In some ways, Samuel M. Nickerson was a Chicago man. This is where he made his wealth, coming to the city in 1858 newly married and penniless after a dry goods business failed in the South. Thanks to his new father-in-law’s connection to the liquor distilling trade, Nickerson amassed his first fortune on Civil War Union Army contracts; then he presciently moved on before Temperance hit and became one of Chicago’s banking giants. But when he officially retired at around age 70, he left his marble palace and the city of big shoulders behind and went back to his real roots: Massachusetts. The Nickerson name is far stronger there, since Sam’s ancestor William Nickerson was one of the first English settlers to set foot on Cape Cod in the 1640s.
Like many moneyed or influential historic families, the Nickerson name lives on through buildings, library collections, and organizations out East. Since this mild winter has activated the travel bug in more than a few of us, a Nickerson-themed trip could be arranged.
Nickerson State Park, a forested 1,900-acre preserve dotted with kettle ponds, is located mid-Cape along Route 6A in Brewster.
Boston University’s athletes play soccer and lacrosse on Nickerson Field, named for William E. Nickerson who was among the BU Board of Trustees when he donated the original field to the university.
You can literally stay at one of Samuel M. Nickerson’s Cape Cod summer homes. It’s called The Mansion at Ocean Edge Resort & Golf Club now, and it bills itself as “a seaside retreat with 429 acres to satisfy your every whim.” (If you don’t feel Victorian enough playing golf on a Nicklaus-designed course, there’s croquet available on the lawn.) The site used to belong to Fieldstone Hall, built by Nickerson for his only son, Roland. After Fieldstone Hall burned down in 1906 and Roland died, legend has it, of heartache, Sam built a new one in its stead to live in with his widowed daughter-in-law until his death in 1914.
Annual reunions in Chatham for descendents of the Nickersons, organized by the Nickerson Family Association, are dedicated to celebrating the original roots of the family tree: William and his wife Anne Nickerson. This September they’ll celebrate the 375th anniversary of William’s arrival in America with a pig roast on original Nickerson property.