Open. Open. Completed!

There has been a lot going on!

Eileen McGrath and Nat Philbrick cut the ribbon.

OPEN: On May 25th, we had our opening reception to thank donors and contractors who worked on converting our Science Library into our new Research Center – a multi-year project that I have documented on this blog.

A big thank you to our donors and all the women and men who completed the work on the building.  I have listed them several times before but our thanks are so very deep.  We could have not have done it without all of them!

We will be having special workshops and open collection events throughout the summer – and some of our lectures will be held in the Research Center as well.  So check out our calendar online.  We hope to see you at one – or multiples!

Interior of Research Center.

OPEN:  Mitchell House is open for the season!  Come take a look and have a tour.  If you have not been in in some time, or never (tsk tsk), now is the time with Maria’s 200th Birthday this year!  Don’t just walk through the home she lived in – walk through the home she was born in 200 years ago!

COMPLETED: After another multi-year process, I am happy to report that the wrought iron fence at the Mitchell Family lot at Prospect Hill Cemetery has been completed and installed!  This was a community Preservation Act funded project.  The stone bases for the fence were realigned by Neil Patterson and his crew several years ago and DeAngelis Ironwork of Boston restored the fence using a historic photograph from our collection.  It is not an exact reproduction as such a thing was completely cost prohibitive unfortunately but it speaks to the fence that was once there – just a bit simpler – using exiting patterns/molds.


Oh and wait!  Did I mention we have new signs?



Cabinets Anyone?

They are here!  Thanks to Cape Cod Express which stored them for several months at a very large discount – thank you again CC Express! – our cabinets were finally able to arrive on Monday the 23rd of April!


These are all state-of-the-art collections cabinets for our herbarium, insects, birds, and other biological collections.  We will be able to use our bird cabinets that were purchased with grants and fundraisers about ten years ago but the other cabinets are too old (ca. 1930) and not up to “snuff” by today’s standards to make the move to the Research Center.  The cabinets are beautiful – made by Delta Designs.

And we need to thank or moving crew – Curran Huyser and the men of Your Friend With a Truck!


Seal of Approval!

When he is thirteen years old, hanging out with Mom while she builds microscope chairs (or some other facilities or museum related activity) might not be too fun or exciting anymore.  But for a four-year-old?  Testing the new microscope station chairs for the Research Center proved exciting.  Trying to help Mommy build them?  Maybe not so easy – but sure fun to pop the bubble wrap.  He, of course, needed a lift up – but he says, “Good to go for the new Research Center!”


Thank You!

The MMA owes a big thank you to all the people who have completed the work on making the Science Library a research center for future generations of Nantucketers and visitors alike.

Greg Maskell Landscaping                                        Matt Anderson Carpentry

Kevin Wiggin HVAC                                                   Jim Tyler and Crew, Painting

Island Gas and Christian Yates                                  Milton Rowland Architects

Jim Badera and Badera Engineering                          Kevin O’Keefe, volunteering

Mike Freedman and Crew, Cabinetmaker                   Pen Austin, Masonry and                                                                                                          Paint Coatings

Jon Vollans and Vollans Electric                               Marden Plumbing

Wayne Morris, Mason                                                Evita Caune, basement floor                                                                                                       refinishing

Pioneer Cleaning, cleaning and waxing floors           David Ryan

Delta Designs Ltd.                                                     Toscana Corporation

Ellis and Schneider Electrical                                    Wayne Alarm

John Wathne and Structures-North                           Jim Johannes

Rich Sileo and landmark Facilities Group                 Andre Perry and KAM Appliances

Curran Huyser and Your Friend With A Truck            Marine Home Center

Budget Blinds                                                             Jonathan Miles Window Cleaning

Cape Cod Express                                                      Julia Blyth

PSA Laboratory Furniture                                          Eric Finger and Finger Boatworks

Cape Cod Air Grilles

If I forgot someone, I do apologize!

And a thank you, of course, to our donors – that group of special people to be listed soon.


