Maria Mitchell Association

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Loines Observatory of the Maria Mitchell Association

The Maria Mitchell Association is a private non-profit organization on the island of Nantucket off the coast of Massachusetts. The association owns the Maria Mitchell Observatory, a second observatory (the Loines Observatory), a Natural History Museum, the Maria Mitchell Aquarium at Nantucket Harbor, a history museum that is the birthplace of Maria Mitchell, and a Science Library. Staff members of the Maria Mitchell Association conduct research into topics as varied as astrophysics and the American Burying Beetle,[1][2][3][4][5] amongst other scientific topics. The properties offer a variety of science and history-related programming and are on the National Register of Historic Places, along with the rest of the island.

Components and buildings[edit]

The Maria Mitchell Association's buildings are located in various areas on the island[6] including four that are adjacent to each other on the hill in Natucket town.[7] These include the Historic Mitchell House located at 1 Vestal Street. It preserves the birthplace of Maria Mitchell, and contains many heirlooms of Maria Mitchell and her family. The Science Library located at 2 Vestal Street houses archives and special collections. The Natural Science Museum, at the corner of Milk and Vestal Streets, has several rooms of permanent and temporary exhibits, as well as a shop with books and gifts. The main Vestal Street Observatory, at 3 Vestal Street, includes the offices of the two working astronomers and has a few exhibits such as Maria Mitchell's famed telescope. The Loines Observatory at 59 Milk Street is used primarily for research and on clear nights offers viewings to the public.[7] An Aquarium and shop is located at 28 Washington Street, down the hill at Nantucket Harbor.

Admission is charged for the public to visit each site,[7] for programs, and for membership. A discounted special ticket is available during the summer for sale to the public to see the House, Museum, Vestal Obervatory, and Aquarium for one price. Tours are offered every day during the summer at 11:00 a.m.

The Historic Mitchell House[edit]

The Historic Mitchell House preserves the birthplace of Maria Mitchell.[8][9] It was built in 1790, and occupied by the Mitchell family from 1818, the year of Maria Mitchell's birth.[8][9] The House contains many artifacts of Maria Mitchell and her family, including a tall-case clock, one of her telescopes, and other artifacts.[8][9]

The research library includes Mitchell's papers, as well as other historical and scientific material. The House remains very much in its original condition with original decorative paint. Guided tours are provided to the public in-season and children’s and adult history classes and historic preservation workshops are offered.The research library includes Mitchell's personal and work related papers, her personal library, the papers and libraries of her family, and the Special Collection Library which includes rare books concerning astronomy, the natural science, and Nantucket some dating back to the 1600s. The Archives and Special Collections are open by appointment only for research purposes.

Natural Science Museum[edit]

The Natural Science Museum is across the street from Mitchell House.

MMA (Nantucket) Aquarium[edit]

See main article: Maria Mitchell Aquarium

The MMA Aquarium, also known as the Nantucket Aquarium, is on the site of the historic ticket office of the former Nantucket Railroad at 28 Washington Street.[10][11] It is located at directly on the shoreline of the Nantucket Harbor,[10] which empties out into the Nantucket Sound. Specimens are primarily drawn from the waters around Nantucket, and are released back to those waters at the end of each summer.[10][11] Because the Gulf Stream passes by the Atlantic Ocean side of the island, some tropical fish are frequently on exhibit.[10] The Aquarium offers programs, including a "feeding frenzy".[10]

Loines and Vestal Streets Observatories[edit]

Loines Observatory was built in 1968 and 1998, the two domes of this facility house a refurbished antique 8-inch Clark telescope and a new 24-inch research telescope. It serves as both an active research observatory and venue for public astronomical programs.

The Vestal Street Observatory has been the site of research, lectures, and other programs. since 1908.

Maria Mitchell Association’s observatories are open for regular public tours, programs, lectures, and also host to several special events throughout the year.


The Maria Mitchell Association (MMA) was founded in 1902 to preserve the legacy of Nantucket native, astronomer, naturalist, librarian, and educator, Maria Mitchell. After she discovered a comet in 1847, Mitchell’s international fame led to many achievements and awards, including an appointment as the first American Professor of Astronomy at Vassar College. Mitchell died in 1889.[12]


Each summer, the MMA offers "Summer Discovery Classes Program" for children of various ages, and during the school year to the Nantucket Public Schools.[13] The MMA also offers environmental education programs to families [14] as well as astronomy and natural science programs for adults.[15]

The MMA also offers lesson plans, and programs to teachers in local school systems.[16]

Major staff and research[edit]

The staff members of the Association continue to conduct research into a wide variety of topics from galaxy formation and star clusters, to spiders, molluscs, and the American Burying Beetle.[17] They have mentored many aspiring scientists.

