We're addicted to visiting little colonial towns in New England. First, it was inland touring of early industrial revolution mill towns. Then, we went back a couple of centuries and started visiting 17th century first settlements like P-town and little towns on Cape Cod. The more we visit, the more there is to learn and appreciate. Each little town has a history it shares with its neighbors, but also a unique history all its own. Finding the unique aspect of each place is part of the adventure. So that is how we have found ourselves here in Ipswich, Massachusetts. What better time to visit than in the autumn when the leaves are turning, the air is crisp and the tourists are gone?
We visited the Appleton Farm first, one of the oldest working farms in America. The 658-acre farm first worked by Samuel Appleton in 1636 passed from generation to generation until being deeded to the Trustees of Reservations in 1998.
We drove up a tree-lined lane past working fields, fallow and brown after the harvest. Cows grazed and lowed. We bought fresh cheese and bread at the farm dairy then sat at a small picnic table and nibbled while we took it all in. We were feeling pretty pastoral when we headed into the town proper.
Founded in 1633, Ipswich touts more First Period homes than any other place in America, i.e. homes built by the first British colonists in the 17th century and preserved. There are 58 First Period houses to be exact. We only visited a few, but the “gem” is the Whipple House (1655) right in the center of town. It wasn't open for tours, but just walking around the grounds and viewing the architecture and colonial style “housewife's garden” in the front yard was enough to satisfy us.
The stocks which sat on the front lawn of the Whipple House were somewhat disconcerting. We watched our P's and Q's since we hadn't checked the town records to determine when they were last used on overzealous tourists.
Across the street, a federal-stye house has been reclaimed by the Ipswich Museum which was not open, but looked like it would have been interesting.
Spanning the Ipswich River on Central Street, the Choate Bridge, built in 1764, is the oldest double arch stone bridge in continuous use in America. Don't you love all the caveats that are associated with superlatives? I imagine that there must be another very old double arch stone bridge in America that has NOT been used continuously.
Lace-making developed as a home industry early in the town's history. In the early 19th century, a stocking-making machine was smuggled into town from England and a new industry began, powered by the water of the Ipswich River. In 1868, Amos A. Lawrence established the Ipswich Hosiery Mills in an old stone mill on the Ipswich River. By the turn of the century, the enterprise had become the largest stocking mill in the country.
Like most mills in New England, however, it went out of business and what was left was a huge, vacant building. The mill has been refurbed and rented as small business space. The current residents have disguised the river side of the mill with a huge, colorful, historical mural. A short river walk gave us a great view of the mural and the Choate Bridge.
Our last stop in town was the Old Burying Ground. As always, we're fascinated with old cemeteries and the gravestones of people who lived and died here in Ipswich centuries ago. We wandered through the stones trying to read old, weathered engraving.
Enough history. We jumped to the 1950's and enjoyed pie and coffee at the 20th century Agawam Diner then headed back to our 21st century beds in East Walpole at day's end, contemplating the day and making plans for future trips.