MMWSS 2020 Headquarters

So, with our virtual online shortened version of the Maria Mitchell Women of Science Symposium this year, I was faced with a bit of a conundrum.  I thought it most appropriate to station myself in the Mitchell House.  Anywhere else, didn’t seem quite right to me.  But, the Mitchell House has no electricity and nowhere to sit or set up.  Plus, the further I get from the electricity and WiFi in my office, the harder it is – the WiFi does not work well and I need power!

This was my solution.  I was in the 1825 Kitchen.  I would have rather been in the Front Sitting Room, but I managed to have Maria’s Dolland telescope in the Kitchen and set myself up with my small scaffold that I use for doing some larger conservation projects in the House.  Worked pretty well – and while the chair looks like it is part of the collection – it is not.  This is what I have mentioned before – the only “sitable onable chair” (as I like to call it) in the entire House.  Used by volunteers, visitors who may need a break, and even myself when I have something I can work on in a chair with no electricity!

It worked pretty well.  And if you have not done so already, the recording of the MMWSS is available for you to watch here.



I waited all summer and then, maybe a month ago what you see here appeared!  The long-awaited burst of red flowers covering the pineapple sag that I planted in May.  It started as a tiny plant in a four-inch pot.  I may have even bought it from Kmart on the Cape.  But in any case, it’s absolutely lovely.  I’ve had them flower earlier – and I’d just about given up on this one but then – ta-dah!

It does not seem to have a pineapple scent – though my Mother keeps telling me it should.  Perhaps it was damaged when the bunnies first ravaged in in June – I thought it would not grow but it’s about 3-4 feet tall and almost as wide – the image doesn’t do it justice.  I’m hoping it will make it through a bit longer.  I plant it in large part because William Mitchell’s – Maria Mitchell’s father – favorite color was red and how can you go wrong with this plant?

I did plant some Cardinal Flower too – I had to put plastic pots on the bottoms because the bunnies got to those too – and then started to stand on their hind legs when they were thwarted by the pots!  Next year – I’m doing some metal fencing. Ehhem, my bunny friends.


P.S. It did get clobbered by the snow and freeze on November 12th but I did enjoy it while it lasted!  Sorry, its not a very good image.

Mitchell House This Fall

Well, sadly, the summer season is coming to a close for the Mitchell House and all of the MMA properties.  It is hard to believe – summer just flew past (yet again)!  There will of course be off-season open nights and special events and activities during the off-season.  Look to see when Hinchman House our Natural Science Museum will be open as well.

Mitchell House will remain open in September on a limited basis.  We will be open Mondays and Fridays from 10-4 for tours (Closed Labor Day) through September 27 and on Saturdays from 10-2 through the 21st of September.  Do please come by – especially if you have never been or not visited in a long time.  We do have some recent acquisitions!  The charge is $5 for adults, $4 for children, and it is FREE for members!

Additionally, I will be leading the Four Centuries Domestic Architecture walking tour with the Nantucket Preservation Trust (NPT) and Nantucket Historical Association on Saturday, September 7.  It starts at the Oldest House at 10AM and ends at Hadwen House on Main Street.  It’s $10/person and lasts until about 12 noon – no reservations necessary.  It’s a unique collaborative that I created many years ago with the then NHA Education Director, Kim McCray, and grew to include NPT.  We have a lot of fun and it’s a great learning experience – and you get to briefly go into some of the sites as well.

Then, on Friday, September 13, I will lead my “Daring Daughters of Nantucket” walk.  It starts at 2PM and runs about an hour and a half or so.  Reservations are necessary and it is $15 for Non-Members and $10 for Members.  It takes a look at the famous – and infamous – women of our island and how their lives were shaped by several important factors.

So please come join us!


Waking Up

Well, it’s that time of year.  I always feel like I have ALL this time – and I do – but I always panic too.

After the 200th’s festivities – there were a LOT – I felt like it would be a bit quieter this year but frankly, it is not.

I have been contending with the weather so finally bit the bullet so to speak and basically gardened in the rain and wind and cold.  I have lots of native plants and heirloom plants coming for both the Mitchell House garden and to finish up the garden in front of the Vestal Street Observatory which we were able to re-do last fall – thank you to our landscaper and a donation.  The onion grass grew in with wild abandon – and I thought I would get a spring off! – Ha!  But I did have a sunny day to do that garden thankfully.  The wintergreen has arrived – that is the image you see here – for Mitchell House.

Now, it’s “off to the races” for the Mitchell House – some minor winter mildew remediation as always is my first step. Then the vacuuming, moving of furniture, cleaning, moving in fine art and instruments, and putting everything back into its place.  I may have said it before but I kid you not.  Everything I do at home, I do at work!  Just with a MUCH closer attention to the historic artifacts and collection items.

