Nantucket hotel fire ravages America’s largest National Historic Landmark District

A Total Loss

Nantucket hotel fire ravages America’s largest National Historic Landmark District

The historic Veranda House hotel engulfed in flames on July 9 in a photo shared on social media by the Town of Nantucket. (Town of Nantucket/Twitter)

A 338-year-old Nantucket inn has been declared as a total loss along with at least two neighboring buildings following a destructive fire that ripped through the historic downtown core of the storied Massachusetts summer colony over the weekend.

The Nantucket Fire Department first received reports of a structural fire at 3 Step Lane shortly before 7 a.m. on Saturday. An off-duty fire captain joined by other bystanders rushed into the burning building and helped to rescue hotel guests trapped inside during the critical moments before emergency personnel arrived on the scene; Nantucket Fire said that the valiant move “helped save lives.” All guests staying at the Veranda House, a 17th-century structure operated by Nantucket Resort Collection as an 18-room luxury boutique hotel, were safely evacuated.

The island’s fire department called in a request for assistance from three mainland Cape Cod fire departments as the inferno, which originated on the east side of the three-story hotel, spread. In total, 17 Nantucket firefighters battled the blaze along with firefighters from the other departments. A total of four first responders were reportedly hospitalized on Saturday and released the following day.

“Fire was unable to be contained to the building and has spread to several neighboring buildings,” wrote Nantucket Fire in a press release. “Damage to the structures involved is extensive with several of the buildings being total losses. Estimated cost of the damage and property from the total loss from the fire is unknown at this time.”

Per an update provided by the Cape Cod Times, an investigation into the cause of the fire is now underway and Nantucket Fire Chief Stephen Murphy relayed that there is no reason to believe that the fire was set intentionally. As reported by The Boston Globe, the building underwent a major renovation in 2020.

A statement published on the Nantucket Resort Collection website reads:

“On July 9th, The Veranda House experienced a major onsite fire. The Veranda House team is deeply grateful to the Nantucket Fire Department and first responders for their quick action taken during this incident. With the support of all the first responders, and our local community members, we can confirm that all employees and guests are safely evacuated.

Due to the extent of the damage from the fire, we are unfortunately forced to close the Veranda House and Chapman House.”

The destruction of the Veranda House marks a major loss for the New England island, which boasts a small year-round population that swells dramatically during the summer months. In 1966, Nantucket’s historic downtown core—the “finest surviving architectural and environmental example of a late 18th- and early 19th-century New England seaport town” per the National Park Service—was designated as a National Historic Landmark District. That designation was expanded island-wide less than a decade later in 1975. The district was previously designated as a local historic district in 1955, making it among the very first established historic districts in the United States. Today, the Nantucket Historic District is the largest “conventional” National Historic Landmark District in the United States at more than 3,000 acres.  The Nantucket Historic District Commission oversees all historic preservation efforts on the island.

In 2000, the National Trust for Historic Preservation included Nantucket on its annual list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. The Trust noted that although Nantucket has a “long history of commitment to preservation, an upsurge in the destructive practices of ‘teardowns’ and ‘gut rehabs,’ along with the inappropriate sizing and siting of new homes, are dramatically altering the heritage, cultural landscape, and quality of community life on the island.” As the Cap Code Times reported at the time, local preservationists hoped that inclusion on the list would raise greater awareness of the singular historic value of the island and its built environment and spur greater efforts to protect it.

“It’s almost like a theme-park atmosphere, where things aren’t really old, but they look old,” Bob Rivers, a former administrator with the Nantucket Historic District Commission who now serves as executive director of the New Orleans Planning Commission, told the Cape Cod Times after the island’s “endangered” status was first announced. “It’s getting to the point where the integrity of this historic district is really being threatened.”