Nantucket has a long, rich history that residents cherish, organizations protect, and visitors love to explore. From late November through New Years, many historic buildings and streets in downtown Nantucket are beautifully decorated with festive decorations.
Nantucket Island has a long, storied past that residents cherish, organizations protect, and visitors love to explore. As a National Historic District encompassing over 30,000 acres – the entire Island, Tuckernuck and Muskeget – the Island is one of the largest conventional historic districts by area in the contiguous United States. From late November through New Years, many historic buildings in downtown Nantucket are beautifully adorned with festive decorations.
At the foot of Main Street, a Nantucket Railroad car is part of The Club Car restaurant. Closed out of season, staff have decorated it with greenery and fun, colorful Christmas baubles.
The railway operated on Nantucket Island from 1881 to 1917. It was originally designed to run three miles, from Steamboat Wharf along Easy Street and Washington Street to Surfside, where a restaurant was established. Tickets cost 35 cents a trip, and in the first year about 30,000 people took the train. In 1882 the Surfside Land Company had plans for a “cottage town”. A hotel was built in Surfside in 1883. The tracks were extended to Siasconset in 1884. Train travelers arrived and departed six times a day during the summer season.
The weather in Nantucket and the surrounding ocean was not favorable for the Nantucket Railroad, and it was plagued by quicksand, storms and waves that resulted in derailments and other issues. Finally, in 1917 the owners dissolved the railroad and the tracks were torn apart and they and other parts were sold and sent to France during WWI to aid the Allies.
At the foot of Main, in the center of the street, is the iconic Lt. Max Wagner Memorial Fountain. Donated to the city in 1885, the fountain was originally installed at the top of Main Street. It was connected to a water pipe and the lower round basin was used to water the horses. Faucets higher up provided fresh water to people. Eight years later, during the installation of street lights, the fountain was moved to the bottom of Main Street and disconnected from the main line. During the 1880s there were at least two public fountains on Main Street.
An article published in the Inquirer & Mirror in July 1923 described one of the main street fountains, stating that it “quenches the thirst of man and beast, and four heavy iron cups were attached to chains. hanging from the bowl. Men and boys – and women too – drank from these iron cups.
Over the decades, Lieutenant Max Wagner’s Memorial Fountain has become a much-photographed island monument. In 1973, the Nantucket Garden Club took on the responsibility of seasonally decorating the fountain and caring for the plantings, and its members continue to do so today. For more information on the fountain and its history, check out this article on the Nantucket Insider’s Guide.
Just before Thanksgiving, the Nantucket DPW sets up 6-foot Christmas trees along many city streets, and the Nantucket Chamber of Commerce hosts lights and decorations by local traders, school children, and island organizations. An illumination ceremony is held the Friday after Thanksgiving, and the trees remain over the Christmas holidays for everyone to enjoy.
At the top of Main Street is a large Christmas tree that dominates the exhibit. Behind this tree is one of the few brick buildings on Main Street that survived the Great Fire of 1846: the Pacific National Bank.
The Pacific National Bank (so named because it was located in the Pacific Ocean where island whaling ship owners made most of their money) was the site of several historic moments.
On October 1, 1847, about a year after the Great Fire, it was from an observatory on the roof of the Pacific National Bank that Maria Mitchell discovered a comet seen through a telescope installed at the top of the bank. Her discovery brought her international fame, and she continued to travel the world and teach astronomy at Vassar as the college’s first professor of astronomy. The Maria Mitchell Association of Nantucket was founded in 1902 to preserve the legacy of this island-born astronomer, naturalist, librarian and educator. The Maria Mitchell Association operates two observatories, a natural science museum, an aquarium, a research center and preserves the historic birthplace of Maria Mitchell. A wide variety of science and history related programs are offered throughout the year for people of all ages.
For the ultimate in combining vacation decorations and Nantucket history, visit the Nantucket Whaling Museum on Broad Street for the annual Nantucket Historical Association Tree Festival. Dozens of ornate Christmas trees are placed around the museum among the NHA’s wonderful selection of artifacts and exhibits. The NHA Tree Festival is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday until December 31, 2021, excluding Christmas Day.
Name: Suzanne Daub
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Organization: Insider’s Guide to Nantucket
Address: 1 Skyline Drive, Nantucket, MA 02554, USA
Version number: 89057421
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