Thirty miles south of Cape Cod, Massachusetts is the island of Nantucket. This island covers an area of one hundred and five square miles and has a population of eleven thousand residents. The island is not only a major tourist destination but is also a summer colony. During the summer months, the population of the island increases by five hundred percent. The name of the island is up for debate but there are several popular theories. The first theory is that the name is derived from the East Algonquian word ”natocke” which means ”far away island”. The other theory is that the word comes from the Native American word ”natockete” which means ”faraway land”.
Nantucket can trace its roots back to the seventeeth century when it was discover by Captain Bartholomew Gosnold of Falmouth. Previously the island had been inhabited by the Wampanoag Indians, who lived a peaceful existence there. European settlement began in the seventeenth century when it was purchased by nine investors; William Pike, Tristram Coffin, John Swayne, Thomas Macy, Christopher Hussey, Thomas Barnard, Peter Coffin, Richard Swayne and Stephen Greenleafe.
A popular attraction on the island is the Nantucket Whaling Museum. This museum is run by the Nantucket Historical Association and is dedicated to the history of whaling. It is housed in a building that had originally been a candle factory that was built by the Mitchell family in 1846. In 1848, it was sold to William Hadwen and Nathaniel Barney, both of whom continued to used it for the manufacture of candles. When the whaling industry on the island began to go belly up, the building was repurposed as a warehouse. It would serve in this capacity until the 1870s when it was used for office space.
Over the years, it alternated between being used as a warehouse and other official capacities before it was converted into a museum in 1929. In 2005, a full restoration of the building took place and three years later it received accreditation from the American Association of Museums. Its exhibits include a huge collection of whaling memorabilia and artifacts that include harpoons, scrimshaw, Fresnel lens and longboats. The main exhibit is the skeleton of a forty-six foot Sperm Whale that hangs suspended from the ceiling. Since the building was used as a candle factory, there are also a few exhibits related to that trade too.
Another prominent attraction in Nantucket is the Coskata-Coatue Wildlife Refuge. The land on which the refuge is located was gifted to the island by Mr.and Mrs. Robert W. Sziklas, and Mrs. J. Allen Backus in 1974. Additional lands were added to the refuge by gifts from Christopher K. Lohmann, Pamela Fezandie Lohmann and by Backus Trust.
This refuge has a semi remote coastline and is easily accessed by either vehicle or boat. Key features include the Great Point Lighthouse and sixteen miles of walking trails. Coskata-Coatue Wildlife Refuge is the perfect place to observe indigenous animals in their natural habitat. The refuge also has a scientific program where they focus their attention on plant and herb cultivation, bird breeding, deer biology, salt marsh ecology, shore bird biology and the study of Lyme Disease.
Brant Point Light is another prominent attraction on the island. It was founded in 1746 and is still in use today. In 1987, it was added to the National Register of Historical Places. The tower was founded by a meeting of sea captains who chipped in two hundred pounds for the erection of a lighthouse. A wood tower was erected in 1746, but burned down in 1758.
A new town meeting was held and a new light was authorized. This light was completed in 1759, but was blown down by a gale force wind in 1774. The town meeting once again adjourned and decided to rebuild the tower for a third time. They erected the new lighthouse, which stood on the spot until it burned down in 1783. Over the course of the next few years, several lighthouses were built and each one met with a disastrous fate. The last one was built in 1901 and is still in use today.
The oldest building on Nantucket is the Jethro Coffin House. This saltbox house is known as the oldest house on the island and was built in 1686. It was built for Jethro Coffin as a wedding gift for him and his wife, Mary Gardner. During the Civil War it was abandoned by later owners and went into a state of neglect. In 1923, the Nantucket Historical Association received ownership of the house and it was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1968.