How a Childhood Memory Might Save an Island

By Kyle Niblett

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Morris (Marty) Hylton III

University of Florida Historic Preservation Program Director Morris (Marty) Hylton III grew up in the Appalachian city of Pikeville, Ky. It was there, during his formative years, that the second-largest engineering feat in United States history was implemented when a mountain was dissected, and a river diverted. The project alleviated the disastrous flooding that plagued the community. This monumental effort to make a place more resilient seeped into Hylton’s psyche and informs his work here at UF. 

This summer, as part of the University’s Preservation Institute Nantucket (PIN), Hylton and a team of students and researchers began work to help save the South Washington Street area of Nantucket, Mass., from being lost to sea level rise. With 180 buildings valued at more than $315 million, much of the area is expected to be submerged in water as early as 2060.

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“The residents of Nantucket, both year-round and seasonal, are coming together to help address the threat of sea level rise and flooding,” Hylton said. “The University of Florida, through its Preservation Institute Nantucket, is helping lead local efforts.” 

In 2019, a group of Gators on Nantucket helped create ACKlimate, a public-private partnership dedicated to helping the island and other communities fight climate change and rising sea levels through local and global engagement. The new organization was conceptualized by students at PIN, which has been documenting and preserving Nantucket for half a century.

“The dedication of the ACKlimate partners and the island’s tenacity for action shows that Nantucket is ready to excel beyond advocacy,” ACKlimate Coordinator and UF Historic Preservation graduate Kimberly Rose said. “Collectively in a synergetic partnership, we will aim to serve as an example for other historic coastal communities.”

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Town of Nantucket

Some of the innovative goals for Hylton and ACKlimate include the creation of natural and stable coastal edges as opposed to concrete seawall, elevated buildings in the high-risk areas and continued relationships with private businesses regarding adaptation plans. With four decades remaining in theory, affordable housing featuring flood-ready infrastructure is also paramount in saving the island.

“ACKlimate is an example of how the Preservation Institute Nantucket has helped prepare the next generation of historic preservation leaders while documenting and preserving the island’s irreplaceable heritage,” Hylton said. “The nearly 800 participants of the almost 50-year-old institute have taken what they have learned on Nantucket back to their own communities, both in the United States and across the globe.”

With members of the “OneDCP” team working alongside the Town of Nantucket, various non-profits and Island leaders, there is hope that much like Hylton’s hometown, South Washington Street area can be adapted to sea level rise and made more resilient against flooding and other coastal threats.

The “Cut-Through” Project in Pikeville, Ky., inspired Hylton to pursue a career in historic preservation.

Read More About How the UF Historic Preservation Program is Working to Save Nantucket

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