THE QUESTIONS: Neil Paterson
by: Brian Bushard
photography by: Nicole Harnishfeger
As a young man, Neil Paterson wanted nothing more than to get off the farm in northern Scotland where he grew up. There was no work. It was 1979 and Paterson was 20. He moved to Nantucket in search of a job and ended up working at the Milestone Cranberry Bog.
He quickly moved on, founding a stonemasonry company in 1981. For nearly four decades, he and his employees have been grinding and engraving stones for patios, walls, grave markers and signs out of his shop on Bartlett Road.
He also started giving back to the island he came to call his home. He’s served on the Land Bank Commission for the past 10 years. He is also a volunteer firefighter with the Nantucket Fire Department.
Nantucket Today recently caught up with Paterson and asked him about his time on Nantucket, his profession, and the importance of preserving land for conservation, recreation and agriculture.
Q. How did you end up on Nantucket?
A. “After leaving agricultural college and struggling to find work in Scotland, I moved to Nantucket with my first wife and ended up working in the cranberry bogs.”
Q. How did you get into stoneworking?
A. “I worked at a very young age repairing walls on farms in Scotland. Bill Euler and Andy Oates, (then) owners of Nantucket Looms, gave me my first break in the stone business. After that, it seemed like there was a market for the trade on Nantucket.”
Q. You were elected to the Land Bank Commission in 2011 and you’re approaching the end of your second five-year term. What made you want to be part of the organization in the first place?
A. “Nantucket has been my home for over 40 years. Being a Land Bank commissioner has given me the opportunity to give back to the community and to help continue the legacy that provides and maintains open space for everyone to enjoy. I feel fortunate to be a part of an organization that has such talented and dedicated staff and thoughtful, proactive commissioners.”
Q. The Land Bank was established in 1983 as the first program of its kind in the United States, with a mission of promoting openspace conservation, active recreation and agriculture on the island. How do you feel the Land Bank has done in fulfilling that mission?
A. “The Land Bank has more than achieved its mission. We own and maintain open spaces, trails, playgrounds, golf courses, sports and recreational properties and agricultural land. Our properties are available for all Nantucketers to enjoy. The Land Bank has been copied in many other communities. Please ask yourself what this island would look like without the Land Bank.”
Q. What is your favorite Land Bank property?
A. “Norwood Farm. I enjoy the views, trails and forests. The farm has diverse environments and habitats for birds and animals and the trees and colors in the fall are spectacular.”
Q. Since you’ve been on the commission, the Land Bank has made a more concerted effort to preserve the island’s agricultural legacy. Why do you feel it’s important to preserve land for agriculture, on top of conservation and recreation?
A. “Coming from a farming background, I have always been interested in encouraging and promoting local growers and teaching the next generation the ability to feed themselves. During the pandemic, we experienced what it was like not having all the foods we normally take for granted. If we can provide prospective farmers with opportunities and land to utilize, it will benefit our community.”
Q. What about golf? You’ve been vocal about keeping Miacomet Golf Course, which is owned by the Land Bank, affordable and open to the public. Why promote golf at all?
A. “We promote golf because it is important to have public golf courses open to all islanders and visitors. Anyone can enjoy playing on two world-class public golf courses, which we have worked hard to improve. Like it or not, we are in the golf business and continually strive to keep the prices as low as we can for all to participate.”
Q. What goals do you have for the Land Bank moving forward?
A. “My goal is to stick to our mission of conservation, recreation and agriculture. I intend to continue working to create and maintain more trails and open space for all to enjoy and wherever possible, provide more waterfront access.”
Q. What kind of stoneworking projects do you most enjoy and why?
A. “I most enjoy creating sculptures from stone and steel and working with my son and daughter on these projects.”
Q. If you could have a dinner party for any six people, living or dead, who would they be and why?
A. “I would choose the Orcadian poet, George Mackay Brown, for his use of language; Jo, my wife and best friend; Nelson Mandela for his ability to forgive; Land Bank founder Bill Klein for his foresight; Lech Walesa, who freed Poland; and Annie Lennox for her incredible voice. If I am lucky she would sing.”
Q. What book(s) are you currently reading?
A. “I am reading ‘The First Casualty,’ by Phillip Knightley and ‘Refiner’s Fire,’ by Mark Helprin.”
Brian Bushard is a staff writer at The Inquirer and Mirror, Nantucket’s newspaper since 1821. He writes frequently about land conservation and the environment.