Saturday, July 13, 2013

Rare Antique Photo of Jethro Coffin House, Oldest on Nantucket

Mickey Shemin and Henry W. Royster  1973
                        Every once in awhile, a really special antique photo comes my way, like this rare cabinet card of the oldest house in Nantucket, the Jethro Coffin House. The photo was taken just prior to its first renovation in the early 1880s, but the house was built 200 years earlier, in 1686! It’s truly amazing that this little home survived.
Oldest House on Nantucket, Jethro Coffin Horseshoe House
       A saltbox house, this structure is the only surviving structure from the island’s 17th Century English settlement. On the bottom right of this photo, there’s an imprint by the most prominent early Nantucket photographers, Henry S. Wyer, who was also an artist, writer and passionate about keeping Nantuckets’ history alive.
Built as a wedding gift for Jethro Coffin, grandson of Tristram Coffin (c. 1605-1681) , one of the earliest founders of Nantucket,  and his bride Mary Gardner, granddaughter of the first Governor of Massachusetts, Thomas Gardner (c. 1592 – 1674).
   Portrait of  Mary Gardner Coffin (1670-1767)
                 The Jethro Coffin house is also known as the Horseshoe House, due to the distinctive horseshoe brick motif on its chimney. The horseshoe was then, as it is now, a sign of good luck.

The house was abandoned by its owners during the Civil War, and fell into a state of disrepair. The photo shown in this article was taken in the 1880s, at which time it would have been uninhabited for about 20 years. The Nantucket Historical Association purchased the home in 1923, which restored it beautifully and declared a National Historic Landmark listed in 1968 on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1987, the Jethro Coffin House was struck by lightning and almost destroyed. Clearly, its lucky horseshoe protected this architectural treasure through about 320 years of American history.

Ada River at Jethro Coffin House, Nantucket Island Ada River at Jethro Coffin House

According to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, “African slaves on Nantucket were freed in 1773, a decade before Massachusetts as a whole followed suit”. The Museum of African American History has an excellent article on the The African Meeting House, built in about 1827, is about a 14 minute walk from the Jethro Coffin House.

Antique Image of the Nantucket African Meeting House
This is what the renovated Jethro Coffin House looks like today, and it’s open to Visit Nantucket. Nantucket’s Jethro Coffin House, Renovated


  1. ada rivers ghost i caught in a photo standing behind the well

  2. ada rivers ghost i caught in a picture, she was standing behind the well staring at me. This place is haunted!