Nantucket Island

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September 1st 2014
Published: September 1st 2014
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This blog is about a side-trip we took when we were visiting Cape Cod. Nantucket (known locally as “the Gray Lady” because of its frequent fog) is a small island located about 30 miles (50km) south of Cape Cod. Its population has fluctuated widely over the centuries, but there are now about 10,000 residents, many of them wealthy writers, artists, actors, businessmen and politicians. In summer its population swells five-fold with tourists and cottagers.

English farmers and seafarers began to settle in the mid-1600s, but by the end of that century whaling had become its principal industry. It was the whaling capital of the world! Since petroleum had not yet been discovered, whales were highly valued for their oil and blubber, and fortunes were made. By the mid-1800s a series of problems beset the island: a fire destroyed much of the town, the harbour silted up, railroads on the mainland made for easier shipping from New Bedford, and whale oil was supplanted by petroleum. The population began to decline, and that situation was accelerated by the Civil War and the discovery of gold in the American West. It wasn’t until the 1950s that entrepreneurs realized the island’s potential for attracting wealthy settlers and tourists, and they began buying up land. Today the cost of real estate is astronomical ! The golf courses are extremely prestigious and selective: a tour guide told us that joining fees can run as high as $500K (IF you are accepted), with annual fees as much as $25K. A bit steep for me.

Some clear thinkers realized that the island’s natural beauty would be lost if uncontrolled expansion were permitted, so the Nantucket Historical Association managed to get regulations passed that limited the appearance of new buildings. Existing ones were “grandfathered”, but new ones could only be sheathed in one of seven colours of clapboard, or in cedar shake shingles, and no high rises would be permitted. The result of these regulations was to maintain the picturesque “old-world” appearance of the entire island, and to guarantee a healthy respect for its place in history. Here is a good site for more complete information: .

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