More Work on Vestal Street

Re-roofing Hinchman

It may be something that you will not even notice but we certainly will! Another move to protect our historic properties – a new roof on Hinchman House our natural science museum located at 7 Milk Street. This beautiful circa 1810 house has a roof that has served more than its time! The roof is at least forty years old on the main part of the house and has been starting to show just how tired it is. With a recent matching grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Facilities Fund, James Lydon and his crew are now hard at work on the roof.

Hinchman House came to the MMA from a descendant of Peleg Mitchell, Maria Mitchell’s uncle. Hinchman House’s front entryway is unique for Nantucket. While it boasts side lights and a transom which are typical features of a Nantucket doorway, it also has tapering pilasters and a cornice reminiscent of a Federal-style doorway. However, unlike many Federal-style doorways, the decoration on Hinchman House is restrained. The builder and homeowner, Thomas Coffin, wanted to have a doorway that still made a presence on Milk Street, but wanted to keep this entryway within the parameters of the Quaker ethic of building.

Lydia Hinchman, daughter of Peleg Mitchell, purchased the house from the Woodbridge family in 1929 in order to protect the Mitchell House and the new MMA Library at 2 Vestal Street. She furnished it so that her son, C. Russell Hinchman (who was the MMA’s board president in the early 1940s), and his family and descendants would be able to use it as a summer home. She asked that upon his death, it be given to the MMA. He would die sooner than ever expected – in 1944. He left it in his will to the MMA and the MMA Board of Managers accepted the gift in August 1944 naming it the Lydia S. Hinchman House in her honor. It opened to the public in 1945 as the Department of Natural Science and the Natural Science Museum.

JNLF

How Lily of the Valley Opens Memories

Lily of the Valley

It is that time of year – Lily of the valley is blooming. Here I will re-post a blog I wrote a few years ago.

The Lily of the Valley at Mitchell House is in full bloom. It is just about the earliest Lily of the Valley to make its appearance on island and at Mitchell House it lives in full, blazing sun which is fairly unusual. When you walk into the rear yard, it is all you smell. It is calming and sweet and the air is full of it. I look forward to being greeted by this heady scent and to picking tiny little bouquets of it. I am not sure how old it is – I would say at least the 1930s when the cottage was added but it could date back to the nineteenth century – at least that is what I would like to believe!

Lily of the Valley was found outside the porch of my childhood home, transplanted there by my Mother I think from the home of a close family friend. This friend – more like a great aunt to me as she was my Nana’s best friend from about the age of 10 – also had French and white lilacs blooming in her yard so our home always had big bouquets of lilacs at this time of the year – one of my favorite scents. We also had two lilac bushes in our yard – the lighter purple color. One of them was extremely tall – reaching all the way to the middle of the second floor right outside the bathroom. So, when it was blooming, you could smell it through the open window but also, my Mother would simply open the screen and lean out with her clippers to cut the blooms.

My mother-in-law’s favorite flower was Lily of the Valley. She had a bit of it along the side of the garage. She and my father in law also had a very large, old Bleeding Heart plant in the backyard alongside the fence. It was beautiful. When the house sold, my husband dug it up and brought it from upstate New York all the way to Nantucket. We were nervous that the trip and transplantation of it would bring it to an end. Supposedly, Bleeding Heart plants don’t like to be transplanted. But I am happy to report, a year later it is in full bloom and makes us happy and sad to look at it. I think it may have actually been transplanted before – from the farm where my mother-in-law grew up. Unfortunately, we will never know. I have other Bleeding Heart plants in the yard at home but the New York one is much heartier – I think given its age and because the strain is more pure.

I also grew up with Bleeding Heart plants in the yard. And one we had was also a transplant. It was given to my Mother by a woman who worked at the butcher shop she used to shop at when we were young. It’s amazing how simple things, even a plant, can bring up so many happy memories of people, events, places, and seasons.

JNLF

Maria Mitchell In Her Own Words

Maria Mitchell, ca. 1865.