David Gagnon is the current Executive Director of Nantucket's Maria Mitchell Association. He has served as the Chief Operating Officer (COO) for the Organic Trade Association (OTA) in Brattleboro, VT, a role he filled since 2000. As COO, Dave managed fundraising and development, IT, HR, membership, facilities and finance for the organization. Prior to his work at OTA David and his wife Shelley Dresser served as the co-Executive Directors of the Bonnyvale Environmental Education Center in Southern Vermont. Bonnyvale’s programs included research, summer camps, and citizen science, with a dynamic school out-reach program. Soon after completing his graduate work David founded TRI-S Environmental Consulting, advising clients and managing their environmental cleanup projects with a staff of 25.

George Donnelly is the Director of Development and Communications. He has nearly 25 years of experience as a professional communicator, graphic designer, and fundraiser. For ten years he served as the Director of Marketing and Advertising for Mystic Aquarium in Mystic, CT. In that role, he helped to build attendance at Connecticut’s leading visitor attraction to more than 500,000 visitors annually. He played an important role in developing the Penguin Pavilion exhibit which opened with the famed birder, Roger Tory Peterson. He also ushered in technology exhibits by noted ocean explorer, Robert Ballard. George worked as the Marketing and Communications Director for Connecticut’s Mystic & More, the convention and visitors bureau for southeastern Connecticut before serving as the Executive Director of the Providence Tourism Council in Rhode Island. In that position he created and solicited funding for several large scale events including Rhode Island Treasures, a 30-day exhibit of original and historic artifacts and documents that trace Rhode Island’s history. He later served as the Vice President of Marketing and Communication for the Providence Convention and Visitors Bureau, a position he held before striking out on his own as a communication consultant for seven years. His client list included the Rhode Island Division of Tourism, Rhode Island Governor’s Office, Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation, Blount Small Ship Adventures, George Washington Institute for Religious Freedom, Historic Touro Synagogue, and many area Chambers of Commerce. Just prior to joining MMA, he served as the Executive Director of The Matty Fund, an organization that helps children and families living with epilepsy.

Early in his professional career, he worked separating and identifying zooplankton for the National Marine Fisheries Service. Soon after, he moved to California to work as a research scientist at Pfizer, working on breakthroughs for open heart surgery. Upon returning to Rhode Island in 1982, he went to work as a medical researcher at Brown University studying gestational diabetes.

He attended Roger Williams College (University) where he studied marine biology.

Andrew McKenna-Foster is the current Director of the Maria Mitchell Natural Science.[1][2][3] He graduated from Colby College in 2004 with a bachelor's in physics,[18] and studied environmental science.[19] He earned a master's in Environmental Science and Policy from the University of Wisconsin–Green Bay in 2009.[20][21][22] McKenna-Foster has been active in re-introducing the American Burying Beetle to the island of Nantucket.[1][2][4][5] Other major research topics for McKenna-Foster have been carabid ground beetles,[23] and spiders in Massachusetts,[20][22] as well as in Wisconsin.[21] As an undergraduate, he also did research in quantum optics[18] and ecology.[19]

Jascin Leonardo Finger is the Curator of the Mitchell House, Archives and Special Collections. She holds an undergraduate degree from Mount Holyoke College in History and a Master of Arts in History with a focus on women and gender studies. Her master’s thesis is titled “The Daring Daughters of Nantucket Island: How Island Women from the Seventeenth through the Nineteenth Centuries Lived a Life Contrary to Other American Women.” Leonardo Finger has served as curator since 1999 and during her tenure the Mitchell House has completed extensive conservation projects, as well as been recognized as one of the top ten women’s history sites in the country and awarded the Nantucket Preservation Trust’s 2012 Architectural Preservation Award. She serves on the Historic Structures Advisory Board for the town of Nantucket, the Nantucket Historic District Commission, and is a trustee of the historic Coffin School.

Joan Stockman is the Financial Administrator and began working at the Nantucket Maria Mitchell Association in 2004, continuing what has been over 25 years of non-profit financial administration. Her first job on Nantucket was at the Marine Lab on Brant Point, an aquaculture facility where her responsibilities ran the gamut from larval shellfish propagation and algae cultivation to Federal grant administration. In the proud Nantucket tradition of wearing many hats, Joan has also worked as a private chef and innkeeper.

Before moving to Nantucket, Joan served as the Director of Ithaka Cultural Study Programs in Greece in their Cambridge, MA office. She also worked at Babson College in the Computer Center and as Assistant to the President of Khalsa Consultants in Wellesley, MA.

Kim Botelho is the current Director of Education. After receiving a degree in Environmental Science from the University of Dubuque in 1995, and accepted a position at a YMCA residential camp in East Troy, WI. Since then, she has gained nearly 20 years of experience in the field.

Gary Walker joined the staff of MMA in July 2007 as a consultant. He has over 50 years of experience as a consultant, professional engineer, amateur and professional astronomer, and observer of the celestial sky. Mr. Walker is past President of the American Association of Variable Star Observers and has served for the past 11 years as its Secretary. He has also been the CCD Chairman for nearly 15 years and served on two Search Committees for new Directors.

Gary is retired as Director of Engineering of Navigation Products for Northop-Grumman Corporation where he enjoyed a 30-year career. He was in charge of all aspects of the Engineering Process in various capacities before taking the Directorship.

