The island legend of Mildred “Madaket Millie” Jewett lives on in more than just the west-end restaurant that bears her name. Millie’s cottage - which served as a sanctuary for wounded animals and the makeshift “West End Command” Coast Guard outpost - still exists along the shore of Hither Creek.
The fate of that modest cottage that was home to one of Nantucket’s most colorful characters is now being considered by the Select Board.
Back in 2008, the property was gifted to the town by its then-owners Charles Ryan and Caren Lambert in a deal that provided for it to be leased back to Ryan and Lambert for 12 years. That lease came to an end in 2020 but, amid the chaos of the pandemic response, the town did not take possession of the property.
Last week, the Select Board met in an executive session to discuss “the purchase, exchange, lease, or value” of Millie’s cottage. Chair Dawn Hill Holdgate declined to comment about the deliberations, as did Ryan’s attorney Lester Riordan.
But the Select Board, according to a town government source, is wading through a host of considerations related to the property, including its potential use as housing, public access to Hither Creek, septic issues, and an offer from Ryan to buy the cottage back from the town.
Mildred “Madaket Millie” Jewett, born on Nantucket in 1907, lived almost her entire life in Madaket and reportedly left the island only 10 times during her 83 years. Jewett was a friend of animals, a prolific bay scallop opener, and was famously salty with adults (she once tried to push a Cape Cod Times reporter off a pier when he tried to take her picture) but embraced children, wildlife, and her neighbors in Madaket - including the late Fred Rogers.
"At age 10 she, along with a group of westenders, rescued people from a ship that had run aground in Madaket," according to an NHA history of her life. "Jewett spent the rest of life assisting mariners caught short by Nantucket’s tricky waters."
In 1952, at the age of 45, the U.S. Coast Guard gave Jewett the honorary title of Warrant Bosun, W-1. Thirteen years later, Jewett was promoted to the rank of W-4, Honorary, and given the title “Commanding Officer, West End Command.” The sign on the Ames Avenue bridge in Madaket is a testament to that chapter of her history.
Back in 2008, as the town was negotiating the conveyance of Jewett's cottage from Ryan, then Nantucket Select Board member Brian Chadwick stated “It’s really premature to talk about possible uses,” for the land. “Maybe we’ll need to find another Millie.”
While Millie 2.0 never materialized, the time to make some decisions as to the use of the property has arrived.
The small, two-bedroom cottage is believed to have been constructed around 1963 or 1964 and served as Jewett’s home until her death in 1990. The property was sold to Ryan in 1963, but Jewett retained a life right to continue occupying the cottage.
Decades later, a legal dispute developed between the town and Ryan in 2007 over access to the cottage (the driveway was owned by the town and it had erected a fence blocking access to the cottage). The matter was resolved with Ryan conveying it to the town at no cost in recognition of its significance to the island.
In addition to the looming decisions about how to use the property, the town is also considering a proposal from Ryan to buy back the property from the town for an amount far below its assessed value of $2.5 million in recognition of the septic issues at the site.