Legend has it that the wives of whalers in 19th century Nantucket stared forlornly out to sea from rooftop platforms in search of their husbands’ ships. Over time, as sailors failed to return home, those platforms became known as widow’s walks.
While the name evokes a romantic notion, the structure’s intended purpose was much more pragmatic, says Mary Bergman, executive director of the Nantucket Preservation Trust. They’re formally referred to as “roof walks” and were most commonly used to access the top of chimneys to quell chimney fires with sand, a common problem of the era.
Widow’s walks are typically constructed of wood and accessed by a hatch or ladder in the attic. The narrow, railed platforms are sometimes accompanied by a cupola. The defining feature of a widow’s walk is that it sits on top of the roof, distinguishing it from a balcony. These iconic architectural features are usually associated with northern seafaring towns, but they appear down the East Coast and inland thanks to their history and aesthetic charm.
Buyers remain interested in widow’s walks today both as a design feature that hearkens to the past and as a functional part of the home, says Lauren Conner, a realtor with
in Norfolk, Va. “You pull down a ladder to get to the attic. You pull down another to reach the widow’s walk. Then take in the views,” says Ms. Conner.
Five Homes for Sale With Widow’s Walks
Sarasota, Fla. // $1.995 million
This estate in Sarasota is located in a gated community and offers views of the bay from the widow’s walk. The house measures about 6,000 square feet and features an entrance with wooden floors inlaid with marble as well as five bedrooms, a den, five full bathrooms, and one half bathroom.
There’s also a pool, three-car garage, private elevator, and two master suites. The property is listed by Coldwell Banker Realty.
Tybee Island, Ga. // $850,000
The widow’s walk atop this Tybee Island, Ga. house offers sunset views of Tybee Creek. The home is approximately 1,535 square feet and has two bedrooms, two bathrooms, and one half bathroom, plus a two-car garage, Lemurian granite countertops and backsplash in the kitchen, and herringbone-laid Granada bamboo tile throughout.
The house is being sold furnished and also includes deeded access to the Back River beach. The house is listed by Keller Williams Coastal Area Partners.
Read More: Widow’s Walks Raise The Roof