“A Sconset Experience”...The 64th Annual House and Garden Tour
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THE 64TH ANNUAL
NANTUCKET HOUSE & GARDEN TOUR
Last Wednesday was the big day for house and garden lovers on Nantucket. Always a treat, this year’s Nantucket Garden Club’s Annual House & Garden Tour did not disappoint. Under skies that alternated between sunny and “bright but cloudy” and humidity that made the heat feel ten times worse than it was, the Garden Club put on a fabulously successful tour. The size of the crowd was a testament to the fact that a little muggy weather would not deter those interested in seeing the beauty of Sconset. And beauty was everywhere! If you've read any of my prior posts, you will remember that, whenever there is a historical back story involved with the subject matter, I try to delve into a little bit of that history. I have done the same thing here. I have included those things that are just "common knowledge" and that this old weathered brain has absorbed over the course of years, but I have also added into my descriptions, directly from the NGC Tour Booklet, details regarding several of the individual properties featured on the 2018 Tour.
Sconset, which is short for “Siasconset,” was established as a fishing village in the 17th century. Located on the far east side of the island of Nantucket, it was named by the Wampanoag Algonquin Indians, who had settled and prospered here before a terrible epidemic broke out and killed almost half of the tribe, making the British occupation of the land and its subsequent settlement in the early 1640s (as well as that of Martha’s Vineyard and adjacent islands) a fairly easy proposition. Despite the early British settlement in Sconset, it wasn’t until the 1830s that Sconset became a haven for those seeking respite from the hustle and bustle that came with Nantucket’s (meaning "Nantucket *Town's*") famed whaling industry. Actors looking for a place to escape the sweltering heat of New York City were some of the first "outsiders" to discover this little oceanside paradise and recognize its potential for a seaside resort. A group of them established the famed Sconset Actors Colony here in the 1800s. Writers, poets and artists of all types soon made their way out to Sconset, as well. Members of the 1800s Actors Colony, in fact, were responsible for the building of the Sconset Casino (the “Casino”), which served as a venue for games (tennis), stage shows and other recreational activities (bowling).
To this day, the Casino fulfills this same mission and serves to bring the community together through tennis, social events, evening movies, flower shows, bridge games and yearly theater productions. Its very recent restoration, which included, among other beautifully executed indoor updates, the installation and/or the refreshing of several summer-to-fall gardens, is a testament to its central importance to the village of Sconset. A beloved place, indeed!
In addition to the people who made up the population of Sconset in the 1830s--we still have fishermen, artists and actors, just as we did "back in the day"--the town now also claims among its population families from all over the world who come to spend summers in this singularly gorgeous spot. And as visitors to Nantucket continue to increase on a yearly basis, so, too, do the visitors to Sconset. Just try parking at the Market or Sconset Beach, and you'll see what I mean. Everyone loves the understated chic and (though I loathe the word) "charm" that, together, define Sconset.
HOUSES AND GARDENS
With a mix of historic and modern homes and homes that ran the gamut in size and design, the tour provided several prime examples of Sconset living. And with routes that guided tour attendees from Main Street to our beautiful shell lined streets, the NGC provided a truly representative sampling of the larger layout of Sconset in 2018. If you'd like to see more, I would suggest either a bus tour of the village or a self guided bicycle tour. Also, if you did not make it to the Boutique and Tea at the Sconset Chapel or to the Luncheon at the Chanticleer, I would definitely recommend a return trip to Sconset. To the Chapel to experience it (and to admire the fabulously beautiful kneelers) and to the Chanticleer to view its always vibrant garden while having a delicious meal either indoors or out.
There were two homes located on Main Street that were part of the tour this year. The first Main Street home was a modern home (with guest house) set back from the road and surrounded by gardens on all sides. The large back yard, with its pool and spectacular flower beds populated with various summer varieties, including petunias and bleeding heart in abundance, was a favorite of tour goers. The lovely shade garden pathway which allowed for ambling from the back yard into the front was also of interest, as it allowed visitors to view several different plant and flower species as they toured the property.
The second Main Street home was originally built in 1824. Since that time, subsequent owners have made a few structural changes, but some of the most important aspects of the house have remained in place, including most of the original windows, millwork and wide plank floors. As someone who lives in an 1861 farmhouse with portions of the basement dating to the late 1700s and therefore suggesting an even earlier structure, I am familiar with the passion and desire necessary to preserve historical treasures--as well as with the work and the financial commitment involved in such an undertaking. Like we have done with our home outside of Boston, the owners of this particular Main Street home have furnished their home with period furniture and decorative accessories. And like our home, this particular home retains its original Delft wall plaques. Some things should never be touched! But in this day and age, it's difficult, if not impossible, to live in a house that has remained completely true to its period. Thus, this second Main Street house has also had a modern update (yes, just like our house--and the same type of update, at that!). The update came in the 1990s in the form of a new wing that would come to house a modern kitchen, a family great room, two guest rooms and a powder room. If the owners of this home are anything like our family, they live in the "new" part of the house and quietly love and enjoy the historic part of the home. As far as the lawn and gardens are concerned, the property contains sycamore maples and black locust trees, along with perennial gardens (with the looks of the gardens changed seasonally with annuals). Just a beautifully perfect spot.
