Dec 222014

By Ipswich Historical Commission chairman John Fiske:

Ipswich is home to two groundbreaking masterworks of early eighteenth century America,  a paneled wall and a pulpit. Both were made by Abraham Knowlton (1699- 1751), a woodworker who is less well known than he deserves to be.

The Abraham Knowlton house

The Abraham Knowlton house

William Knowlton, born in England in 1615, was the first of the family to settle in Ipswich. He arrived in 1641, seven years after the town was founded. He was the father of Thomas, grandfather of Nathaniel and great grandfather of Abraham Knowlton, who  was born in 1699 to Nathaniel and Deborah Jewett Knowlton, the fifth of seven children. Their house lot on the corner of Summer St. and County St. was first granted to Humphrey Bradstreet, and in 1646 he sold the house and land to Deacon Thomas Knowlton, shoemaker. Deacon Thomas sold his house, barn and two acres of land to his son Nathaniel Knowlton on Dec. 6, 1688.

Nathaniel sold half the homestead and half an acre to his son, Abraham Knowlton, May 5, 1725, just when Abraham was establishing his woodworking business in town. Abraham built the house that now stands at 16 County Street on the lot that he bought from his father.

Turned balusters in the Richard Rogers house by Abraham Knowlton

Knowlton’s earliest known work is the banisters in his own house on County Street, built c. 1725. He turned virtually identical baluster forms for the nearby Wainwright-Treadwell House in 1726, which he also fitted with Georgian paneling. In 1727-8, he repeated his now signature balusters on the staircase of the Reverend Nathaniel Rogers house, but here he gave the banisters the most elaborate, most rococo newel post that he had yet produced. A year later, in 1728, he moved across High Street and produced the baluster turnings yet again, this time for Captain Richard Rogers, brother of Nathaniel.

It was in the Captain Richard Rogers house that Knowlton produced the masterwork of his early period: A shell cupboard set at one end of a Georgian paneled wall whose opposite end contained a fine doorway that balanced the cupboard with perfect symmetry. The raised panels throughout the wall and doors were set in molded frames that were, in turn, set into a mortise-and-tenoned framework. Flanking the fireplace were the newest things to come out of classical times, wooden copies of marble, stopfluted pilasters. The tops of the door and the cupboard were arched with central keystones, in wood, of course, not marble. Nobody in Ipswich had ever seen a wall paneled like that.

Shell cupboards in the Richard Rogers house

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Nov 302014
Room from the Hart House

Room from the 1640 Hart House, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art

By Ipswich Historical Commission chairman John Fiske:

Don’t we all get a slightly guilty thrill at peeking into someone else’s room? It’s a bit like listening to their secrets. Now here’s a room that is actually meant to be peeked into – you can tell that by how neat and tidy it is. It is a room from the 1640 Hart House in Ipswich that is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. It is the very first thing that visitors see when they step out of the elevator in the American Wing.

Tucked away in the northeastern corner of the country, we New Englanders are architecturally privileged: It’s not often we go for a drive without seeing first or second period houses (i.e. ones built between 1635 and about 1785). It’s far too easy for us to take them for granted, far too easy for us to overlook the fact that the vast majority of Americans will never see a first period house standing on the spot where it was built – unless of course, they come to visit us in Ipswich: welcome, all of you, please come. Continue reading »

Oct 222014
Historic houses on High Street in Ipswich MA

Historic houses on High Street  are now protected through the APD

A Warrant article for the 2014 Fall Town Meeting on Tuesday, October 21, 2014 established an Architectural Preservation District (APD) for the most historic areas of the town.

TheAPD encompasses an area roughly defined as 220 acres beginning at the South Green, continuing along the river to the Town Wharf, East and High Streets to the High Street Bridge, North Main Street and Meeting House Green.

Map of proposed Architectural Preservation District. he current draft encompasses an area roughly defined as 223 acres beginning at South Green, continuing along the river to the Town Wharf, East and High Streets to the High Street Bridge, North Main Street and Meeting House Green.

Map of proposed Architectural Preservation District

View the APD article from the 2014 Fall Town Meeting warrant . (Note: references to landscape were deleted. The wording of the enforcement clause was also deleted and will be added at the next town meeting.

The bylaw exempts many home improvements, such as painting, installation/ replacement of storm/screen windows, removal/replacement of window and door shutters, and all interior alterations, from any consideration by the APD Commission.

The bylaw will require property owners to appear before the Commission and obtain their approval only in the following three instances:

  • Demolition of a building constructed between 1634 and 1900.
  • Construction of a new building or substantial addition to an existing building.
  • Substantial exterior alteration to a building constructed prior to 1900. (Substantial alteration is defined by the bylaw as an alteration to a building’s exterior which bears a cost that equals or exceeds 50% of the market value of the structure prior to renovation, or which significantly changes the shape, height and proportions, or scale of the building, and/or its relationship to surrounding structures.