Greetings from Nantucket! Last week (here's the link to the archives) we left off from my hometown in Connecticut. I was there for the second time in a week, visiting friends and family. Instead of flying back to L.A. as I was scheduled, I changed my ticket and traveled to Nantucket on a spur-of-the-moment trip with my brother and sisters. This was very special for us, because it was the first time we were all together without significant others. If you're up to hanging with my siblings -- and my entertaining niece and nephew -- for some good ol'-fashion family fun at my brother Frank's summer house, jump on board! The ferry to Nantucket is departing, and believe me: You don't want to miss this place. If you're in a hurry or have ADD, don't worry; there's a 2-minute Johnny Jet video at the end of this week's story.
BACKGROUND ON NANTUCKET
Nantucket lies 30 miles off the Massachusetts coast. It's an island, a town and a county -- the only place in the U.S. with the same name for all three. It is 14 miles east to west, 3 � miles north to south. That sounds tiny, but driving around it sure doesn't feel that way. The population of Nantucket is 12,000 year-round, but during the summer it swells to over 55,000. It's still not crowded, except in the town center and the popular beaches. The most impressive fact of all is that Nantucket lists more buildings in the National Register of Historic Places as totally preserved than anywhere else in Massachusetts -- including places like Boston, Plymouth and Salem. There are still more than 800 houses that were built before the Civil War!
TYPES OF BUILDINGS
Nantucket has strict laws. Homeowners can paint their houses in only 12 approved colors, and the variety is not wide: white, Main Street yellow, cottage red, Hamilton blue, Nantucket red, Newport blue, Nantucket blue, cobblestone, Quaker gray, Nantucket gray, chrome green and Essex green. Exterior colors aren't the only things needing approval. Don't even think about building a modern house on Nantucket. It ain't happening � in fact, not even skylights are allowed. Even hanging a sign on your door must meet certain standards. Houses on Nantucket are either Colonial style (with clapboard shingles) or Federal style (with brick). There are only a few Victorian structures, and some Greek revival buildings. An interesting fact is that most houses near town have turned stairwells. Instead of going straight out the door, they are turned to the side. This allowed houses to be built closer to the road, giving those homeowners bigger backyards for gardens. I like the stringent regulations (of course, I don't live there), because they preserve the 19th-century character of Nantucket, and there aren't many places in the U.S. where you can find this.
Nantucket is also strict about recycling. My brother Frank learned this law the hard way. One of his first renters didn't recycle, and the trash collector refused to take his refuse until Frank sorted every bit of it. Frank dumped all the garbage in his yard, and sorted out metal, plastic, paper, cardboard and glass. He said it was the most disgusting thing he ever did. So remember to recycle in Nantucket (or wherever you are).
GETTING TO NANTUCKET
There are a few ways to get to Nantucket. We could have flown on a regional jet from either Newark (on Continental, tel.: 800-525-0280) or Philadelphia (on USAir , tel.: 800-428-4322). But those tickets aren't cheap, and with today's commercial air travel hassles we would not have saved much time -- if any. Another option was to fly on a real small plane with Cape Air (tel.: 800-352-0714; website FlyCapeAir.com) or Nantucket Airlines (tel.: 800-635-8787; website: NantucketAirlines.com ). Both offer hourly flights from Hyannis, Boston, New Bedford and Providence, R.I. In addition, Island Airlines (tel.: 800-248-7779, website) offers frequent flights and charters out of Hyannis. But I am not a big fan of small planes.
CAR FERRY TO NANTUCKET
So the best bet was to drive, then take a ferry. We packed up the cars, braved the I-95 traffic (it's not bad if you travel off-peak) and made it to Hyannis in four hours. Hyannis is a good-size port town on Cape Cod. Frank already has a car on Nantucket (as you will see, you really don't need a car on the island), so we did not have to take the slow car ferry operated by Steamship Authority (508-477-8600; website: SteamshipAuthority.com; summer one-way fares are adults $14, children 5-12 $7.25, children under 5 are free; car $175, bike $6). Not only does the car ferry take over two hours, but bringing an automobile on a summer weekend requires about a month's advance reservation.