And We Have Our Research Center C.O.

Otherwise known as Certificate of Occupancy – from the Town!

Our Research Center passed its inspection with the Town and now we are in the midst of cleaning, installing blinds, washing windows, and moving things around.  We await moving the collections in and new collections cabinets to arrive.  This summer, we will be up and running and there will be plenty of opportunities to take a peek.  You will find that the “renovation” was very light – taking into account the historic nature of the building and its historic fabric.  Once William Mitchell’s schoolhouse, it lived on Howard Street and after he sold it, it actually followed him to Vestal Street where it continued as a school, including for the Town as the West Introductory School.

When the MMA was given the building in 1919, it was picked up and moved less than 100 feet to sit where it does now.  It opened as the MMA Science Library in the early 1920s.  The stucco Wing was added in 1933.

We have gone to great lengths to preserve the exterior and interior of the building while making minor alterations for an accessible bathroom and accessible pathway, a laboratory-like space which has counters and a sink built into the existing library shelving, and a new state-of-the-art HVAC system for the collections’ protection.  I think anyone familiar with the interior of the building will note that it has not changed much.  But, with new coats of paint, some updated furniture for students and researchers, we are on our way to a better space in which the MMA can conduct its research, store its historic biological collections, and welcome students and researchers alike to learn about the unique environment of Nantucket – from the land to the water to the skies above.


And Now We Await Our Inspection . . .

Well, it looks as if we are pretty much finished with the Research Center!  We have some minor items, including cleaning (by the MMA staff), window washing, and the installation of the blinds, but we await our final inspection by the Town now.  So let us hope!  Then, will come moving in all the  collections – including the former circulating collection of books which went off for something of a cleaning and then await me to vacuum each and every book as I re-shelve them.  Takes me back a few years to when I cleaned the Special Collection books – with the help of some Mitchell House interns in summer – but this will be just vacuuming ̶   I don’t have to brush and sponge!  Yeah!

So stay tuned.  I know the Natural Science Department has some special collections open houses that will be free and no reservations necessary to members and non-members alike so take the opportunity to see the newly spruced up space this summer!


Almost There! Research Center Update


The door needed to be made wider for accessibility so we re-used its historic parts to do so.

The heat is on.  The plaster walls are complete in the accessible bathroom, the new wall is complete in the accessible bathroom, the remainder of the outlets and lights are complete, emergency lights have been replaced, exit signs installed, and we have one-coat of epoxy on the basement floors where the collections will be stored (note – its currently shinier than star covered patent leather clogs!).  Several styles of chairs have made a pass through the building and been sat upon by several for comfort testing and height requirements.  Alarm company has completed its install.  Microscope chairs are ordered and the knobs are on the cabinets!  And the state-of-the-art collections cabinets have been fabricated and patiently wait on the other side of the Sound for a call to bring them over.

First coat of epoxy.

Now, we await the bathroom’s plumbing and lab sink with its accessible eyewash.  Then a few more items that require plumbing for the HVAC completion, a structural engineer’s inspection, and environmental engineer’s inspection and THEN, we can apply for our final inspection!  It’s been a long-haul but nothing comes easy when you are trying to work with a historic building and respect its historic fabric and work with its wonderful idiosyncrasies!

All that said, I will not exhale until the dotted line has been signed on.   Maybe then I will finally sleep at night!

Stay tuned!


Research Center: Another Update


We have had a busy summer.  The HVAC system took longer than expected due to the nature of working within the            framework – literally – of a 1830s building with a 1933 addition.  Remember, the 1933 stucco Wing is bunker-like to say the least.  There is no space behind the walls for wiring or ductwork so everything is exposed.  Add to that, we are working with a historic building with historic fabric and we are trying to preserve it all.

So, a lot of electrical work was done to update the wiring and to electrify the HVAC system once that was installed.  The HVAC system requires three condenser units outside and a vent through the chimney so we have had lots of different parties on-site.  Now, we are working on putting the walls in for the accessible bathroom and walling in the furnace room and the staircase that serves the Wing side of the basement.

