Picks and Pans Review: Nantucket Island

updated 09/22/1986 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/22/1986 01:00AM

by Robert Gambee

Nantucket sits 30 miles out in the Atlantic, and because of its peculiar economic history it is a unique museum of Early America. More than 800 of its houses were built before 1840. It flourished as a fishing port in the 17th century, and for a long time there was no reason to tear down the houses and churches because there was no boom that would cause them to become obsolete. Then, by the time the wealthy decided that it would be nice to spend their summers there, a conservation foundation already had control of 6,000 acres to ensure that the island would retain its mostly rustic nature. The author's family first went to Nantucket 50 years ago, and the photographs that make up this beautiful volume have been taken over several decades. Gambee's pictures are distinguished by their clarity of detail, and the colors are as bright and vivid as those that appear in a Walt Disney cartoon. There are scenes of the town and the harbor and wharfs ("It is tribute to the Nantucket Historic Districts Commission," the author explains, "that there are no neon signs on the island and not a single traffic light anywhere") as well as interiors of the island's many mansions, furnished with antiques in pristine condition. The churches, both outside and in, look as if they might have been built just two years ago—not 250. The Brant Point Lighthouse, with its 82-year-old structure, stands in solitary confidence. Then there are the magnificent beaches, the ponds, wildflowers, moors and cranberry bogs. The aerial views of Esther and Whale Islands are haunting. The pictures of rose-covered cottages in Siasconset and other villages look like illustrations for an old English book of nursery rhymes. It is all but impossible to turn through the pages of this book without wanting to pay Nantucket a visit. (Norton, $29.95)

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