Nantucket is a town, a county, and an island destination resort located 26 miles south of Cape Cod, 91 air miles south of Boston, and 207 air miles east of New York City, in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts off the east coast of the United States. Some 14 miles long and 3 1/2 miles wide, the island has a perimeter of 55 miles of sandy beaches facing the Atlantic Ocean on the south and east and Nantucket Sound on the north and west. Though losing about six acres per year from shoreline erosion, particularly along the southwesterly and easterly shorelines, the island's total area is just under 50 square miles, or roughly 30,000 acres. It has been predicted that a warming atmosphere and rising ocean levels, combining to accelerate erosion and increase ocean storm ferocity, may cause the island to disappear, or become inhabitable, in less than 300 years.
During the "palmy days" from 1750 to 1850, Nantucket was the whaling capital of the world, with her locally-built sturdy whale ships and crews representing the first Americans traveling far into the Pacific Ocean in search of spermaceti. With their successful voyages, the island became the second richest community in New England. But after the discovery of petroleum in Pennsylvania, Nantucket’s Great Fire of 1846, the development of rail transportation to New Bedford, and the 1849 gold rush, Nantucket’s whale fishery declined rapidly. The islanders gradually encouraged the summer visitor and tourist trade, and along with construction of new homes, this is the leading industry today.
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