Unlike Main Street, which ushers traffic into and out of Sconset on a daily basis, Morey Lane is much quieter. But its houses are equally as gorgeous. The Morey Lane house featured on Wednesday is a historic house that once belonged to Robert C. Hilliard, a member of the Actors Colony who loved the stage and was well known as one of acting's most handsome matinee idols. Hilliard, when he owned the house, hired the architect Frederick P. Hill, of McKim, Mead and White, to update it by bringing in electricity and creating large fireplaces that suited the scale of the house. This same architect, Frederick P. Hill, would also have remodeled the Sconset Chapel, the Sconset Casino and Sankaty Head Clubhouse by the time he’d retired. The current owners of the Morey Lane property have put their own mark on the house, restoring and updating it for more modern living, while retaining the historic features and details--including Mr. Hilliard's fireplaces. Easy elegance defines this home, with its sophisticated yet subtle color and design scheme that flows effortlessly through the house and includes grays, whites and naturals. The openness of the home, together with its quiet interior, embodies the quintessential "feel" of Nantucket. The grounds of this house are simply beautiful, with oceans of hydrangea, lush green grass from front to back and a garden of several varieties of mature flowering plants. The garden spans the length of the house, interrupted only by the steps leading up to the lovely expansive veranda that affords the perfect view of a gently sloping hill that leads down to a heavenly pool and pool house.
Originally built in 1901 by James J. Storrow, of Boston, the Underhill Lane home was not always on "Underhill Lane." It was not until the 1990s, when developers purchased a handful of homes sited on two acres of land off of Morey Lane and reorganized the land into a new subdivision configuration, that "Underhill Lane" came into being. The street was named in honor of a well known Sconset historian and town planner, Edward F. Underhill. He had helped in the creation of the village as we see it today, with the erection of fishing cottages on Evelyn, Lily and Pochick Streets. A look down Underhill Lane is one that, whether the sky is blue or gray, is always breathtaking--as is the house on tour. With its incredible gardens featuring several varieties of hydrangea, perennials and ever changing annuals, along with its array of trees that can only be described as an arborist's delight, visitors were treated to a show of spectacular beauty.
Originally built by the architect Frederick P. Hill (whose work was so highly sought after in Sconset--and whose work was on display in the Morey Lane house mentioned above), the Evelyn Street home was most recently purchased in 2010. Its new owners were intent on expanding and updating the home to accommodate their modern family and lifestyle, all the while maintaining the flavor of the home's history--and its place in the history of Sconset. How does one restore and update a home designed by an architect from McKim, Mead and White? One who had helped Stanford White with the design of the Rotunda at the University of Virginia? Very carefully! Which is exactly what the current owners did. They started by expanding the house laterally in both directions and added a basement for additional space. While they were working, they also added new electrical and mechanical systems so that the finished home would be large enough--and comfortable enough--for modern living. But without sacrificing the house's important history. Finally, the back yard, which is accessible via the kitchen and sunroom, is filled with beautiful Sconset roses, delphinium, hollyhocks and more. And a lovely guest house, as well. A very happy family space, indeed! I’m only sorry that I don’t have a photo of it to show you!
The Center Street home, situated at the north point of the Pump Square, was originally built in 1790. It has since been owned by 16 different families, each of which has left their particular mark(s) on the house through the years. Many, if not all, of the renovations that have been undertaken throughout the years have left at least some lasting imprint on the house, regardless of how small. For example, wall paper from the 1830s was discovered in the attic, and it is thought that the port holes that are used in front and rear doors may well have had some time at sea before taking up residence on Center Street. From my own experience in restoring our 1800s home outside of Boston, I found even the hand forged nails to be fascinating relics! The gardens of the Center Street home are spectacular, and the current owners have set an example to beat in terms of expanding the horticultural delights in Sconset. In bringing the first Love and Peace Rose and the first Kopper King Hibiscus to Sconset, they have upped the flower game. Just when you thought you'd seen all of the gorgeous flowers Sconset has to offer....! Well done!
The Chapel Street house, built in 1913-1914 just down from the Sconset Chapel, was built by Julia Linthicum, a stage actress and member of the Sconset Actors Colony. Julia had always rented The Moorings, on the corner of Main and Chapel Streets. However, when the opportunity to buy and build on land so close to her rental arose, she took it. Once the new cottage was built, she sold it to her daughter, Lotta Linthicum, who owned it until 1946. While the current owner of the house has personalized it with family murals and a pet cemetery in her beautiful courtyard garden, my favorite thing about this house is the fact that it was initially built by a woman and that it is still--over 100 years later--in the hands of a woman who is loving steward of the home and its beautiful gardens.
Until Next Year…
I hope you have enjoyed this quick little recap of last week's tour. If you identify any errors in my histories or descriptions, please do let me know. Again, this post is the product of my own recollections (and numerous walks around Sconset), combined with information provided in the NGC Tour Booklet. It is by no means comprehensive. Enjoy your week! And congratulations to the NGC for a fantastic tour! Thanks to the Club, and to the generous Sconseters who so graciously allowed their houses to be featured on the Tour, the NGC was able to raise the funds necessary to continue their work in providing scholarships to four Nantucket High School students, as well as funding for various Community Grant Programs.