The History of Ipswich in a Nutshell


Tucker Wile, Journalist

Ipswich is a very historic town. We all know this, but how much do you really know about the history of Ipswich? Well good news, because I’m here to give you a timeline of the town with stories big and small from the 17th-20th centuries.

In 1630, John Winthrop Jr. landed the Arbella in Ipswich and was greeted by the Sagamore (chief) of the Agawam people, Masconomet. They became friendly with each other, and 3 years later in March of 1633, John Winthrop, Jr. and his crew officially made a settlement in Agawam. Five years later, in 1638, Masconomet sold the land of Ipswich to the Massachusetts Bay Company for just £20. This is when it all started.

Everyone knows the whole “no taxation without representation” thing from the Revolutionary War, right? Well did you know that the phrase actually started in Ipswich 90 years earlier? In the 1680s, England dissolved the government in Massachusetts and sent over Sir Edmund Andros to take over as governor-general. 

The first thing Andros did was decree an act that raised a poll tax on men over 16 and a property tax of one penny per pound of value (if a piece of land was worth £20, there was a tax of 20 pennies). Each town had to have a commissioner to collect the taxes every year. The colonist didn’t mind the taxes, but it was the fact that they didn’t have a say in it that made them upset. So, almost every town in Essex County protested by not appointing commissioners. 

All of these leaders were then arrested for not paying taxes, and the whole protest ended up falling flat on its face. Everyone ended up giving into Andros and he essentially won. But, when King James II, who sent Andros, was off the throne, Bostonians took over and Andros was sent back to England. The protest failed, but the alarm had been sounded for no taxation without representation.

Moving onto the 18th century, a very famous preacher, Reverend George Whitefield was travelling through the colonies and made a couple of pit stops in Ipswich. His first visit was on September 30, 1740, and it went smoothly. He preached to thousands of people, then went on his way. However, his second visit on October 4 was much more interesting. 

He was preaching at the First Church on town hill when the devil came to listen in on his sermon. The two started fighting until they eventually ended up on top of the steeple of the church. At this point, the devil either jumped or was thrown off the steeple (depending on the version of the story), and left the infamous devil’s footprint on the rock in front of the church.

22 years later in 1762, Ipswich became a popular stage route from Boston and Portsmouth. This, combined with the popularization of sleighs and chaises, (small, 2 person carriages) meant that the old wooden bridge going over the Ipswich River had to be updated to support the heavier loads. 

Col. John Choate insisted that the bridge had to be replaced instead of improved. He proposed a stone bridge, but people didn’t think the riverbanks could hold the weight of the bridge. They built it anyway, and the project took 5 months and just under £1,000 to complete. The bridge still stands to this day, after having another lane added in 1838, and after being renovated in 1989. It is the third oldest bridge still in use in America, with the second place spot being held by a stone arch bridge in Rowley.

In the late 1800s, a lot of mills started to pop up in Ipswich, and many Polish and Greek immigrants came to Ipswich to work in the mills. This is when my family came to Ipswich. On my father’s side of the family, all of my great-great grandparents were Polish immigrants. 

I asked my grandmother about them, and she told me about how, “…all the Polish people used to live down on Estes St. where the Riverview is. They used to call it Pole Alley, since all the Polish people lived there because of how close it was to the mills.” Through the years, many of the Polish and Greek families stayed in Ipswich, including mine, and because of that I’m related to the majority of people in town now.

Moving onto the 19th century, the owner of a plumbing company, Richard T. Crane built a huge Italian style house in 1910. His wife didn’t like it, but he asked her to stick it out for a few more years to see if her feelings changed. They didn’t, and in 1925, he levelled the mansion and built a new one, this one a more English style manor. It was finished in 1927, and Crane died just three years later. This is the Crane Estate we know today.

The same year, the Whipple House was moved through from Topsfield Rd. to S Main Street, where it sits to this day. The Whipple House was moved because it didn’t fit the area it was in before. It was surrounded by tenement housing for the mill workers, and some people thought it should be moved. 

It sparked lots of controversy because many people thought it was fine where it originally stood, and they didn’t see a need for it to be moved. The Historical Society argued that it drew little attention where it was, and it discouraged visitors by the lack of parking. This was right after they purchased the building to be used as a museum. 

They went along with the move, and on December 15, it was taken from its foundation and rolled through town on big logs. It was moved to S Main Street, where it remains as one of the nation’s oldest museum houses.

To wrap things up, the Clam Box was opened in 1935 by Dick Greenleaf (my great grandfather). While Woodman’s in Essex did invent the fried clam, the Clam Box perfected it. The Clam Box uses fresh Ipswich clams, which means the belly and all. Our clams are what put Ipswich on the map, and the Clam Box is where people know to get some good clams. Although, just between you and me, the Choate Bridge Pub has the better clams.