House & the Historic Garden
16 Sunset Hill
Also called the Jethro Coffin House, this is the oldest residence on Nantucket.
Built as a wedding gift in 1686 for Jethro Coffin and Mary Gardner, it is the sole surviving structure from the island's original seventeenth-century English settlement.
Jethro Coffin, who is listed as a blacksmith at the time of his death in 1727, was the grandson of one of the island's first white settlers and original proprietors, Tristram Coffin.
Coffin sold the house in 1708 to island weaver Nathaniel Paddack. From the Paddack family, it passed into the hands of George Turner, a cooper, in the 1840s. Turner later abandoned the building during the depressed years of the Civil War.
The Coffin Family Reunion of 1881 led to renewed interest in preservation and restoration of the structure. The Nantucket Historical Association acquired the house in 1923, and conducted a reconstruction of the original settlement in partnership with the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities (SPNEA, now called Historic New England).
In 1987, the Oldest House was struck by lightning, and underwent restoration under the guidance of John Milner Architects, Inc. It stands today as a monument to the lives of the island's earliest settlers.
Recent landscape restoration efforts by NHA staff at the Oldest House on Sunset Hill include the removal of the cobblestone driveway in front of the house, extensive brush clearing ( an ongoing project), and experimentation with mowing regimens in order to present the site in a more natural, meadow-like setting.
The installation of the kitchen garden behind the house in the spring of 2006 and the planting of a small orchard of old-variety apple trees in the spring of 2007 are major components of the updated Oldest House landscape.
This landscape not only provides a more appropriate physical setting for the Oldest House but conveys a sense of the lives lived here – a deeper understanding of the families who occupied this home in the late seventeenth century.
The kitchen garden, a reconstruction of a circa-1700 herb and vegetable garden, is planted and maintained by NHA grounds staff with a cultivation philosophy that adheres to an all-organic approach using only animal manures, with no modern fertilizers, herbicides, or pesticides. Plants are grown in an intensive raised-bed system typical of the time and include common vegetable staples (carrots, onions, cabbages and parsnips) and fifty or so varieties of herbs grown for culinary, medicinal, or household uses.
As dynamic, ever-changing systems, the garden and orchard will evolve and mature in the years ahead, increasingly contributing to our understanding of everyday life at this location three centuries ago.