket  for yourself. (A 4-wheel jeep will get you to places that you can not possibility take a car without getting stuck in the beach sand).

Restaurants abound whether for a beach picnic, an informal meal, or gourmet fare in sophistic surrounding, there is something for everyone. How about a clambake prepared to your order. Fresh Nantucket bay scallop, provides unforgettable dining.

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Originally a booming whaling port, Nantucket has been named a National Historic District and has architecturally changed little since the 17th century.

The island’s beginnings in western history can be  traced to its reported sighting by Norsemen in the 11th century. But  it was not until 1602  that Captain Bartholomew Gosnold of  Falmouth, England sailed his bark, Concord, past the bluffs of Siasconset and really put Nantucket on the map. The island’s  original inhabitants, the Wampanoag Indians, lived undisturbed until 1641 when the island was deeded by the English (the authorities in control of the land from the coast of Maine to New York) to Thomas Mayhew and his son, merchants of Watertown and Martha’s Vineyard.

As Europeans began to settle in the area around Cape Cod, the island became a place of refuge for regional Indians, as Nantucket was not yet discovered by white men. The growing population of  Native Americans welcomed seasonal groups of  Indians who traveled to the  island to fish and later harvest whales that washed up on shore. At this time, the true demise of the island’s Indian population began. The English presence drastically changed the healthy Indian population and over the next century, the Wampanoag would be weakened by disease, alcohol and servitude.

Before ultimately settling on the shores of the Great Harbor, the new English settlers moved to the land surrounding the small sheltered harbor of Capaum Pond, on the north shore, where the first white settlement, Sherburne, was established. In 1795, the town (now nestled on the Great Harbor) was named Nantucket (Wampanoag for “faraway land”) and became unique in the country as an island, a county and a town, all with the same name. Shortly after 1700, Quakerism began to take root and by the end of the eighteenth century, the  society of friends was the major denomination on the island, a refuge for Quakers being persecuted in other areas of the Bay Colony. The Nantucket Quakers also became extremely influential in business and government matters. The simple, sturdy dwellings have been continuously occupied and stand today in pristine ranks along cobblestone Main Street and other lanes and byways. Later, with the influence generated by the whaling industry, merchants and  master mariners built their homes with an eye to impress their neighbors.

For nearly a 100 years-from the mid-1700’s to the late 1830’s, the island was the whaling capital of the world ,  with as many as 150 ships making port in Nantucket during its peak. Within decades, however, the new wealth from whale oil drastically took a turn for the worst, upon the advent of petroleum in 1838 when it began to replace whale oil as an illuminate, and the sperm whale itself had been harder to find. In 1846, a “Great Fire” roared through Nantucket Town under the cover of night, leaving hundreds homeless and impoverished. When gold was discovered in California, shiploads of Nantucketers left to seek new fortunes. In the thirty years of 1840 to 1870, census figures document the loss of 60 percent of the island’s population, which plunged from an estimated 10,000 to 4,000. The death knell for whaling had been sounded. The last ship outbound from Nantucket in search of the giant sperm whale left in 1869, never to return to her home port.

Passenger Ship

Nantucket Island

Nantucket was a port-of-call for transatlantic packets and coastal vessels from the early 1800’s and, indeed, ranked third only after New York and Boston as a  major port. When the whaling era ended, commercial shipping gave way to recreational boating. Daily excursions from the mainland on the graceful old steamers brought a new breed to Nantucket – the summer visitors. The first generation of “developers” on Nantucket sang the praises of pure air and saltwater bathing for health and pleasure. They built cottages and summer houses, advertising them in the Boston and New York newspapers. Island housewives took in summer boarders and great hotels were built in town, as well as on the seashore at Brant Point, Surfside, and Siasconset. It was not until around 1990 that the american tradition of summer vacations was firmly established, and it was then that Nantucket was discovered to be just about the ideal spot for vacationing. Once entrenched, tourism became the principle source of income for island residents. It still is and in the last two decades Nantucket’s tourist season has extended from before Memorial Day to after Columbus Day, Increasingly, visitors are also attracted by the quiet beauty of the off-season, and can be assured of finding comfortable accommodations no matter what time of year.

A word of caution if you are driving on the “cobblestone” streets of Nantucket, drive slow! The cobblestones’ will jar your teeth loose!

(Most of the above information  came from Nantucket Island Chamber of Commerce.

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