May 16, 1870
President Raymond,
We desire to call your attention to the fact, that, after nearly five years of what we believe to be faithful working for the good of the College, our pay is still far below that which has been offered at entrance, to the other professors, even when they have been wholly inexperienced. We respectfully ask that our salaries may be made equal to those of other professors.
Maria Mitchell Professor of Astronomy
Alida C. Avery Professor of Physiology and Hygiene

As I have noted in several posts before, Maria Mitchell was grossly underpaid for her work, as was Alida Avery though she would later be paid a bit more. The Trustees of Vassar College used Maria Mitchell’s housing situation to claim her smaller pay – she lived in the Observatory with her father (thus having “two homes”) while everyone else lived in Main Building. They claimed she had a private residence – with all her students studying and observing on top of her she had no privacy in her “own” home – and her building also used a lot of coal! This was a constant battle for Maria. When they did increase the salaries of Alida Avery and Maria, the Trustees raised the room and board fee on the two women! Equal pay for equal work was frankly never settled for these women. Today, it still isn’t as we have been seeing it screaming in headlines as women athletes are stepping up – such as women soccer players. Ever noticed how professional women basketball players need to have jobs outside of basketball? The men don’t! In 1878, under a new president, Maria presented a summary of the salary disputes to a Vassar trustee and in this summary it was revealed that both Maria and Alida Avery were so upset by the discrepancy they thought about resigning from the College. Vassar would have been a very different place without these two women.

JNLF

PROGRESS!!

Eric from Toscana in the beginnings of a dry well hole.

Feast your eyes on these photographs! Thanks to Toscana and Marden Plumbing, we now have a new sewer connection at 2 Vestal Street – our soon to be new Research Center! Additionally, Toscana has been creating a new drainage system for 2 Vestal Street and our Natural Science Museum at Hinchman House located adjacent to 2 Vestal. We also need to thank the engineers who designed the system, Blackwell and Associates, and to our ever wonderful landscaper and his crew – Greg of Greg Maskell Landscaping – who came in to remove landscaping right before Toscana moved in. Thank you!! The drainage system will pull the water away from the Research Center into several dry wells and it will also pump water away from Hinchman House where it tends to flood down by the pond in heavy rain. The ditch that was dug for the drainage was about eight to nine feet deep. A foot of gravel was laid, then the plastic (orange) chambers put in, then more gravel to about two feet below the top, then sand, then fabric, then more dirt, and then hopefully a restored lawn! So, once we get a new roof on Hinchman and new gutters, it will be a nicely sealed envelope there too.

Dry well chambers.

Dry well chambers.

One other happy note – this week I picked up our Building Permit from the Town – finally it is in hand! Soon, we will begin work to the interior – a very light touch which will look like we have not done much inside. We are attempting to preserve the interior and not just the exterior. A thanks to Jim Badera of Badera Engineering for his help with code issues and Mickey Rowland our architect. Without them, it would have made my path through code and access issues very long and dark!

Trench by Hinchman House for pipes to bring water up from pump to dry wells.

Trench by Hinchman House for pipes to bring water up from pump to dry wells.

JNLF

The Tallest of Us All

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My Dad, decorating the table for Easter 2014. About a week later, he was hospitalized for a massive infection, a side effect of his chemotherapy, that almost killed him.

A short time ago, my nephew finally talked about my Father who died on February 13th this year. He had not mentioned him before that. As my Mother was putting him to bed he said, “Grandpa was the tallest of all of us in the family, right Nana? He had to bend to get under some doors.” He is right. My Dad was the tallest – in many ways. He always stooped or bent his head a bit to the side when he went through a doorway. It was something he did automatically. And living, in a 1750s tavern, reinforced that habit. But he was the tallest too as the heart of our family. He and my Mother together. I love that in his mind’s eye, my nephew sees him as a giant because he was. A giant in our life; a giant in the lives of everyone he touched. You can’t say that about everyone. He was a protector; a quest stable force that so many relied upon, that we relied upon. But he taught us well; I think he gave us a very good map to follow. His guidance is there.

Maria and Father, William Mitchell (Photo)

William and Maria Mitchell, ca. 1865.

The Mitchell family had the same in their father and mother as well. When Lydia Mitchell died in 1861, Maria and her father, William, were just about all that was left on island of the immediate Mitchell family. They could not take it; they could not remain here without her. It was too painful. And so, in a way, they fled their island home to a small city where they were close to family and friends, but where every turn did not remind them of what they had lost. When she lost her father, she was even more adrift. Maria cared for both of her parents but her father was also her mentor and in many respects a “co-worker.” She felt even more abandoned when she lost him.

Everyone reacts differently. I think that fleeing is just burying your head in a way, but I certainly understand it. I live in the house that my Father designed and that my parents built and it is painful. But I am removed from the Town in which my parents live and our family house and the reminders at every turn – though there are many here on island as well since my time here goes back to the age of one and a half – my Dad to 1964 and my Mom to the 1950s.