As always – there are many to thank which I have done several times before but I will send a big thank you to those who have been currently working – Island Gas; Kevin Wiggin HVAC, Inc.; Ellis and Schneider, Inc.; (electrical), Matt Anderson (carpenter); Greg Maskell Landscaping; and Wayne Morris (mason).


You Are a Rock!

Library Structural Rock

I have to say, I did tell this rock you see here, “you are a rock!” the other day. That was, after I had gone back over to the Mitchell House and I was alone of course.

For maybe eighty or so years, this rock was doing a serious job. It was a big support. I am not kidding you. The other day, I was handed this rock by the mason – Wayne Morris and his mason tender, his daughter Andrea – while I stopped in to check on the work in the basement of our soon to be Research Center. Andrea pulled the rock out of a bucket. Wayne said, “You know where that was?” Turns out this rock was filling a void between a support beam and a concrete block – basically acting as a filler to hold it all in place.

Now, before we all exclaim, “What?!” we have to think about when and how this was done. It was done in the 1920s, so the gentleman who did this was likely born in at least the 1870s. That – and his growing up and beginnings of work life – being a time when he would have learned from and been trained by carpenters and others who worked in the mid-nineteenth century. So this rock, while something we would not do today, was a perfectly acceptable building material in the 1920s still.

I have seen this before – not just in our historic MMA buildings but all around Nantucket and even off-island. I sit on the board of a very old organization here on the island and recently when we had work done to a building we found boulders and large rocks being used to hold up building and landscaping components from the nineteenth century. Heck, there are still many foundations on island that are rubble or even one rock holding up a long expanse of a sill. It works, still does, may very likely to continue to work even when we are all dead and gone. They knew how to build then – with limited building technologies compared to today.

Despite all this, the rock is not going back. But it will live on as a testament to the builders of our past!


Curator And Five Men in a Basement (Cue Swooning)

Library Exterior 2016

All kidding aside, we did have a meeting of the minds recently in the MMA Library – soon to be the MMA Research Center – basement. My aim was to get everyone to meet – though they really all know one another (small island) – and talk about what they needed from one another and how we are going to orchestrate this dance of masonry, carpentry, plumbing, HVAC, and electrical work once it gets underway.

We have a great team. Wayne Morris of Wayne Morris-Mason, Inc., Matt Anderson of Matthew Anderson Carpentry, Bob Butler of Marden Plumbing – the MMA’s plumbers since we had running water, Kevin Wiggin the HVAC fabricator and installer, and Jon Vollans of Vollans Electric all the way from ʼSconset. Additionally, other locals such as Jim Tyler of James Tyler Painting will be working on the interior – he painted the exterior of the building that looks so fabulous – Pen Austin has worked her magic with the lime plaster repairs in the Wing, and Greg Maskell of Maskell Landscaping will clean up the mess that is left behind. We will also be working with Toscana for the drainage and new sewer connection (the old one is broken). Mickey Rowland of Rowland Architects and Jim Badera of Badera Engineering are assisting us with further designs and code issues. And Structures-North has worked with us from the beginning on the structural repair designs. Throw in the work of Emack Surveying and Blackwell Associates who helped design the drainage and the list grows even longer.

This is not a small undertaking. We are keeping our costs as low as possible – I, in fact, have tried to take on as much as I can from permitting and code and HDC applications and physically moving things – with the help of my now muscle-bound colleagues – in order to save the MMA as much money as possible on this project. MMA does what it does – does ALL that it does – in as thrifty a manner as possible. Very Maria Mitchell, I might add. She would be proud.

We are still raising funds for this project – every penny counts. I myself am buying the eyewash for the sink which we should have just in case. While we don’t work with major chemicals, it’s a good thing to have around even if it’s for exploding glue containers or paint! So, if you are interested in making a donation, please contact us.