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Symbol of a bygone waterfront


Its age is palpable. Weathered gray without adornment, it has a relatively simple post and beam construction. But the hurricane braces in each corner attest to the builders’ intention that it weather many a storm.

The small shack on 4 Old North Wharf replaced an earlier building which burned in the Great Fire of 1846, continuing as a carpentry shop while the town gradually rebuilt around it. Around 1896 the carpentry shop was replaced by a fish dealer.

Ten years later James Andrews, my grandfather, bought it for his own business. Starting in the 1920s, as the rest of the wharf gradually converted to summer cottages, it remained a working building.

The objects inside contain layers of its past: a foot treadle lathe, incompletely motorized, an ice saw, hand rakes and bull rakes, numerous dredges, nets, traps and other gear. A tub of long line, still ready to go. It even smells old. But in a pleasant, cordage sort of way.

It holds the relics of lives lived according to the seasons. Scalloping in the winter, followed by dory fishing for cod and haddock, then mackerel. Oysters. William Rockefeller was my grandfather’s only customer, taking a barrel a week in season. Summer visitors meant sailing lessons, mooring handling, fishing parties. Fall was hunting season. Clinton Andrews, my father, and his brother George continued the family business.

And as fortunes changed, so did the way work got done. The Great Depression of the 1930s hit Nantucket late but hard. Handmade adaptations filled in when money to buy a tool or a part did not exist. Sea ducks for dinner.

In the 1960’s Clint Andrews took a job with the University of Massachusetts Nantucket Field Station, providing, in the words of the director, Wesley N. Tiffney Jr., “the invaluable local knowledge which frequently saved student projects from disaster.”

George Andrews continued scalloping. Eventually I shucked his scallops and sometimes rode along on the boat to cull.

Water lines of past storms show its toughness, all the way up through the November storm, the so-called “Perfect Storm” of 1991. It weathered that one, too. When other cottages were completely demolished, it lost a bit of the sill and some of its east wall, due to the battering of a giant steel buoy broken loose from Great Point. But, water come, water go. George drilled a few more holes in the floor to let it out.

After he died, I had the building repaired, keeping the scallop shanty and finding a dream that it also become a museum of the working waterfront. Is that sheer nostalgia? I don’t think so. It has a lot to teach us about how our ancestors lived and worked, how they adapted.