Featured Stories & Articles from Cape Cod Travel Magazine: Nantucket: An Old New World
By sea, the small and beautiful island
of Nantucket (only 14 x 3.5 miles) appears as a picturesque coastline of
beaches and antique homes. Thirty miles from the mainland, it is anchored
firmly in the Atlantic Ocean, a bastion of the past that still embraces the
“When you get off the ferry and walk into town you sense you are stepping back into the time of the whaling days, with the brick sidewalks, gas lamps and small shops along Petticoat Row,” says P.J. Martin Smith, executive director for the Nantucket Island Chamber of Commerce.
Nantucket is the only place in the United States that is at once an island, county and town. In 1659 adventurous settler Thomas Mayhew purchased Nantucket from the island’s Native People, a Wampanoag tribe (who called it Nanaticut or “that far away island”). He turned around and sold it to Tristram Coffin and a group of friends.
The island’s idyllic, narrow side streets and sea captain’s homes once bustled with activity during the whaling days, a sea-faring trade the Native Americans passed on to the early settlers. From the early 18thcentury well into the 19th-century, whaling dominated the small island, making it one of the richest whaling ports in the world.
Today, it is designated as a National Historic District and has been meticulously preserved; small ivy-covered cottages as well as grandiose Georgian-style mansions have been architecturally unchanged for hundreds of years.
The island became a place of respite for tourists after the Civil War and when a small railroad was built out to Siasconset (most commonly known as ‘Sconset), the popularity of Nantucket grew as a vacation destination for the affluent. Today, the island reigns as a place of subdued glamour for politicians and celebrities seeking a quiet place to enjoy world-class food, art and pristine beaches.
The island offers plenty of sun, sand and surf for those looking for adventure. Go swimming in the clear waters of Nantucket Sound or hit the Atlantic side of the island with boogey board or surfboard in tow. If you’d rather stay dry, rent a bike at one of the shops near where the Steamship Authority ferries pull into port and pedal your way out to the Nantucket Hydrangea Farm in Madaket or to Great Point Light. Walking tours of the island are offered daily by the Nantucket Historical Society (NHS) and sightseeing by van and bus is also available. History comes alive again at the Nantucket Athenaeum, where abolitionists and great authors gave speeches.
“If you are looking for culture and history, we have museums and galleries; it is like walking into a new old world,” says Smith. No place on the island better exemplifies this than the Nantucket Whaling Museum housed in Richard Mitchell’s 1846 spermaceti candle factory. The museum, one of the NHS’ two dozen properties, chronicles the vast whaling history on the island and boasts a 46-foot sperm whale skeleton and a reconstructed whaling boat. Fun and interactive for families, the museum also has an observation platform to view the island from above.
In addition to its rich history and natural legacy, Nantucket remains a center of commerce, art and fine cuisine. Food connoisseurs have their pick of French, Italian and Spanish cuisine made with ingredients from Nantucket, while those with shopping on their minds won’t be at a loss with the island’s clothiers and home décor stores.
Nantucket is truly a full-service, year-round island. Take advantage of the Daffodil Festival in April, the Nantucket Wine Festival in May and Christmas Stroll Weekend in late November that allow you to enjoy the burgeoning beauty of the island.