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The Robert Wyer House, also known as our Nantucket Captains House project is situated along the ridge of Historic Captains’ homes that overlook Nantucket Harbor. The home is a historically relevant example of 18th century architecture on the island of Nantucket and is listed in the State and National Registers of historic places. The property has a significant contribution to the rich history of Nantucket, having housed several whaling captains, China trade merchants, abolitionists, and other prominent members of Nantucket.

The East facade of the Nantucket Captains House before restoration, photo taken from street.

The West facade (rear elevation) the Nantucket Captains House before restoration.

Nantucket Captains House History:

Robert Wyer Jr. purchased the land in the sixth Fish lot from Tristram Starbuck in 1760. He built a two and a half story lean-to house, with a ridge chimney (six years later) at the location that would come to be known as The Nantucket Captains House. The home was later bought by Robert’s son, Christopher, who was a prominent whaling captain of the Ruby, the Peruvian, and the Lima. He was also a co-founder of Nantucket Bank.

The original plot of land, as per the Nantucket Historic Register.

In 1818, the Wyer family sold the property to Reverend Seth Swift, the first minister of the Old South Church (now called the Nantucket Unitarian Universalists church) which still sits two blocks away. In 1832, the property was purchased by Peter Macy, a cooper and a whaler, who had an iron works shed on the property.

The original iron works shed.

Macy was also an abolitionist who first petitioned Harvard College to accept Free Men of Color. William Coffin, son of Levy Coffin, (a co-founder of the underground railroad), purchased the house in 1834. After his death, the Tracey family owned the house for nearly 100 years. Eventually the house was owned by John Stroup who donated the house to the Nantucket Historical Association and, in turn, sold the house to the current owner, Kristin Paton of Kristin Paton Interiors, in 2016.

Kristin Paton has undertaken renovations of several historic homes in London, Charleston, Boston, and Nantucket. It was always the Patons’ intention to preserve and enhance the historic nature of 33 Orange while tastefully incorporating modern day conveniences. As part of the purchase, The Patons and the NHA agreed on guidelines by which this preservation would be managed.

Original Condition of The Nantucket Captains House

At the time of purchase, the front saltbox of the property had not seen any material restoration for several decades. The rear northern corner of the building was sagging significantly due to a failing rubble foundation and a structural beam that was removed to accommodate a bathroom restoration on the first and second floor.

Faltering foundation and chimney footing.

Several of the original wide pine floors had been replaced with modern planks. The chimney stack that served fireplaces in the front and rear parlors on the ground floor and the main bedroom on the second floor was not properly footed and the chimney risked collapse.

The rear el of the building, which had been added around 1830 to separate the cooking and cleaning facilities of the home, was dominated by a second chimney stack that occupied the majority of this structure.

The rear el of the original structure. Chimney mass of rear el.

On the second floor there was an addition of uncomplimentary railroad bedrooms and modern baths, with an unappealing rear staircase and shed dormer added in the early 1900s.

The Project Scope:

The project was to restore the originally constructed saltbox construction of 1760, to disassemble a rear el of the home that was added around 1830, and to redeploy the historic fabric of that rear el in a new addition to the home that made it appropriate for contemporary living. The challenge was to preserve the original saltbox while keeping the new structure relevant to the history of the house and architecturally connected to the original structure.

Plans demonstrating the original layout when purchased in 2016.

The Original Saltbox:

The front saltbox was completely preserved by restoring the original 14” wide floor boards and replacing them in kind, preserving horsehair plaster where still in place, and restoring all moldings and architectural features. Poorly engineered renovations to the north elevation caused a material sag in the structure, as a major structural beam had been removed during a bathroom renovation by the past owner. A compromised central chimney structure, and dry rot in much of the timbers, complicated the restoration. The original floorboards were removed to access and shore up the underpinnings and exposed the original flooring system that was constructed of whole trees, bark intact, and planed on the upper side to present a flat surface for laying floorboards. This original flooring structure was kept in situ and the system was strengthened by systering around the original beams.

The original tree trunk flooring of the home, before restoration.

A similar approach was taken with the exterior walls, as many of the vertical supporting timber suffered from dry rot and no longer connected to their horizontal anchor.

Systering of original vertical support timbers.



Written By: Kristin and Scott Patton

Edited By: Augusta Mayer

Architect: Niche Architects and Gotham Notting Hill

General Contractor: Main Street Construction

1 Comment

Jul 10, 2023

What a miraculous transformation!

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