~ by Sarah Moreau ~
Whenever friends and family come to visit the island and ask for suggestions of where to go and what to see, the Nantucket Historical Association properties are always on the top of my list. The Whaling Museum is one of my favorites, giving you an in-depth look at the rise and fall of whaling on the island. The museum is also the launching point for two daily walking tours of Nantucket town, one at 11:15am that focuses on the history of the island and the other at 2:15pm that is based on In the Heart of the Sea and gives you the background of whaling and the story of the whaleship Essex..
I checked in at the front desk of the Whaling Museum for the 11:15am tour, and met the group on the benches outside of the museum where the tour began. The guides wear microphones as they are conducting the tour, which was very helpful as the summer traffic rumbled by and excited children gathered for ice cream. Our guide on this particular day was Susan, who through the course of the tour proved to know her island history, and spoke passionately about it.
From the Whaling Museum, the tour moved down to the harbor where we were able to imagine a harbor of the 1800’s with grog shops, brothels, and a railroad. Susan passed around pictures while describing the way of life back then, helping us visualize what things used to look like. As the sun sparkled off the harbor and sailboats bobbed on their moorings, it was interesting to think about a different time period and how things have changed through the years.
The tour continued on to the next stop at the bottom of Main Street, where we learned about the Great Fire, before making our way to the Nantucket Atheneum. The historical commentary, cobblestones, and architecture along the way between stops helps drown out the hustle and bustle of town around you. We also stopped in front of the Pacific Bank at the top of Main Street before heading to two of the Historical Association properties. We stopped and sat at the old Quaker Meeting House on Fair Street, women sitting on one side and men on the other, just like they used to do back in the day. The grand finale was a visit to the Hadwen House, which has been closely restored to the original. The glimpse inside this historical house was impressive, and one you’ll only get through this tour.
I learned so much in the hour and a half that this walking tour took, and it really helps you appreciate the town of Nantucket and the people and events that shaped the island into what it is today. This tour and the In the Heart of the Sea tour run daily, rain or shine, and are available on a first come, first served basis. The walk is not strenuous and stops several times, just wear comfortable shoes and be sure to mind the cobblestones! Check in at the front desk of the Whaling Museum on Broad Street.