We Are Open!

For the season!  Come by for a tour.  Come by to say hello.  Come by to meet this year’s Mitchell House intern, Sabrina Smith, a 2017 graduate of Mount Holyoke College, who is already hard at work on several projects and eager to share.  Come and check out the baby camlet and infant cap passed down through the Mitchell family since the 1700s and which was donated just last July.


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.

The Grapes of Wrath?

Grapes 2014

At moments, I have a small choice word or two as I drag yet another squished grape into the cottage on the bottom of my foot. And then I think to myself, “It’s September at the Mitchell House!”

Peleg Mitchell Junior, Maria Mitchell’s uncle and the owner of 1 Vestal Street from 1836 until 1882 (his wife, Mary, continued to own the House until 1902 when she passed away) planted a grape arbor at the rear of Mitchell House. The grape plant continues to thrive to this day; in fact it is protected in the preservation easement on the Mitchell House. The original supports are long gone, but Peleg’s grapes continue on a new arbor. This year we have a bumper crop with no mold or any issues with the fruit it seems. Concord grapes, they start off sweet and then turn sour – an acquired taste. Some people like to eat the little tendrils that allow the grapes to climb, claiming they have a lemony flavor though I don’t taste that. The birds, in particular the catbirds, are made happy, especially with this year’s crop. When Peleg lived here they also had Isabella grapes climbing over the woodshed but unfortunately that structure and Neighbor North (the outhouse) are long gone.

In Two Steps Down, Alice Albertson Shurrocks’s book about the Mitchell House, her grandfather was Peleg, she writes that the Concord grape arbor, “stood opposite to the cookroom at the edge of the sunny slope, leading from the upper grass plot to the lower . . . and I could look down on the vine from my bedroom.” She would spend her summers at 1 Vestal. The slope is long gone, replaced by a small retaining wall in the 1930s when the Curator’s Cottage was added at the rear of the House but it is still sunny.

Mrs. Shurrocks was married to Alfred Shurrocks, a well-respected architect who designed the Wing of the MMA Science Library. Mrs. Shurrocks was one of the curators of the MMA. They lived at 16 Vestal Street. In the next few weeks, I will give you an update on the conservation work there. The mason is just beginning!


Shameless Self-Promotion

Mitchell House, circa 1790

Mitchell House, circa 1790

Well, it’s not “self” it’s Mitchell House and Maria Mitchell promotion. Mitchell House and I have come (kicking and screaming?), into the 21st century. Cognizant that we have to reach younger generations and those who are more technologically savvy, we have been working to connect. We blog every week (sometimes more), our blogs get Tweeted out, we have a Pinterest page, and now, (drum roll please), we are on YouTube. I may not be looking too sweet, but Mitchell House has on it new coat of shingles on the south side, its gardens are revived, and it has undergone some wonderful conservation work of structure and artifacts too, over the last decade or so. So, it is putting its best foot forward.

Over the next few weeks, with the enormous help of my colleague, MMA’s Director of Natural Sciences, Andrew McKenna-Foster (cameraman, editor, and YouTuber), Mitchell House will be rolling out some short YouTube videos ( http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCS5DwRA-3yGNrFokyH7VIKg ) − with more to come over time – about Maria Mitchell, the Mitchells, the Mitchell House, island architecture, Quakers, and Nantucket women. So, you, those from afar, and others can learn a little more about the topics that are relevant to the mission of the Mitchell House and the legacy of Maria Mitchell. Unfortunately, you will have to see me but, I hope you learn a bit more about the House, Maria, the marvelous Mitchells and the island we call home.


Mitchell House is Open!

Amy Brill at NBFWe have had a busy opening first two weeks here at Mitchell House. After a week of training, the Mitchell House’s new summer intern, Sarah Scott − a 2012 graduate of Vassar College − is leading tours of the House, working on planning our summer Junior Historian classes for children aged 7-10, and learning the finer points of “keeping” a historic house museum. Soon, she will be assisting me with cleaning and moving the Special Collection books and working on some small research projects related to the Mitchells. We had a large number of visitors during our first week and on Saturday, I led a women’s walking tour concerning Maria Mitchell and other famous Nantucket women.