Gary was deeply involved in the selection of the Association’s RC-24 inch telescope purchased in 2007, and was instrumental in moving it from Texas and reassembling it at the Loines Observatory in Nantucket. He spearheaded the establishment of the CDK-17 Inch telescope at Vestal Observatory in 2008, restoring it to Research Status after a hiatus of over 20 years.

Mr. Walker holds a Bachelors and master's degree from MIT in the fields of Mechanical and Aeronautical Engineering.

Sarah Erichsen is the Development Coordinator. She attend Salve Regina University, where she studied Cultural and Historic Preservation and American History with a concentration in foreign policy with the Middle East. During her time there, she interned for the Special Collections Librarian of the Redwood Library and assisted in the assembly of an exhibit on Oliver Hazard Perry and the War of 1812. Her thesis was written on the birth of Saudi-American oil relations.

Her professional experience has been shaped by her youth on Nantucket, involved both in history and the unique ecology of the west end of the island. She started working for the Town of Nantucket as an Endangered Species Monitor and later for the Trustees of Reservations as a Shorebird Monitor. She spent several summers at Craftmasters of Nantucket as a sales associate before moving onto the Tuckernuck Land Trust as the Office Manager. She returned to school to receive a paralegal certificate, and after worked as the Administrative Assistant and Paralegal for a local law office specializing in foreclosure defense.

Lauren Berlin is the Maria Mitchell Association's Administrative and Marketing Assistant. Lauren began her career by studying sustainable farming of livestock at the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture located in Westchester, New York. It is here that she grew an appreciation for the food production industry. In 2013, Lauren interned with GrowNYC and promoted urban farm stands that brought fresh and locally grown produce to underserved NYC neighborhoods. She then graduated from the University of Delaware with a BS in Animal Science and Food Science and a minor in Public Health.[citation needed]


  1. ^ a b c "Saving the Beetles", Yesterday's Island, June 18–24, 2009, found at Yesterday's Island website. Accessed September 2, 2009.
  2. ^ a b c "American Burying Beetle Project," found at Maria Mitchell Association website research webpage. Accessed September 2, 2009.
  3. ^ a b Invertebrates In Education and Conservation Conference, July 24, 2009, found at SASI online. September 2, 2009.
  4. ^ a b "Acknowledgments: Many contributed long hours, tireless research, and continuous dedication. Our team includes ... Andrew Mckenna Foster biologist with the Maria Mitchell Association for his work and dedication to the recovery effort....", "American Burying Beetle: First Terrestrial Invertebrate on the Species Survival Plan," found at Roger Williams park Zoo website. Accessed September 2, 2009.
  5. ^ a b Andrew Mckenna-Foster, William T. Maple, and Robert S. Kennedy, "American Burying Beetle (Nicrophorus americanus) survey and reintroduction on Nantucket 2005." found at St. Louis Zoo website]. Accessed September 2, 2009.
  6. ^ Maria Mitchell Association official website Main page. Accessed September 3, 2009.
  7. ^ a b c Mitchell Association official website Facilities page. Accessed September 3, 2009.
  8. ^ a b c Discover Nantucket website Mitchell House page. Accessed September 3, 2009.
  9. ^ a b c Maria Mitchell Association official website House page. Accessed September 3, 2009.
  10. ^ a b c d e Mitchell Association official website Marine sciences page. Accessed September 3, 2009.
  11. ^ a b Discover Nantucket website MMA Aquarium page. Accessed September 3, 2009.
  12. ^ Maria Mitchell Association website About page. Accessed September 3, 2009.
  13. ^ Maria Mitchell Association website Educational programs for children page. Accessed September 3, 2009.
  14. ^ Maria Mitchell Association website Educational programs for families page. Accessed September 3, 2009.
  15. ^ Maria Mitchell Association website Educational programs for adults page. Accessed September 3, 2009.
  16. ^ Maria Mitchell Association website Teacher resources page. Accessed September 3, 2009.
  17. ^ Maria Mitchell Association Research collections. Accessed March 8, 2012.
  18. ^ a b Colby College website, Physics majors page. Accessed September 2, 2009.
  19. ^ a b "Class Presentation and Report Materials: This fall the students in the Problems in Environmental Science class conducted a watershed analysis of Threemile Pond," found at Colby College website, Class Presentation page. Accessed September 2, 2009.
  20. ^ a b Sarah D. Oktay, "Creepy Crawlers," Yesterday's Island, August 21–27, 2008, found at Yesterday's Island website. Accessed September 2, 2009.
  21. ^ a b Rachel Rivard, "Spider fan finds Green Bay a ‘great fit’," May 4, 2009, found at University of Wisconsin–Green Bay website "inside student learning" pages. Accessed September 2, 2009.
  22. ^ a b "Terrestrial Insects and Spiders of Wachusett's Forests," found at Friends of Wachusett website. Accessed September 2, 2009.
  23. ^ "Public Programs: 3rd Nantucket Biodiversity Initiative Week, Sunday, May 25 to Saturday, May 31, 2008," Man About Town, found at Man About Town website (.pdf) Accessed September 2, 2009.

External links[edit]