OTHER FERRIES TO NANTUCKET
Another slow, economical way to get to Nantucket is Hy-Line Cruises (tel.: 800-492-8082; website: Hy-lineCruises.com). This traditional ferry takes just under two hours. Summertime one-way fares are adults $16.50, children 5-12 $8.25; children 4 and under are free. Both Hy-Line Cruises and Steamship Authority also operate high-speed catamarans, which take only an hour from Hyannis. Steamship Authority's high-speed service is called the Flying Cloud (tel.: 508-495-FAST; one-way tickets: adult $29.50; children 5-12 $22.25). Hy-Line Cruises (website; summer one-way fares are adults $36; children 5-12 $27; bikes $5). We took the Steamship Authority, because their schedule worked best for us. Getting on and off was a breeze -- even with everything we brought -- because they have bellmen who help passengers load and unload cars.
ARRIVING IN NANTUCKET
Unfortunately, my sisters, niece and nephew missed the ferry we were on by just 10 minutes (we drove separate cars -- and I told them not to stop at the Clinton Crossing outlet mall in Connecticut). The ferry ride was smooth. It was warm out, so we sat on the back deck and enjoyed the sunset. When the captain slowed the boat heading into port, contagious excitement filled the air. The views of the island were breathtaking. Stepping off the boat is like going back in time -- in a good way. Everything is so quaint, the locals are friendly, and there are no fast food chains � including Starbucks. Hallelujah! It was old school, but with all the modern conveniences.
HISTORY OF NANTUCKET
To better understand Nantucket, here's a brief history of the island. It was discovered in 1602 by Captain Bartholomew Gosnold. When he arrived, there were 1,500 Native Americans of the Wampanoag Tribe. In 1659 the English settlement began. Back then Nantucket was under the jurisdiction of New York. The "nine original purchasers" from Thomas Mayhew were Tristram Coffin, Thomas Macy, Christopher Hussey, Richard Swayne, Thomas Bernard, Peter Coffin, Stephen Greenleafe, John Swayne and William Pike. You still see those names all around town. From 1800 to 1840 Nantucket was considered the Whaling Capital of the World. At its peak, 88 Nantucket whaling ships sailing around the globe.
WHALING IN NANTUCKET
Whaling made Nantucket famous. Just like in the fictional book Moby-Dick, the Nantucket whalers hunted the sperm whale. It produced valuable spermaceti oil (wax) from the spermaceti organ located in its head. Before electricity, whalers used this oil to make candles. They sailed all over the world, hunting these mammoth mammals down. Ships were gone anywhere from two to five years. Along the way they picked up more manpower. That's why it was not unusual to see people from all parts of the planet -- Portuguese, South Pacific Islanders, Africans -- walking around Nantucket. To learn more about whaling and whales, check out the recently remodeled Whaling Museum at 13 Broad Street (tel.: 508-228-1894). My brother Frank also recommends reading the book In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex.
THE GREAT FIRE
In 1846 a "Great Fire" began in the middle of the night in Gary's Hat Shop. It destroyed the wharves and much of the business district, in part because the buildings were so close together and the streets were so narrow. Remarkably, no one died, yet the only building left standing was William Roache's accounting firm. His brick structure remains in Nantucket today. When the town was rebuilt the streets were wider � and every building on Main Street was constructed of brick. (Most are now covered by wood shingles).
Because of the fire and the steadily declining demand for whale oil after crude oil was discovered, the island underwent a severe depression. This continued until the islanders began promoting tourism. In 1881 a railroad was built from Steamboat Wharf to Surfside, where a new hotel was constructed. In 1917 the railroad was washed out by a major storm. Today only one rail car remains � it's attached to the Club Car Restaurant (website: www.theclubcar.com). In 1918, cars were permitted on Nantucket.
Nantucket is full of history. There are so many interesting facts and stories. Walking around on the Town Center's cobblestone streets is a treat. I learned a great deal by taking an 80-minute tour, given by the Historical Society last year. Tours depart every day from the Whaling Museum at 11:15 a.m. and 2:15 p.m. The cost is $10, and groups are limited to 20 people (dogs are welcome!). For more click HERE