Ipswich boasts a proud history that’s still evident against a beautiful, rugged landscape. By Tasmin Venn
Ipswich wears its history casually, and so do its people; no one thinks twice about driving over the Choate Bridge, built in 1764, the oldest stone arch bridge in the U.S., to dine on a burger and sip an Ipswich Ale at the Choate Bridge Pub. Story has it that the bridge’s engineer, Colonel John Choate, watched the opening ceremonies while mounted on a fast horse so he could make a quick escape in the event of a collapse. The bridge was a major shift from earlier wood structures. It-and Choate’s name-has stood ever since.
But the bridge isn’t the only structure that’s been here for centuries. Head down High Street and you’ll pass a parade of 17th-century houses. Ipswich has more “First Period” pre-1725 homes than any town in the country-about 60 in all. All are lived in, and pride in home and hearth-many of which you can walk into-makes the designation of an historic district unnecessary. Farther along is the Old Burying Ground with headstones dating to 1634; on the way is the site of the home of America’s first poet, Anne Bradstreet, who wrote about the transition from English civilization to New World wilds. On East Street is the former home of Pulitzer Prize-winning author John Updike, whose novel Couples tells about Ipswich spouses with too much time on their hands. In between sits the former house of American painter Arthur Wesley Dow, who ran his very own Ipswich Summer School of Art.
Stop by the Ipswich Inn for a delicious breakfast and pick up a recorded historic walking tour of High Street and beyond by Olde Ipswich Tours. On the way out to Crane Beach, you’ll pass the Whipple House (1677), one of New England’s oldest houses, and the John Heard House, a stately Federal mansion, both part of the Ipswich Museum. Up on Town Hill stands the plaque proudly pointing out that in 1687, Ipswich refused to pay taxes without representation, long before the Boston Tea Party. Across the street marks the spot where the devil left his footprints in the rocks after he jumped from the North Church’s high steeple, driven by fright from the sermon that day.
“What makes Ipswich special is the richness of the historic stock,” says Cindy Brockway, the program director of culture resources for all Trustees of Reservations properties. “I don’t know any other town as deep and rich as Ipswich is.”
But Ipswich has much more than history. For instance, nearly half the town’s 33 square miles is open space. “The town’s open space program has been very successful,” notes Kristen Grubbs, Open Space Program Manager. The Trustees of Reservations, Willowdale State Forest, and the south end of Plum Island make up that bulk, but the town, its businesses, and citizens have been very active in conserving any available land.Â The most recent addition is a lovely mile-long walk up Turkey Hill. “I think what Ipswich has been able to do with town support has been unique,” she adds.
“[Ipswich’s] ongoing history of concerned citizen participation is unique, especially preserving and protecting its environment with the Open Space Preservation Act and the Great Estates By-Law,” says Ingrid Miles, former Chairman of the Board of Selectman.
Long-time resident Alicia Moore says: “Ipswich is one of the largest towns in the county, from the shores of the Atlantic to the shores of Hood’s Pond, with miles of hiking and biking trails in between. There’s wilderness in woods, and in the vast expanse of salt marshÂ…So much is undeveloped but dependent on a watchful citizenry pretty much aware of what could easily be lost.”
Crane Beach and Castle Hill are the jewels in the crown, thanks to preservation efforts by The Trustees of Reservations, but Appleton Farms, Greenwood Farm, Maplecroft Farm, Willowdale State Forest, and the 500-acres Essex County Greenbelt all provide good places for a pensive walk. You can also horseback ride, mountain bike, jog, kayak, sail, or canoe. The smaller gems, like the 60-acre Julia Bird Reservation, the Sidney Shurcliff Walk, or the EBSCO Bridge, offer strolling access to the Ipswich River. The Ipswich Yacht Club has overnight guest moorings in Plum Island Sound and a great youth summer sailing camp.
The town of 13,000 people has the mills powered by the Ipswich River to thank for diversity. Ipswich Hosiery Mill opened in 1868 and drew Irish, French-Canadians, Polish, and Greeks to work there. The mill closed in 1928 and the buildings were used first by General Electric and now EBSCO Publishing. Today, buildings continue to recycle themselves. LaSalette Shrine became Turner Hill, which is complete with an 18-hole championship golf course. The Proctor turned into New England Biolabs. Appleton Farms, one of the oldest continuously operating farms in the U.S., is able to survive in part by community-supported agriculture. Mercury Brewing will move into a renovated brick shoe tannery downtown and start a brew pub and tours. Castle Hill excavated its cistern to water the newly replanted white pine and Norway spruce on the Grand Allee.
What is it about Ipswich? William Wasserman, the former publisher of the Ipswich-based North Shore Weeklies, says,Â “First, geography-beach, forests, rivers, clams, oysters,” he says. “Second, people-Ipswich has a good mix. Some commuters, some local artists, some strictly local folks who can make a living in town, some Democrats and some Republicans, good schools, and intense interest in local government. [Ipswich] is not a snobby town.”
Ipswich is also replete with beautiful views, but undoubtedly the best view in town is from the top of Castle Hill-which is also a popular wedding venue. While the Great House, the mansion Richard Crane built in the 1920s, is the most popular venue and can accommodate the most wedding guests, the Casino, Barn, and Steep Hill Beach are also popular. Laura Daley, event manager for the Crane estate, revels in couples’ first views of the Grand Allee, the half-mile-long lawn designed by Ipswich landscape architect Arthur Shurcliffe that sweeps down the hill to a cutout view of the Isles of Shoals. She says, “We have had people come in and stand in the door, their jaws agape, going ‘Wow.'”
Those not getting married can still enjoy the grounds when summer is in full swing: Thursday night concerts start at Castle Hill in July, with grounds open for picnicking on the Grand Allee at 5 p.m.
Date of Settlement: 1633. Date of Incorporation: 1634. Zip Code: 01938. Population: 13,175. Total Area: 33 square miles. Median house-hold income: $57,284. Schools: Paul F. Doyon and Winthrop Elementary Schools, Ipswich Middle and High School. Notable residents: John Updike (author), Anne Bradstreet (poet), Simon Bradstreet (governor), Arthur Wesley Dow (painter), Ed Emberly (children’s drawing book author), Dennis Eckersley (Hall-of-Fame pitcher), David Briggs (organist), Melissa Ferrick (musician), Arthur Shurcliff (landscape architect)