2011-07-07 / Opinions

Georgians find Nantucket a charming, exclusive place to live

By LOR AN SMITH
columnist

NANTUCKET, Mass. – A flyer here notes that Nantucket is an island, a county, and a town, making it the only place in the U.S. with the same name for all three. The original settlers were Native Americans, and today almost 12,000 people make Nantucket their permanent residence. In summer, however, the population swells to over 50,000.

To get here, you have to either fly Cape Air from Boston or board a ferry in Hyannis Port, both of which might have something to do with the fact that, except for spotty drug activity (which every precinct in this great land has to worry about) there is virtually no crime on the island. People seldom lock their doors. You know any friend in the smallest town in our state who would be that bold?

The exclusivity and the water attract the enlarged summer population, and if you have a penchant for history, you can find it in abundance. Our hosts, Jay and Clare Walker, live in a house on Weymouth Street, from which you can see the ocean and the plethora of sail boats moored in the inlet and which was once owned by an abolitionist. Their charming cottage, built in 1755, was a haven for slaves who, after finding their way to the cellar and then woodpile out back, had reached the end of the underground railroad. The one-time abolitionist owner of the house literally hid fugitive slaves in his woodpile until they could find safe harbor in Nova Scotia.

The town is dominated by cedar siding shingle and clapboard construction. There are no expensive mansions—although the current real estate costs make them seem like they are—just cottages that appear that no architect was ever engaged. The “added on to” look or the “lean to” concept is what gives the community so much of its charm. You can walk anywhere, following curving streets that remind you they likely were once footpaths of the Wampanoag Indians. The island gets its name from the Wampanoag for “faraway land.”

Jay, a lawyer in Atlanta and a graduate of the UGA law school, and his wife, Clare, (née Scoggins) of Athens, have documentation of the history of their home, which is where Whittier wrote the poem “The Exiles.” There is a sign on the wall of their house noting that connection. The cottage is framed by beautiful roses, which are overwhelming to the eye—a scene you discover at practically every address in Nantucket. “It is a lot like London,” Jay said over dinner at American Seasons. “While there is a short growing season, roses and other flowers flourish here and you always feel like you are in a garden when you are just strolling the streets,” Clare said.

At a charming downtown restaurant, just one of the many upscale restaurants in a cozy setting, there was a rusting, tin cut-out of a pig, making you think that maybe this could be a barbecue place. Not exactly, although there was a pork dish on the menu. That was Jay’s choice, and he shared with Clare and his guests who ordered “Fluke,” about the best tasting flounder you will ever meet. Softly in the background, Johnny Cash was singing “ Folsom Prison” on the house system—making you feel right at home on the exclusive island of Nantucket.

Our conversation was devoted to all things Bulldog. We discussed the forecast for the season, of course, but more importantly the plans of a certain UGA matriculate, the Walkers’ son, Trace—a serious student with accelerated degree plans who is giving up his summer on Nantucket for the library. The Walkers’ daughter, Ansley, is out West on a Young Life program, which made the guest house available for visitors.

New England holds a deep fascination. You can’t help but become refreshed by the sea, the coastal villages, and the salt air—which is hell on anything metal left outdoors but uplifting to the spirits. Taking a deep breath while looking at the Atlantic reminds you of the link we have with one of the biggest events in our history—the landing of the Mayflower.

When I shook Jay’s hand when it was time to say goodbye, that link was reinforced. His ancestors came over on the Mayflower.

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