And I do have a few events coming up for the House.  On May 4, I am leading a “Daring Daughters of Nantucket” walk at 10am.  Please call me to register – 508.228.2896.  The cost is $10 Member/$15 Non-Member.  And then on May 11, I have the Four Centuries Walk with Nantucket Preservation Trust and the Nantucket Historical Association.  Suggested donation is $10.  We meet at the Oldest House – no reservations necessary – and walk through Town needing at the Hadwen House.  The point of the walk and talk is to show how the neighborhoods, streetscapes, and architecture changed – or did not change – over time as life changed.  It’s a lot of fun and we always have a huge crowd.  And then June 1, I will be doing another stone monument conservation workshop with the Prospect Hill Cemetery Historian.  Reservations are also necessary and it’s the same pricing as the Daring Daughters Walk.  All the info can be found on the MMA website and calendar.

Join us!


Oh, You “Adorable” Bunnies

One of the few Morning Glories they didn’t eat!

Adorable is NOT the word.  This spring and summer we have had a BUMPER crop of bunnies at 1 Vestal Street thanks to the increased volume of edibles from the winters we have had.  I am sure you have heard people complaining about mice, chipmunks (if you are off – we don’t have them here!), voles, and moles.

Bunnies, as I call them – though would rather use other words – have been a major nuisance.  They have gotten into my own fenced in back yard and wreaked havoc.  But typically, I don’t have to deal with them – or even deer – at Mitchell House.  This year is not the case.  They have decimated the plantings along the Mitchell House.  They obviously didn’t get the memo that they are NOT supposed to like snapdragons – stripped!  My nasturtiums – on their way out.  My morning glories (all 500 heirloom seeds) – I’ve got three plants at the moment.  My hollyhocks – destroyed!  My little dianthus are just that – tiny little anthills.  And now, the phlox are falling.  Quite frankly, I’m not so sure I am so fond of my little bunny friends.  They eat about 500 times their own weight in a night and I swear that by the end of the week they are twice as big!

In any case, I had even higher hopes for the Mitchell House garden this year than I did last year.  Now I’m afraid I will have a bumper crop of adult bunnies next year – with even more babies.  Dare I plant my tulips again?


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.

Wallace Nutting Was Here

Nutting Image

If you are familiar with the Colonial Revival style then you should be familiar with Wallace Nutting. He could be referred to as the father of the Colonial Revival movement. His photographs of historic sites with people, mainly women, dressed in colonial inspired dress working or sitting in colonial style settings in historic homes were exceptionally popular during the first decades of the twentieth century. A minister and antiquarian, as well as a photographer and furniture maker, Nutting lectured, taught, wrote books, and was an antiques expert. His reproduction furniture is so good that it can pass as original. But he is most well known for his photographs and at a young age I was taught about these photographs. It was my Father actually who noted quite a few years ago now that this image you see here is a Nutting – we have several of this image in the collection. I do not know who the woman is but she is standing on the back porch of Mitchell House at the entry to the 1825 Kitchen. Not much has changed although you can see that the shingles were once painted – we still have the remnants of this paint on the east side of the house if that lets you know how long those shingles have lasted! So the Mitchell House also got the Nutting treatment at one point. He was here on the island – and lived in Massachusetts where most of his subjects were found. There is at least one other print I know about of an island building – 99 Main Street – though I am sure there are more.


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!


Ah, We Are Open!!

Mitchell House

And the breezes are moving through the Mitchell House. We have flung open the doors and fresh air is better circulating through the House as it moves from the front and 1825 Kitchen doors and breezes up through to the third floor and out the roofwalk hatch as it did in the Mitchells day. We are dusted, and cleaned, and scrubbed. The tall case clock is again ticking, as is the chronometer. Both these artifacts really make the Mitchell House feel as though it is alive and that you might spy one of the Mitchells – William or Maria in particular – bent over the chronometer getting ready to rate the chronometer of a sea captain.

Our summer intern, Claire Payne, who will be a senior at Oberlin College, is already hard at work learning the finer points of cleaning a historic house museum and its artifacts, planning for some exciting Junior Historian classes for the summer, and she has just completed the development of a fun “Seek and Find” scavenger hunt for the younger set when they visit the House with their families.

The garden is blooming – you should see the foxglove – they are enormous! – and William would be overjoyed at the colors. Many of the plants were once found in his own garden here at 1 Vestal Street. I have planted Morning Glories and Nasturtiums again, as well as Sweet Peas. We also have a Tunbergia vine which William could have had at some point. Such a plant was also found in Thomas Jefferson’s garden, so it’s been “kicking” around in gardens for centuries. Many of us also know it by the name Black-eyed Susan Vine. Lupines are out and I am hoping that the Hollyhocks flower this year – they are biennials so not sure if they will flower this year.

So, come take a look and join us for a tour – make it an annual pilgrimage to learn what is new, say hello, meet this year’s summer intern, and hear what we were up to all winter.