JNLF

Beauty from the Sea

Pressed Seaweed 1830s

Be this then a lesson to thy soul – that thou reckon nothing worthless.
And herein as thou walkest by the sea shall weeds be a type and an earnest {?}
Of the stored and uncounted riches, lying hid in all creatures of God.

This book of pressed Nantucket seaweed is one of many found in the MMA’s various collections. This one, dating from 1830, has been on exhibit in Hinchman House for many years but this first page has not been seen in many, many years as the other pages have been on display. (The transcription of the poem is above) I have often collected, pressed and dried seaweed in the belief I was going to create some pieces of art with them. Alas, I never seem to manage the time! But this is an art form that is becoming more popular again. It requires some time and dexterity but who would have thought it would create such beauty? You never know what Mother Nature can help to create. Something you step on or toss at someone at the beach, can become a beautiful wreath surrounding a poem, or an important piece of sea-life scientific information for the future.

JNLF

Maria Mitchell In Her Own Words

Maria in her chair

April 21 {1858}. This morning was given to the Pitti Palace and its gallery. I had tho’t the Uffizi must be the finer when I visited it yesterday, but the Pitti is really elegant in its apartments and worthy to be a Ducal residence . . . .

On her European trip, Maria saw many of the sites that were “required” visits for a grand tour of Europe in the nineteenth century, akin to a college education. I often wonder what she would have thought about the works of famous artists she would have seen at the Uffizi and the Pitti Palace. I am also curious as to what ran through her mind when she compared the decadent living quarters of the ruling families of Europe to those of the Quaker built and Quaker-influenced homes of tiny Nantucket. It must have been overwhelming, especially in comparison to her Quaker upbringing and relatively simple life, but also even when comparing the age of these sites to the relatively “new” nation of the United States of America.

JNLF

In Case You Wondered

MH Winter Interior

In case you wondered what the Mitchell House looks like in wintertime, this is it. The photograph is a little blurry and I apologize for that. It’s a massive undertaking to close and re-open the house every year. But with closing, this is the end result – cleaned, everything off and away from outside walls, everything covered in sheets and plastic. It is a depressing task to close the House each fall, but a happy occasion when I begin to open it mid- to late April. We have several programs in April and may before we officially open and then all of our sites, including the Mitchell House, will open on Monday, June 6 this year.
JNLF

Would Maria Tweet?

It’s Women’s History Month.  Typically, I like to post a certain video about women’s suffrage set to a Lady Gaga song but sadly, they lost the right to use the song!  So, here is another re-blog that I enjoyed thinking about and writing.

Maria in her chair

Really, I am not sure if she would. Maria Mitchell was a fairly private person. While she did keep journals, she kept them close and after the Great Fire of 1846, when she saw all of the papers and other articles blowing about the streets of Town that were not burned up, she destroyed all of her personal letters and journals. That is why most of her papers that we have today are dated after the Great Fire – there is very, very little from before the fire.

Would she Tweet “Discovered a comet tonight!” or “Gold medal from King of Denmark here boy is it heavy!” or maybe a “That Asa Gray, he wrote ‘Sir” on my letter of invite to American Academy of Arts and Sciences and crossed it off – what a slap in the face!” – maybe that was too many characters for a Tweet? But then she could Tweet her students to remind them of late night observing or maybe blog about it. She embraced technology – albeit of the late nineteenth century – and she was constantly learning – even teaching herself Greek at the age of 70.

But if she blogged or Tweeted, I think it would be more about science and education and conversing with her students and other scientists than anything personal. Maybe a Tweet after one of her daily nature walks, “Just back from walk round campus – saw Henery {the groundhog that lived around the Observatory} and Indigo Bunting. Don’t forget observing @ midnight girls!”

JNLF

Maria Mitchell In Her Own Words

Maria in her chair

{March 1858} I am working to get admitted to see the observatory, but it cannot be done without special permission from the pope, and I don’t like to be “presented.” If I can get permission without the humbug of putting on a black veil and receiving a blessing from Pius, I shall; but I shrink from the formality of presentation. I know thou’d say “Be presented.”

The above is from a letter written by Maria Mitchell to her father, William Mitchell. Never much for pomp – but also raised within the Quaker faith where one of the tenets was that everyone was on equal footing – I can see why Maria balked at having to go through such formalities for Pope Pius but also to gain entry to the Vatican’s observatory. I have written about the fact before that she was the first woman to gain entry and the fact that it took at least a fortnight. Can you believe that? Well, if you lived in that time and earlier, yes you could. But it seems so alien and foreign to us now – though we all know this continues to happen in our world today – for females and males.

JNLF