A Pony in the Pony Lot

Ham Pony Field

This is the Eleanor Ham Pony Field on Mill Street; sometimes referred to as the Ham Pony Lot (at least in my book – not literal book mind you). What struck me as nice when I saw this is that horses had a stop-over there one morning as I was heading in to work. Horses and ponies and other farm animals do not frequent this lot much anymore. The land was given to the Nantucket Historical Association about 1979. At one point around Town, there were open spaces that were communally used for grazing. William Mitchell had a plot of land further up Vestal Street near the Quaker cemetery on what is now Quaker Road. There he kept his horse and did a small bit of farming; though the family joke was that he grew more flowers than edibles because he loved bright colors and as a Quaker, bright colors were frowned upon.


Time Capsule

Lib sheathing

We continue to move forward with the work on the exterior of the MMA Science Library – soon to become the EcologyLab/Classroom and a state-of-the-art natural science collections storage facility – and planning for the interior. The roofer was back to complete some minor work on the original roof tiles from the 1930s and the carpenter is now getting ready to work on the gutters and downspouts. The engineer was here to assess the drainage around the building – we seem to collect a lot of water as we are at the bottom of the slight incline on Vestal Street. The plan is to find better ways to get water away from the building.

The carpenter also worked on re-shingling a small area on the south side of the building where water had been leaking from a gutter – now repaired – and that was also heavily shaded by some hedge that has now been removed to allow that area to breathe. Happily, the only rotted part was the shingles which were doing their job. Once the shingles were stripped away, the original circa 1830 sheathing boards were revealed as you see here. A time capsule in a way because these boards are part of the original William Mitchell schoolhouse. In 1919, the MMA was given the building by a Mitchell family member. The building was picked up, rotated, and put on a new foundation to serve as the MMA Science Library. Some minor alterations were made as the building had sat vacant for a few years but it was moved intact to where you see it today.

Lib sheathing 2

I like to think that William Mitchell may have run his hands over these sheathing boards as he thought about the new school he was going to open. In Nantucket fashion however, when he taught in this building it was on Howard Street. Once he no longer owned it, it sort of followed him – coming to live on Vestal Street around the late 1830s or so. Later it became the West Introductory School – a public school.

The other interesting point to make is the holes in the sheathing boards. You don’t see many holes do you? That means that the shingles currently on it are likely only the second ones put on! And the only ones to be put on with tar paper! Now that is really exciting.


Maria Mitchell In Her Own Words

Maria Mitchell, ca. 1865

March 16, 1885. In February, 1831, I counted seconds for father, who observed the annular eclipse at Nantucket. I was twelve and a half years old. In 1885, fifty-four years later, I counted seconds for a class of students at Vassar; it was the same eclipse, but the sun was only about half-covered. Both days were perfectly clear and cold.

In the 1850s, this eclipse observation was “documented” post-eclipse by Herminia B. Dassel, an artist who had come to the island to paint Abram Quary, the last male Wampanoag on the island. One of the portraits is at the Atheneum, the other at the Nantucket Historical Association. The interesting thing about the Mitchell eclipse double portrait is that it is not Maria posed with her father but instead the youngest Mitchell sister, Kate (Eliza Katherine). Maria refused to sit for the portrait. The artist would take many liberties in her interpretation of the event, the equipment, and Kate’s appearance (she looks like her eighteen year old self, not twelve year old Maria, and is not dressed as a Quaker would be). William Mitchell and the artist were finally able to convince Maria to sit for a portrait. You will find this portrait on our website, the more recognized one of her peering through a telescope and dressed as a Quaker. Maria would become close to the artist, becoming the godmother of the artist’s daughter. Dassel would also paint a portrait of William Mitchell. We have a photograph of the portrait but sadly the portrait was lost within the family.


Work Has Begun at the Mitchell Lot at Prospect Hill Cemetery!

Stone reset PHC

It will take quite a bit of time but happily, on August 26th, the stone work was begun at the Prospect Hill Cemetery to restore the wrought iron fence at the Mitchell family lot where William and Lydia Mitchell, along with Maria, her oldest brother Andrew, her oldest sister Sally, and her aunt and namesake Maria Coleman are all buried. Neil Patterson and his crew will be re-setting the granite stones so that DeAngelis Ironwork of Boston can restore the wrought iron fence that once ringed the lot. It likely fell into disrepair in the early twentieth century and went for scrap metal, perhaps for the war effort. Many of the lots, if not all of them, were surrounded by fences at Prospect Hill.

Granite with wrought iron fence "ghosting"

Using a historic photo that was found in a Maria Mitchell scrapbook, we are restoring the fence to the best of our ability – the image is a little grainy and blurry so some details have been lost. This work is all funded by a Community Preservation Act grant that Jascin Leonardo Finger, Curator of the Mitchell House, Archives and Special Collections wrote for Fiscal Year 2013. The grant included restoration of the fence at the Hadwen lot at Prospect Hill, as well as the conservation of the wrought iron fence at the Coffin School on Winter Street. Since the same ironwork and stone masons would be used, a collaborative ask was created. For approximately a decade, the Mitchell House curator has been collaborating with Prospect Hill and its historian, Paula Lundy Levy, offering stone cleaning workshops for the public that illustrate hands-on how to properly clean historic gravestones. The restoration of the fences and the collaborative grant were a natural progression of their work together and long overdue – the family’s deserve to have their resting place restored to what it once was. Stay tuned as we bring you more information and images as the work progresses! And thank you, to the Community Preservation Committee, Neil Patterson and Crew, and DeAngelis Ironwork!


