Nantucket is a small island in the Atlantic Ocean, located 30 miles south of the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts.
But despite its tiny size and distance from the mainland, it has played a significant role in both American and world history.
It was one of the leaders in the shipbuilding industry and commercial activity back in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Due to its thriving business, the local captains, industrialists, and other business owners and their families became some of the most affluent people in the country during those pre-civil war years.
As a result of the endless efforts of the local historic preservation organizations and authorities, this New England island has the highest concentration of perfectly restored and preserved houses, lighthouses, infrastructural elements, and other buildings than any other town or county of this size in the entire country.
The island was recognized as a National Historic Landmark District and is the largest of all such districts in the country.
All you need to do is hop on the ferry or plane and find yourself a nice place to stay for your Nantucket adventure, and you can start your historic trip around the island.
Here are some of the top-recommended historical places and museums to visit during your next trip to the dreamy island!
Brant Point Lighthouse
This 26-foot-tall wooden tower will be the first building that greets you as you arrive at the Nantucket Harbor by ferry.
The first original light on Brant Point was built in 1746, but throughout the years, it has been destroyed and rebuilt nine times.
Today’s Brant Point Light was built in 1901 and automated in 1965.
Although it is not the largest of the three lighthouses on the island, Brant Point Lighthouse has important historical significance.
It has helped guide the way of the mariners passing by Brant Point and entering or leaving the island’s inner harbor for centuries.
It is also the second oldest fully functioning lighthouse in the country, after only the 1716 Boston Lighthouse.
The Jethro Coffin House, known as the Oldest House on Sunset Hill, is the oldest residence built by the settlers on the island, still standing in its original place.
The house was built by Jethro Coffin in 1686 as a wedding gift to his wife, Mary Gardner.
The two newlyweds were members of Nantucket’s oldest and most influential families.
The house itself was built on the land of the Gardener family with lumber belonging to the Coffin family.
The Oldest House is listed in the US National Register of Historic Places and is designated as a US National Historic Landmark.
Today, the house has been restored to its original look and is a historic house museum.
One of the most notable parts of the house which are worth visiting is the kitchen garden.
The outdoor raised-bed vegetable and herb garden contained and still includes more than 1,700 different plants from around the world, and has always been maintained organically, without any pesticides, herbicides, or chemical fertilizers.
Nantucket Shipwreck and Lifesaving Museum
Many people are not aware that the quaint island of Nantucket used to be known as “the graveyard of the Atlantic” a few centuries ago.
But the fact is that during those years, there were more than 750 shipwrecks on the shores or near the island.
The small but unique museum honors all of the local lifesavers who dedicated their lives to helping ships and crews in trouble in the dangerous ocean waters.
It is the first museum that honors the brave lifesavers of America and is founded by the Egan Maritime Institute.
The Nantucket shipwreck and Lifesaving Museum is located in a historic house in the picturesque Folgers Marsh which is about 3.5 miles away from town.
It contains over 5,000 artifacts, paintings, ships, boat models, and other exhibits collected from the shipwrecks in the last 300 years.
LSS Shipwreck Lifesaving Museum Nantucket by Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism via CC BY-ND 2.0
This grand Greek revival-style mansion was built in 1846 by one of Nantucket’s wealthiest local businessmen and philanthropists, William Hadwen, with the help of his wife, Eunice Starbuck.
The two were members of the island’s elite and built this mansion as a publicly accessible center for entertaining and accommodating the other members of the elite in those years.
What makes this house especially unique is the fact that it was built in a dramatically different style from the other Quaker shingle-style and brick houses.
The other historic buildings which were constructed in this opulent style in Nantucket include the Nantucket Atheneum and the First Baptist Church.
Today, the grand historic structure is owned by the Nantucket Historical Association and is open to visitors who can explore the different exhibits, including traditional decorative arts, lightship baskets, historical maps, and other artifacts from the history of Nantucket.
Don’t miss the chance to take a stroll through the mansion’s Victorian garden, which is designed in the typical 19th-century style and maintained by the renowned Nantucket Garden Club.
The old mill
Inspired by the legendary windmills in Holland, the Old Mill in Nantucket was built in 1746 and today is the oldest working windmill in the country.
The windmill is a historic landmark and yet is still fully functional.
When you visit it, you will be able to view how the mechanics inside work, and if the weather is windy enough, you can view how corn is ground into cornmeal by the grinding stone powered by the wind.
Old Mill by Hiroshi Okugawa via CC BY-2.0
Nantucket Lightship Basket Museum
The Nantucket Lightship Baskets are among the most traditional locally crafted items, symbolic of the island.
So, it comes as no surprise that the locals have dedicated an entire museum to these rattan, cane, and wood baskets made on molds and used through the centuries for carrying and storing goods, merchandise, and more.
The museum, which was first opened in 1997, contains a wide variety of old and new local lightship baskets and also offers craft classes for those interested in learning this traditional local skill.