5 Essential Sites to Visit to Learn More About Old Nantucket

The island of Nantucket is a leading destination for vacationers, second-home owners, and history enthusiasts.

Thanks to its preserved buildings and infrastructure, you can enjoy exploring this historic New England island as it was during the glorious years when it was considered the world’s whaling capital.

If you want to make the most of your trip to Nantucket, you can rent one of the many beautiful homes available near the sites and venues you want to visit. Then plan tours around the historic Downtown district and visit other famous historical locations worth seeing.

Here are the five sites to add to your itinerary that will help you discover more about the old Nantucket:

Oldest House

As its name suggests, this is the oldest residence still on its original site on the island of Nantucket.

The owner Jethro Coffin built it as a wedding gift for his wife Mary Gardner in 1686. It symbolized the unity and marriage of two of the oldest original families to settle in Nantucket.

The Jethro Coffin house, as it is also called, is located on Sunset Hill. It has been reconstructed several times, the last time being in 1987 when it was struck by lightning. Still, it is preserved in its original design and appearance and stands as one of the monuments of the earliest settlers on the island. In 1967, the Oldest House was designated a National Historic Landmark.

You can explore the interior, preserved as it was when Jethro and Mary Gardner Coffin inhabited the Oldest House in 1986.

There is an impressive Kitchen Garden behind the Jethro Coffin House, where over 1,700 vegetables and herbs are grown without chemicals. It is designed in the typical style of the 17th century.

Whaling Museum

The Whaling Museum is among the most popular destinations in Nantucket. It is on 13 Broad Street in Downtown Nantucket. The museum is the place to go to learn more about the whaling industry, which the island was most famous for. It was the whaling that largely impacted Nantucket’s architecture, culture, and its resident’s life views.

The museum is housed in an old candle factory from 1846. This was where the whale oil was processed into candles used for the street and home lighting of the people on the island.

You can explore the nine galleries to see the paintings, artifacts, and treasures from the fascinating years of the local whalers.

Some of the most impressive exhibits include a real 46-foot sperm whale skeleton and the original Fresnel lens from one of the four lighthouses of the island.

You can take a tour of the Hadwen & Barney Oil and Candle factory to see how the factory worked during the glorious days of the local whaling industry.

There is an extensive scrimshaw collection, as well as exhibits and artifacts from the sinking of the legendary Essex whaleship that inspired Herman Melville to write “Moby-Dick.”

Various tours and daily events take place in the Whaling Museum.

And don’t forget to go to the rooftop deck to enjoy a stunning view of the Nantucket Harbor.

Old Mill

Not only is the Old Mill the only surviving one in Nantucket, but it is also the oldest functioning windmill in the USA.

It was built by Nathan Wilbur in 1746 and restored by Jared Gardner in 1828 to its original condition. In 1897, the Nantucket Historical Association purchased the Old Mill to preserve it.

Today, you can visit this windmill and see how corn is ground into cornmeal if you are lucky and the weather and wind permit it.

The guides will explain how the windmill works and how the wind power is used to turn the gear and vertical shaft that moves the grinding stone.

You can find the Old Mill at 50 Prospect Street.

Old Gaol

You can visit the Old Gaol, restored and preserved in its original appearance since it was built in 1805. This historic prison is located on 15R Vestal Street and has an impressive oak wood structure with sturdy iron reinforcements, a prime example of colonial architecture.

Interestingly, this was the second prison built in Nantucket and was known as the New Gaol. The older one on the same street was built back in 1696.

The last prisoner held there was in 1933. In 1946, it was deeded to the Nantucket Historical Association.

Visitors can explore the original cells to get a feeling of what life was like for prisoners on the island in the 19th century.

At the Old Gaol, you can hear some fascinating stories of attempted prison breaks and famous incarcerated people there, such as William Chadwick. He was imprisoned in 1884 for embezzlement and spent his sentence in a comfortably furnished cell reading books and crafting lightship baskets.

You will also learn more about the nearby House of Corrections, where the local debtors could work in order to pay back their debts in the 19th century.

Shipwreck Museum

This relatively small museum on 158 Polpis Road is a true gem, according to historians and travel guides.

The Nantucket Shipwreck & Lifesaving Museum displays the artifacts and other historical exhibits from the more than 750 shipwrecks which occurred on the coasts of the island of Nantucket.

There were many shipwrecks due to the unpredictable heavy fogs and the treacherous waters and weather around the island.

At the museum, visitors can also learn the stories of the local people and professional rescuers who often risked their own lives to help the crew members of the sunken ships.

There are annual and permanent exhibitions at the Shipwreck Museum.

It is a family-friendly site where children can enjoy learning how to tie knots, climb walls on ropes, and swing on a buoy set on the playground.

The museum was established by the Egan Maritime Institute in 1968. It is set in the picturesque Folger’s Marsh, where you can enjoy a stroll, a picnic, or bird watching.