Thursday, Day 11, included a lecture on authenticity, one of my least favorite topics because it’s so subjective. Everyone has a different opinion on it, and who’s to say what’s right?
A conversation starter used in class was whether trees blocking the view of a mountain from Herman Melville’s former home in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, takes away from the authenticity. Apparently he was fond of the view of a mountain from his house and it inspired him. My thoughts are that the one natural feature Melville is associated with is the sea because of “Moby Dick” (which was based on the story of a whaling ship based in Nantucket, by the way). So no, I don’t think having the view of the mountain blocked takes away from the authenticity. If a view of the ocean was blocked, that would be a different story.
Another example was whether not stuccoing the coquina walls on the Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine, Florida, takes away from the authenticity. When it was in service, the fort’s walls were stuccoed. But now, business owners like the old, gray look the fort has when the coquina is allowed to show and vehemently oppose any plans to stucco it despite the fact covering it would help preserve the coquina. I say yes, the authenticity of the fort is ruined by not stuccoing. Plus it makes sense form a conservation point of view. But I’m a bit biased. My favorite undergraduate class at the University of Florida was taught by the esteemed Florida historian Dr. Michael Gannon, and he was a proponent of covering the coquina.
Thursday afternoon our subgroup for the Maria Mitchell project analyzed the exterior of two downtown structures: the 1823 Methodist Church, just across the street from Sherburne Hall, and the 1775 Pacific Club at the head of Main Street. Overall, the Methodist Church appears to be in OK shape, just some peeling paint and oxidizing nails. The Pacific Club is in worse shape, with cement-shaped fill-in bricks, vines growing on one side, cracked bricks, drainage issues, delaminating sandstone, and just a lot of wear and tear — what you would expect from a building that age.
Friday, I received my introduction to the house I’ll be documenting with a partner as part of the Nantucket Preservation Trust interior easement program. An interior easement places restrictions on any changes inside the house and the homeowner may get tax credits in return. Exterior easements are relatively common, but I think interiors are a new thing.
The house I’ll help document is the Florence Higginbotham House, which was built sometime during the Revolutionary War by a freed slave and was owned by blacks for the next 200 years, with the exception of one year. There’s not a whole lot of black people on Nantucket, so this house and the African Meeting House located across the street from it shine light on what seems to be an overlooked part of island history.
I had some free time Friday, so I visited a few Nantucket Historical Association properties.