In 1684, William Gayer built his Nantucket home atop Step Lane, a veritable stairway so named for its quick ascent from North Water Street to one of the highest points in town. Both a farmer and a Justice of the Peace, the Devonshire, England native was the first representative from Nantucket in the General Court after the island joined the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Though Gayer’s family line ended with the death of his son, his home continued to stand, overlooking the harbor, with grace and majesty.
In 1881, Mr. and Mrs. Nathan Chapman moved to Nantucket. Tired of the ceaseless farm work along the rocky shore of the Long Island Sound, the couple sold their farm and invested part of the proceeds in Gayer’s property. The couple intended to spend their retirement in relative seclusion, but the festive community of Nantucket Island soon changed their plans.
Shortly after the Chapmans arrived, news of a grand reunion of Nantucket’s historic Coffin family began to spread. One of the original purchasers of the island in 1659, the Coffins were well known for their kindness and progressive thinking. During periods of extreme racial tension, they treated Native Americans and European settlers with equal respect and later fought for the abolition of slavery.
How to feed and lodge the hundreds, or possibly thousands, of visitors for the reunion was a problem for the small town. A house-to-house solicitation was made, and every room that could be made available was appropriated. Even the quiet farmers Chapman were persuaded and to their surprise, they found it a pleasure to entertain.
Guests, too, loved their stay with the Chapmans. Their desire to return to the spacious, beautiful home the following summer inspired the Chapmans to build a viewing platform on the harbor side of the property. The summer of 1882 marked the return of old friends and the acquisition of many new ones.
Their new life of hospitality and friendship was an exciting alternative to the idleness Mr. and Mrs. Chapman had originally planned. They purchased more property to accommodate the needs of their visitors. The open platform, so loved as a perch for admiring the island, was duplicated, then triplicated to provide multiple breathtaking vantage points of the harbor. Soon, a sign bearing the name “The Veranda House” was erected on Step Lane.
Today, The Veranda House stands as one of Nantucket’s landmarks. Its white porches welcome incoming ferry passengers to the island and its terraced garden stands as a reminder of the steep origins of Step Lane, whose slope has since been tamed.