Jethro Coffin House — The Oldest House in Nantucket
April 12, 2023
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If you are a history buff, Nantucket is a worthwhile destination. It is home to numerous artifacts, drawings, written documents, and ecological markers that are a throwback to many years ago. Among the most outstanding historical features are old buildings. Nantucket has an admirable quality of preserving such structures and anything else that will have you reliving the past.

Most of these buildings are centuries old. The oldest house still on its original foundation is the Jethro Coffin House. It was built in 1686 and is currently more than 300 years old.

Jethro Coffin House History

The house was built as a wedding gift to 23-year-old Jethro Coffin (1663 – 1727) and 16-year-old Mary Gardner (1670 – 1767). Their marriage was intended to solidify the relationship between two families in contention. Jethro’s grandfather, Tristram Coffin, was one of the island’s original proprietors, while Mary’s father, John Gardner, was among the leaders of the Half-Share Revolt.

The revolt group, mainly made of the island’s tradesmen, sought to have the wealthier full-share proprietors forcefully give up some of the island’s resources and properties. Jethro’s and Mary’s marriage would help soothe old wounds.

Having been built with coffin lumber, the Jethro Coffin House was a posh house in its time. It became a physical manifestation of the newfound unity between the two families.

The couple later sold the house to Nathaniel Paddack and moved to Mendon, Massachusetts. Four generations of Paddack’s family lived at the house before it was sold to George Turner for $300.

Around three decades later, George Turner and his family bought another property to live in and used the Jethro Coffin House for hay storage. By the late 17th century, the house was abandoned.

In 1881, the Coffin family held a reunion that over 500 family members attended. Some of the attendees had grown up in the Jethro Coffin House. Talking about the past sparked a new interest in the property and they decided to buy it back to preserve their history and memories. They got it for $300. They then renovated the house and opened its doors in 1886 to celebrate its 200th anniversary. However, no one was willing to live in it, so it remained closed until 1897, when the Coffin family decided to make it a house museum. It attracted thousands of visitors who were curious to have a glimpse of life in the 16th century.

In 1923, the Nantucket Historical Association acquired the property and listed it under notable historic properties on the island. Later, the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities (SPNEA) was hired to renovate the property and restore it to its initial appearance.

However, the construction works did not restore the building’s initial look, which featured a rectangular shape with gables on the front. Instead, it looked more like a building built in the early 17th century, featuring a ‘salt box’ shape with an extended back catslide roof.

At the time, there was another dilapidated 17th-century building – the Nathaniel Paddack house. Since it lay ruined beyond repair, it was demolished, and some parts of it were used to reconstruct the Jethro house.

In 1968, the Jethro Coffin House was officially named a National Historic Landmark. Unfortunately, about two decades later, the house was struck by lightning, which ruined most of its structure. Consequently, extensive repairs were done, with areas like the chimney and roof necessitating reconstruction.

The house was then opened to the public to give visitors a feel of what it was like in the 17th century. To date, the Jethro Coffin House still stands and is one of the island’s most precious historic structures.


You can find Jethro Coffin House at 16 Sunset Hill lane, off W Chester Road. It is about half a mile away from the town center. You can access the house either by foot, bike, private car, taxi, or bus, depending on where you are and your preference.

Usually, it operates from late May to Mid-October, every day. It remains closed from Mid- October to late May. During its operational months, the Jethro Coffin House is open to the public only during the daytime hours. Visit their website to find out the specific days of the week and times.

Jethro Coffin House’s ticket price is part of a package that includes admission to all of Nantucket’s historic sites and houses.

Visiting all historical sites (the Whaling Museum excluded) costs $15 for adults and $5 for kids. You’ll have to pay $5 more to visit the Whaling Museum.

What to Expect at the Jethro Coffin House

Your experience at the house is likely to be more exciting with a knowledgeable tour guide. They will give you in-depth information about how people would live in the past, including how they used every part of such a house. You can explore the parlor, lean-to kitchen, bedrooms and borning room. On the living room’s wall is Mary Gadner’s portrait, attributed to Pollard Limner, ca. 1720.

Outside the house is a lovely, well-maintained herb and vegetable garden. Like in the past, the plants are grown without using modern fertilizers, herbicides, or pesticides. While on your visit, you may treat your tastebuds with herbs from the garden. Moreover, there are lush areas with picnic tables where you can relax and take a break after the tour. Ensure to carry your camera along, as there are several Instagram-worthy spots on the property.

Besides tours, the Jethro Coffin House is also open to private events. You may have your wedding, birthday, anniversary, or any other intimate event at the property. It offers fantastic backdrops (both inside and outside) for the perfect photos and videos. Moreover, the serene surroundings allow you to focus on the moment.

To hold a private event, you must book in advance by filling out a Venue Request Form.

Other Places to Visit Near Jethro Coffin House

Though you have a lot to learn and enjoy at the Jethro Coffin House, a tour will not eat up much of your time, considering the size of the property. It may take you around 30 minutes to an hour. If planning to spend a whole day around the area, it is advisable to have other places in mind. Ideal close-by leisure places include Jetties beach, Madaket beach, and Surfside beach.

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