It never ceases to amaze me what I uncover in the MMA’s Archives and Special Collections.
This item was in a box labeled “Lydia Hinchman.” Not all of our institutional archives have been arranged and described – it’s a big project that has been begun but not completed – so this has not yet been processed. Lydia, a cousin of Maria’s, was one of the MMA’s founders and the driving force for purchasing several of the properties surrounding the Mitchell House. She was the force behind creating the Maria Mitchell Vestal Street Observatory in 1908.
This is from one of her MMA scrapbooks. And it is a drawing – likely by her – and describes in detail the building of the Observatory foundation and how it works. It’s always hard for me to describe the “pillar room” and what lies beneath but you can sort of make it out in this image where she has drawn a line to show the ground level. The foundation of the dome goes pretty deep into the earth – it’s a cement and brick foundation – and the telescope is meant to be supported by this piece – the walls and the movement of a building cannot affect the telescope so they surround this massive part. It’s why at Loines Observatory, for example, we do not put telescopes on the deck because as people walk across it, it makes the telescopes bounce – it makes the view unclear and can also move the telescope from what it is focused on. If an observatory moves – the telescope doesn’t as it sits on a solid separate piece.
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.