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February 2009

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Nantucket Bulletin: Comings and Goings in and around Century House
Freedoms of Nantucket

February 2009

GREETINGS: In this issue discover 200 years of history in Nantucket, Abraham Lincoln’s ties to this island, Charles Darwin and Century House’s evolution, and River Queen, the Nantucket Camel Ride project. NEWSFLASH: Century House is chosen by Zagat in the 2009 online guide.  Thank you for the support and votes.


Innkeeper’s Column: Lincoln, Darwin & Evolution of Century House

Along with Abraham Lincoln’s birth on Feb. 12 1809 another famous individual also celebrates his 200th birthday, Charles Darwin.  While President Lincoln was busy with our Civil War Mr. Darwin’s book “On the Origin of Species” was enjoying considerable success and brings up the next word I would like to use in describing Century House in this column that is evolution, and the evolution of Century House.

During the same time that Mr. Lincoln and Mr. Darwin were becoming world figures Century House was evolving into what it is today as a result of the changes taking place around it; the difference being that changes at Century House were in a larger part the result of technology rather than the environment.  But in another vein our development, much like the changes Darwin observed, were the direct result of the separation between the Island of Nantucket and the American continent – the major one being that Nantucket’s 19th century buildings continued to remain much the same during the architectural upheavals on the continent during the 20th century. This is how the “Grey Lady” and “Nantucket Style” came about by resisting external changes but making use of internal improvements.  Century House during the 1860’s and 1870’s went from being a private home with six major rooms, those with fireplaces to a full fledged boarding house now with seven major fireplaces plus one “cooking unit” in the lower level used to heat water and prepare meals during the 1880’s.  It was by the turn of the century that Century House really became a guest house for summer travelers seeking a moderate cost option to the more expensive resort hotels that were built during 1880’s and 90’s such as Sea Cliff Inn located up the street from Century House at 71 Cliff Road, until it was razed in 1972; and the Point Breeze Hotel on the other side of Century House at 77 Easton Street. After much neglect, this hotel����������is being returned to its former glory as a club with rooms selling for $3,000.00/sq foot.  Around 1910, Century House made various changes adding a porch and opening up more rooms on the 2nd floor adding a main floor kitchen to serve its winter boarders and adding more bathrooms.Century House stayed quite the same until after the second world war when the main kitchen was redone and a small laundry was added to the rooms on the lower level. At this stage up until the 1980’s Century House appealed to the frugal traveler staying on Nantucket for a week to the entire season.  During the 1980’s both Century House and the private homes on Cliff Road began to evolve into the way we see them today.  “The Cliff” again became the place to summer on Nantucket with its close location to both town and restaurants and the beach and the ocean.  The Cliff Road location also has the benefit of consistent ocean breezes.  The 1980’s brought the change of Century House into a “Bed and Breakfast” in the “Laura Ashley” style. Ashley’s own in house decorators came to Nantucket to wrap Century House in hundreds of rolls of distinctive wallpaper and bolts of unique fabric along with custom made room lamps and rooms named after island flowers.�� During the 1990’s technology took its place with the addition of air conditioning, television, dvd and cd players and internet access.Century House was one of the first to supply free internet access and a computer workstation on each floor. Credit cards also became an acceptable form of payment so the twice daily walk to the bank was eliminated.  The last five years have seen the renovation of both the six deluxe rooms and the patio spaces which are presently being reconfigured to be more breakfast friendly.  So you can see that the Century House has evolved from the times of Darwin and Lincoln to become the same consistent moderate priced option in the new era of expensive condo-hotel rooms that lack the real history of the island. Come be a guest and experience the Freedoms of Nantucket.

We host Groups, Corporate Retreats
 retreatsOver the years many groups have visited Nantucket.  Corporate getaways are also very popular. From artists to bicyclists, to photographers, to pharmaceutical companies, medical doctors teams, girls retreats, painters, etc. We have the perfect quiet getaway away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.  Call for information. Visit for corporate and group accommodations on Nantucket

Little Known Treasures Abraham Lincoln, River Queen, A Nantucket Camel Ride 

River Queen (steamboat) at the wharf in Nantucket in the 1860’s. (courtesy of

As we all are aware this is the 200th year celebration of our 16th president, Abraham Lincoln’s birth, February 12th, 1809.  

What I didn’t know was some of the connections President Lincoln had with various important aspects of Nantucket life in 19th century.  President Lincoln and two of his civil war generals Grant and Sherman met on the sidewheeler ferry River Queen up to 48 hours before President’s Lincoln’s assassination.  The River Queen was one of four steamers operating for the New Bedford, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket Steamboat Co. when it was organized in March 1886.  

The River Queen had sailed the route to Nantucket since 1871 operated by other owners.  It was said that both Grant and Lincoln enjoyed their trips on this vessel.  It was taken out of service in 1911. 


Another little known fact and Nantucket concerns the “Nantucket Camel Ride.”  Lincoln, was the only president to hold a patent for invention PATENT No 6469 ( The “Nantucket Camel” was a pair of hollow barges that would be filled with water and floated on each side of a fully loaded whaling ship and then pumped out so as to lift the ship over the sandbars surrounding the entrance to Nantucket Harbor. At about this same time the 1840’s A. Lincoln also applied for a patent in Washington for his invention to help lift boats over sandbars. Lincoln apparently was very pleased with his patent, but ship owners did not flock to use it and Lincoln continued to stay in Washington working on political endeavors.  So steamboats were always close to both Lincoln and Nantucket citizens.�� 

— Down Memory Lane —
wingsGerry and JeanE with the producers of Wings TV Show in the 80’s.  Century House became the well known facade on the WINGS TV Show featured in many episodes.

New Books and Films