A unique archive of maps and plans tracing reflecting decades of real estate speculation and development in the village of Siasconset, on Nantucket’s southeast shore. Nantucket manuscript material is vanishingly rare on the market, and it would be impossible to reproduce such a grouping today.
After decades of great prosperity mid-18thcentury Nantucket entered a steep economic and demographic decline. The primary cause was the increasing scarcity of whales, which necessitated the construction of ever-larger vessels able to voyage far into the Pacific, but too large to negotiate the sand bar at the entrance to Nantucket Harbor. The decline was accelerated by the double blow of the Great Fire of 1846 followed by the mass exodus of men, boys and ships lured by the California Gold Rush. By the end of the Civil War, which claimed yet more islanders, Nantucket’s population had fallen from a high of 9000 in 1840 to fewer than 5000.
No one quite knew it quite yet, but the island’s long-term future lay with the seasonal tourist economy. By the 1870s the accumulation of wealth among America’s upper and middle classes began to create demand for tourism options, while the explosion of rail and steamer links connecting the island with Cape Cod, Boston, and New York provided a means of meeting that demand.
All this created the conditions for the development of Siasconset as a Summer resort. For decades a quiet whaling and fishing village, it was “discovered” in the 1870s by New Yorker Edward Underhill, who invested in land there and built dozens of quirky cottages to rent to Summer visitors. These were designed to harmonize with the much older structures already in the village, and he advertised them as “All squatty, one-story affairs, no two alike,” and offered “Lots of new cottages built in the old style. Latch strings on doors. Quaint ornamentation.” (Kartunen) Taking another approach were Nantucketers Charles Robinson and Dr. Franklin Ellis, who more or less concurrently built a number of grander Victorian cottages as well as the Ocean View House and the Siasconset Union Chapel. The village’s economic success was assured with the construction of the Nantucket Railroad, which inaugurated service on July 4, 1881.
Offered here is an archive of 16 plats and surveys of Siasconset and the surrounding area. The first is an 1882 copy, signed by William C. Folger, of a land ownership map first drawn in 1835. The others relate to efforts by Charles E. and Charles F. Coffin (sons of the prominent developer Henry Coffin) as well as Charles Robinson and Franklin Ellis to develop areas of Siasconset proper as well as land at Sankoty Heights, Sunset Heights and Low Beach.
Inventory of the archive
Group 1: Siasconset proper
[Docketed on verso: “Copied in 1882 Wm C Folger,] Siasconset 1835. NP, 1882. Ink on wove paper, 19 ¾”h x 29 ¼”w. Large land ownership map of Siasconset as of 1835, copied by noted Nantucket surveyor. BRM2709_52.
Wm. C. Folger, Plot of two pieces of Land at the Gulley at Siasconet…. [Siasconset,] Aug 30, 1880. Ink on wove paper with extensive pencil annotations recto and verso, 14”h x 7 3/8”w. Plat surveyed and drawn by Folger for Henry Coffin, with notes on verso recording a Town Meeting motion and subsequent actions. BRM2709_74.
William C. Folger, Plat of a piece of Land at Siasconset in Nantucket belonging to the Heirs of Matthew Crosby…. [Siasconset,] Sept. 7, 1881. [and on verso:] Wm. C. Folger, Plat of the dwelling house & land of the late Matthew Crosby Situated at the village of Siasconset in Nantucket. [Siasconset,] Sept. 10, 1881. Mss. in ink on laid paper. BRM2709_69.
C.F. Coffin / Copied by E. Codd Nov. 22 1913, Plan of land at Siasconset Property of Henry Coffin 1893. Ink on linen plat map of area at intersection of New Lane and Sankoty Avenue. 15 ½”h x 14”w. BRM2709_126.
C.F. Coffin / Copied by E. Codd Nov. 22 1913, Plan of land at Siasconset Property of Henry Coffin 1893. Blueprint copy of the previous item. 15 1/8”h x 13 ¾”w. BRM2709_128.
2pp typescript and from Henry Everett to William Swift, along with 3 plat maps, all regarding property in Siasconset off New Lane. Boston, Oct. 21, 1921. Maps ranging from 8 ½”h x 7 ¾”w to 33 ½”h x 11”w. BRM2709_82.
