Know The History Of Summer Rentals On Nantucket

Frances Karttunen •

To the editor:
Who recalls how Cape Wind used to assure us that their proposed wind turbines in Nantucket Sound wouldn’t be visible from Children’s Beach? Or how a report on Nantucket’s vulnerability to sea-level rise would affect “Brandt” Point? Just a couple of examples from many instances of glitches that undermine Nantucketers’ confidence in what was intended to convince.

Lately we hear from people involved with the issue of short-term rentals (another way of saying non-year-round rentals) that STRs have been around “since whaling days.” That doesn’t ring true. Whaling from Nantucket wound down before the Civil War and was over in the 1860s. Prior to that, there were boarding houses for transient seamen, and according to the federal censuses Nantucket families took in boarders, usually kids, single men and elderly men and women who would otherwise have been homeless.

Nothing like STRs. Tourism got underway in the 1880s, leading to the construction of big hotels for folks who came for short visits and to single-family cottages like the Underhill Cottages in Sconset for longer summer stays. These were uninsulated and not habitable in the winter. Over time they tended to move to private ownership as seasonal second homes.

The first half of the 20th century saw the rise of owner- operated guesthouses in former homes and the demise of most of the big wooden hotels. Realtors like Gladys Wood managed dozens of un-winterized cottages around the island.

One former summer person claims that over the years his family lived in 50 different places that she would find for them, sometimes at the very last minute. Another recalls that the Quidnet cottage Gladys Wood rented to her family one summer was so mouse-infested that her mother demanded an immediate move.

These summer rentals were modest and mostly beachside rather than in year-round neighborhoods. Such ways of providing shortterm accommodations to summer visitors post-dated Nantucket’s whaling era by a lot. For the sake of credibility, people should quit making claims about STRs in whaling days.

Frances Karttunen

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