Answer to What Is This?

This is a small area of inlay that is found towards the bottom portion of the Mitchell family’s tall case clock. Made in Boston in 1789, the clock was built by John Deverell and was a wedding gift to William and Lydia Coleman Mitchell from William’s parents in December 1812 (or the twelfth month 1812 as they were Quakers). It was then given by them to one of Maria Mitchell’s younger sisters, Phebe Mitchell Kendall who then left it to her son, William Mitchell Kendall. It came to the Mitchell House in the late 1940s from his estate. If you follow this blog, you may remember that I wrote a bit about Kendall – he was a senior architect with McKim, Mead, and White.


Maria Mitchell In Her Own Words

Maria MitchellAugust 15, 1835


MARIA MITCHELL proposes to open a school

For Girls, on the 1st of next month, at the Franklin school house.

Instruction will be given in Reading, Writing, Spelling,

Geography, Grammar, History, Natural Philosophy,

Arithmetic, Geometry and Algebra.

Terms, $3 per quarter. None admitted under six years of age.

The above advertisement appeared in the local paper on August 15, 1835. At the age of seventeen, Maria Mitchell, already known for her abilities, was opening a school and she likely attracted a large group of girls. Given what she proposed to teach and the many levels of girls who might attend, this illustrates her ambition and her early desires to promote women’s’ education. Supposedly, this school was located on Traders Lane, just off of Main Street and just a short walk from 1 Vestal Street where the family was still living before moving to the Pacific National Bank for William Mitchell’s position as cashier. Maria would only run this school for about a year. She closed it because she was offered a position as the librarian of the Nantucket Atheneum for which she received sixty dollars “per annum.”


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.


Women’s History Month

MM Dassel Portrait Yes!! It is Women’s History Month for the ENTIRE month of March. I encourage you to learn one fact about an important woman in your community. Here is one for you – did you know that the first American born female to receive a medical degree was born and raised on Nantucket? Her name: Lydia Folger Fowler (1822 – 1879) and she specialized in gynecology and working with women and children. Just four years younger than Maria Mitchell, I am sure they knew one another, possibly went to school with one another, and Lydia may have even attended William Mitchell’s school, but that is just a guess as we have no records from his private school.

For the past eight months or so, I have been writing for “Nantucket Chronicle,” an online magazine – http://www.nantucketchronicle.com/soundings/nantucket-nation-nantucket . My column is called “The Nation of Nantucket” and there you will find several articles on island women called “Daring Daughters.” Take a look.


Maria Mitchell In Her Own Words

Maria MitchellNov. 14 Collingwood {1857}

My dear Father

This is Sir John Herschel’s place. I came last night just at dusk, and was very warmly welcomed, first by sir John and next by Lady Herschel. Sir John is really an old man, old of his age 66, as old as Mr. Bond, whom he resembles. I found a fire awaiting me in my room, and a cup of tea and crackers were at once sent up . . . .I had expected to find Sir John a despot, like Mr. Airy and Dr. Whewell, but to my surprise he is gentle, and very simple, and tells funny little anecdotes (so do Airy and Whewell) and is one of the domestic circle, joins in all the chit-chat . . . .But I am continually mortified my anecdotes that I hear of the “pushing”    Americans . . . .

At this point in her European journey, Maria was alone as the young woman, Prudence Swift, she had been chaperoning was called home due to her family’s financial losses in the panic of 1857. Maria would spend time with Collinwood and become friendly with the Herschels, an astronomical family of renown. When leaving Collinwood, Maria was give a sheet of paper from Sir John Herschel’s aunt Caroline Hershel’s notebook – some of her astronomical calculations. Maria treasured it all of her life, finally pasting what remained of it (the paper slowly became brittle and flaked away) into her own journal which the MMA still holds.


Conservation Work Has Begun at the MMA Library!

Cleaning south side Library roof Sept 2013On September 16th, the MMA began the work to the exterior of the MMA Science Library – soon to be an ecology lab and classroom space, as well as state-of-the-art storage for our natural science collections.

With Community Preservation Act funding, the roofer arrived to begin the work. This is a special roof, made mostly of concrete tiles and completed in the 1930s when the stucco Wing was added to serve as a fireproof space for Maria Mitchell’s papers, her library, family papers and libraries, and the MMA’s Special Collections. Long ago, some poor repairs were completed to the tiles when they broke (but that said, long ago they did not necessarily have the technology and knowledge that we do today for proper conservation of such a roof). Additionally, the roof had, over the last thirty or so years, grown a very interesting moss and lichen coating which delighted in the northern exposure that faces Vestal Street.

Plastic up for Lib roof work 2With about a week’s worth of work, Jim Johannes of Asbestos-One in Ohio assessed the roof further, removed and cleaned the moss and other debris growing on the tiles and one day we had a brilliantly white looking roof. The roof was not originally this color. Over time, it bleached out and the coating that it had come from the manufactory with had disappeared. Now, in the second week, Johannes is re-coating the roof so that it is back to what it was when it left the factory in the 1930s. It is a nice, deep charcoal color – what it was when it was installed in the 1930s. Roof finished - Sept. 24, 2013

Next step will be the work of island mason, Wayne Morris, who will work on the stucco, the terracotta tiles, and the oxide jacking that is occurring. Stay tuned – I will keep you posted as the work progresses and give you more details about what his work entails!

A special thanks to the Community Preservation Committee for its support of this important conservation project.