William S. Swift, Surveyor, Land at Siasconset NANTUCKET SURVEYED FOR THE TRUSTEES OF SIASCONSET PARK. [Siasconset,] Mar. 22, 1922. Blueprint, 37 ½”h x 17 ¾”w. BRM2709_7.
Group 2: Development at Sunset Heights
C[harles] H. & J. Davis Robinson, Architects / J. H Bufford Lith., PLAN OF SUNSET HEIGHTS NANTUCKET MASS. NP, ND [but late 1870s-1880s?] Lithograph, 14 3/8”h x 24 1/8”w. Horizontal separations and chip to upper edge. Plan for a new development just south across the gully from the center of Siasconset village, signed in pencil by Henry Coffin. BRM2709_56.
Group 3: A project development at Low Beach
Wm. F. Codd, Section 1 Plan of House Lots of Chas.F.Coffin AT LOW BEACH, SIASCONSET NANTUCKET, MASS. Nantucket, May 23, 1895 [But note in lower margin indicates this is a true copy of a plat filed in the Registry of Deeds.] Black and red ink on linen, 13 ¾”h x 26 ¼”w. Plan for a development, apparently never completed, at Low Beach, south of Sunset Heights. BRM2709_81.
Wm. F. Codd, SECTIONS 1 & 2. Plan of House Lots of Chas. F. Coffin. AT LOW-BEACH, SIASCONSET, NANTUCKET, MASS. Nantucket, July 23, 1895. Blueprint, 14 ½”h x 33 ½”w, annotations in colored pencil. Note vertical tear extending from upper edge (just right of center), mended on verso with old cello tape. BRM2709_37.
Wm. F. Codd, SECTIONS 1 & 2. Plan of House Lots of Chas. F. Coffin. AT LOW-BEACH, SIASCONSET, NANTUCKET, MASS. Nantucket, July 23, 1895. Reduced photo-reproduction of previous item, 10”h x 21 ¾”w. BRM2709_97.
House Lots of Chas. F. Coffin at Low Beach, Siasconset. NP, ND. Ink on linen, 12”h x 29 ¾”w. Note Nantucket Central RR, which dates the map to 1881-1917, though probably late 19thcentury. BRM2709_61.
Group 4: Sankoty Heights
Wm J. Flagg after H. M. Waitt, Plan No. 2 Sankoty Heights Copy from Records H M Waitt Survey 1883 1892. NP, ND (but late 19thc?) Ink on surveyor’s linen, irregular but 7”h x 25”w at greatest extent. Dozens of cliffside lots at Sankoty Heights. BRM2709_14.
[Wm J. Flagg,] Sankoty Heights Layout.NP, ND (but late 19thc?)Ink on surveyor’s linen, 12 ¾”h x 10 ¼”w. Survey of ten lots and adjacent roads at Sankoty Heights. BRM2709_59.
This group was acquired as part of a group of some 150 Nantucket cartographic items, all related to division of common lands, property subdivisions, and surveys of individual parcels. As demonstrated by 20th-century correspondence that accompanied the archive, the material belonged to Frank H. and Clara Low (1925-2016) of Nantucket. Clara was the daughter of Henry Coffin Everett (1891-1963) and the great-great-granddaughter of Henry Coffin (1807-1900), one of the key figures of 19thcentury Nantucket. Henry built the house at 75 Main Street, across from his brother Charles G. at 78 Main. The men were in the whale-oil business together in the firm C.G. &H. Coffin. When that industry failed in the mid-19thcentury, they—along with Henry’s sons—turned to real estate development projects around the island, at Surfside, Siasconset and elsewhere.
Some background on Siasconset from Frances Kartunen, “Nantucket Places & People: ‘Sconset’s Sanguine Genius,” Yesterday’s Island, vol. 38 no. 10 (July 3-9, 2008) and also from “Builder Charles H. Robinson” on line at ‘Sconset 02564 For the Nantucket Railroad, see Peter Schmid, “The Nantucket Railroad,”Historic Nantucket (Summer 2000), reprinted on the web site of the Nantucket Historical Association. For more on Henry Coffin, see Betsy Tyler, “Henry Coffin: A Profile.” Historic Nantucket Vol. 61 no. 1 (Spring 2011), p. 5.