A Very Brief History of Elder Services on Nantucket

By Robert Hall, Secretary, NCEA

According to Rose Laundry, a real estate agent who died in 2001, Nantucket started to grow in 1970. By 1974 it was clear that Nantucket needed to serve its “elder” population. In that year by Town Warrant, the Nantucket Council on Aging (COA) was formed with the purpose to improve the quality of life of its senior citizens. Then Articles of Incorporation were filed with the Commonwealth October 28, 1975 by Attorney James Glidden officially forming the Nantucket Center for Elder Affairs (NCEA.) The primary purpose of the NCEA as a non-profit organization was to help raise funds.

In 1974 the COA set up business in the basement of the home at 4 Darling Street owned by Mrs. Dietrich Tete, and ran a “meals on wheels” type program serving 200citizens. The NCEA and COA moved to 11 Weymouth Street in September 1978.

In 1980 the estate of Dorothy M. Souza, wife of Anton Souza, Sr, donated her Union Street property “Saltmarsh” to the NCEA where it served as headquarters for the COA and Elder Services of Cape Cod and the Islands. The building was far too small. A search began for a new location with the idea of selling the Souza property to fund construction of a new Saltmarsh Center.

The Washington Street Extension property was leased to the NCEA after an article for that purpose passed at a Special Town Meeting in 1984. The Saltmarsh Center building we currently use was constructed, formally opening October 13, 1985.

Whereas the town owns the land, the building is the responsibility of the NCEA. This solution to the needs of Nantucket’s senior citizens is unique in the Commonwealth. Every other town owns and maintains a senior center.

Over the years Nantucket has grown even more, attracting a considerable number of retired persons. Some reside here full time, others enjoy warmer weather for part of the year. The Center is really bustling in the summer, but even in the dead of winter, the Saltmarsh Center is a busy place. It too, has outgrown its space. According to the Town Clerk’s office, as of November 2019, 31% of the total populations are residents 55 years old and older.

Thanks to Linda Roberts for writing a brief history of the COA and NCEA from which much of this summary was derived. Thanks to Laura Stewart for keeping a folder of additional relevant history.