Additionally, as co-sponsors of author Amy Brill with the Nantucket Book Festival (NBF), MMA was a part of some of the activities for the NBF including the opening reception and talk, as well as the opening dinner and of course the breakfast at the Dreamland Theater where Amy read from and spoke about her debut novel The Movement of Stars inspired by the life of Maria Mitchell. Amy also spent some time at MMA speaking more about her book and meeting some of our members as we opened up the Mitchell House and the Vestal Street Observatory for invited guests.

Amy continues on her travels promoting her book – an exhausting thing to do especially when she leaves her husband and two young daughters behind for much of it – although they were able to come along to Nantucket for the weekend! But leaving them at home likely has given Amy a better understanding of what Quaker women went through when they left their young families behind to spread the word of the Quaker faith throughout America and even sometimes abroad for many months or even years at a time.

If you have not had a chance to read Amy’s novel, please do. Amy is sure to have more novels for us to read in the future. Thank you, Amy, for your time and for being so inspired by Maria Mitchell and this tiny little island that had such a far reaching influence many generations ago.

For further inspiration, please come by Mitchell House for a tour or sign a child or yourself up for one of our history/historic preservation classes! Become inspired by Maria Mitchell and the Mitchell family as Amy did. You never know what that inspiration may become!


A Summer Internship at the Mitchell House

Victoria Schmidt-Scheuber, 2012 Summer Curatorial InternEach summer, one college student joins me at the Mitchell House to learn what it is like to run a historic house museum. We have a large pool of applicants for one position and it is a long and difficult process of reading through the applications, deciding on the top candidates, interviewing those candidates and speaking to their references, and then finally choosing one student.

Once offered the position and she/he has accepted, the new intern receives a large packet of information about the Mitchell House and more about the internship from me before her/his arrival here in late May or early June. The intern needs to be able to hit the ground running so to speak. Once the intern has arrived, had the grand tour, and practiced her/his own tour of the House and is ready, the Mitchell House has opened and we are receiving visitors, running workshops, and working on conservation projects. The intern also teaches the summer Junior Historian classes for children aged 7-11 and assists me in all areas of the House – except for cleaning the toilets and writing the grants I always say!

This year’s Mitchell House intern is Victoria Schmidt-Scheuber, a 2012 graduate of Mount Holyoke College who majored in Art History and minored in Politics. Victoria is from Massachusetts so she did not have to travel far to get to Nantucket. Since she arrived in late May, she has learned the finer points of cleaning a historic house museum, basic conservation of our Special Collection books, given numerous tours already to the public, and begun working on planning the Junior Historian classes she will teach. She has helped weed in the Mitchell House garden, assisted with a stone conservation workshop, and learned more about garden plants than maybe she thought she would. Additionally, she has become involved with the island community as well which allows her to get to know the island and its people better and to learn about the place she will call home for three months. She has hit the ground running and has already been very helpful in achieving our summer goals. Thank you, Victoria, and welcome!

Mitchell House Goes Pinterest!

Shocking! What does a nineteenth century historic house museum have to contribute to a twenty-first century Internet sensation like Pinterest? Lots! After careful thought, I think this is a great way for Mitchell House to showcase itself – and historic preservation, art, architecture, and more! So, via Pinterest I will be posting images of the House and its activities, as well as interesting images from the MMA and other images I find that have to do with museums, historic preservation, architecture – things that fit with the mission of the Mitchell House. It’s another great way for this dear old house to fit into the twenty-first century. I will not stop this blog – it is too much fun sharing all the things we have in the Mitchell House, Archives and Special Collections! But if you have the time, check out “MitchellHouse” on Pinterest. I wonder if Maria would “pin” if she were here? Kind of like the whole idea of “Would Maria Tweet” that I blogged about. Maybe an image of the Transit of Venus? A dome party image?