Excerpts from the introductory pages of Something To Preserve, published by the Ipswich Historical Society, 1975, about the preservation agreements established between owners of historic homes in Ipswich and the Society.
In Ipswich, the oldest part of town has remained to an exceptional degree intact. The terrain and the settlers’ need for mutual support and protection kept it a compact town in its first century. The houses invited remodeling but not demolition. The coal grate and central heating unfortunately robbed the town of some of its great medieval chimneys. Small shops replaced residential dwellings at the foot of the hill leading from Meeting House Green. There were the pressures of change, but the pressures of growth were not great until the twentieth century was well advanced. The wise planning and solid building of the first generation held the old part of town comparatively unchanged.
THE IPSWICH HISTORICAL SOCIETY
Recently, more organized efforts toward preservation were called for, as the erosion of Ipswich’s architectural heritage approached the rate of nearly one good colonial house lost each year. Many of these attempts had their origin in the Ipswich Historical Society, founded in 1890 by the Reverend Thomas Franklin Waters, the author of a two-volume history of Ipswich, volume 1 published in 1905 and volume 2 in 1917. Because they contain a history of virtually every significant house in the town, these two volumes can be considered the base from which all organized preservation schemes have originated.
In the early 1950’s, Dr. Abbott Lowell Cummings, Director of the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, and a leading authority on first-period buildings in the region, performed for the Society an initial survey of Ipswich buildings, augmenting the material in Waters’ history.
To the members of the Historical Society and to others in the town the need for a body specifically devised and endowed for the purpose of protecting the Ipswich architectural heritage had long been apparent. Since such an enterprise has elements of financial risk, the trustees of the Society determined that they could not perform that function. There then began a series of events that precipitated the formation of a body which could.
In 1960, the town demolished a three-hundred-year-old dwelling for a street widening. Two years later, the town took possession of an exceptionally interesting house and lot for an electric substation site and storage yard. At the last minute it was saved from the bulldozers by two dedicated and determined women. The wife of the Society’s president dashed to the scene and with a personal check persuaded the bulldozer operator to delay demolition while the vice-president’s wife persuaded the Smithsonian Institution to send experts to Ipswich, where their inspection convinced them that the building had to be saved. As a result, the house was carefully dismantled, sent to Washington and partially reassembled. Though lost to Ipswich, it is now preserved as an example of the builder’s art and a key feature of the Growth of America Exhibit in the Smithsonian Museum of History and Technology.
- The Ipswich Historical Society is now the Ipswich Museum
- The Ipswich Historical Commission is a separate body under the auspices of the Town of Ipswich
- The Ipswich Town Historian is Gordon Harris, whose blog Stories from Ipswich is online.
Read more online chapters from Something to Preserve:
Ipswich Historical Society
The Ipswich Heritage trust