Alice Keenan’s Ipswich: Preserve and Protect

The following is an excerpt from the book Ipswich Yesterday written in 1982.

by Alice Keenan

Naturally when we moved to Ipswich my antiquarian cup ranneth over. This lovely old town, its long history, ancient houses and interesting people became almost an obsession — a most delightful one to be sure — and supported by an understanding if not occasionally bemused family, I merrily pursued my historic bent.We remember well on coming here a quarter of a century ago, driving endlessly up and down the by-ways of this old town in a state of pop-eyed wonder, passing 17th Century house after 17th Century house, modestly unmarked, and in some cases woefully uncherished.

We know we made a positive pest of ourselves by prattling on and on to whomever we met about the unbelievable wealth of history contained in our new-found community, and were properly and at time un-gently put in our place as one of those tiresome newcomers who “wanted to change things.”

The Hall Haskell House was slated for destruction by the Town of Ipswich until a group of citizens stepped in and saved it. The building now serves as the Ipswich Visitor Center.

The  Hall Haskell House was slated for destruction by the Town of Ipswich until a group of citizens stepped in and saved it. The building now serves as the Ipswich Visitor Center.

We certainly didn’t want to change things — we just wanted to help preserve and protect what we had left. We embarked on what our family resignedly referred to as “Ma’s Madness”.”

Preserve and Protect” was the credo of the Historical Commission, the first in the state, formed in 1964, and it wasn’t until we inventoried what we had and noted what we had lost, that it became apparent that a wealth of 17th and 18th century houses and structures had been destroyed through neglect, avarice and sheer stupidity.

A member of the commission, the late Kay Thompson once jotted down some of our losses. The list goes on and on, way back to the turn of the century, until the writer wearily ends by commenting: “Within the last 50 years we’ve lost enough handsome old houses to stock a new Sturbridge Village”.

The Ipswich Heritage Trust was formed when the  historic John Appleton House at the foot of North Main Street was going to be bulldozed down and replaced with a service station.

Much of what we have left we can give thanks, in part, to those frugal Ipswichites who never, never, destroyed or threw away anything if a modicum of use could be found for it.

Houses and parts of houses were turned back to front, moved all over town; paneling and nails were re-used where necessary, ells from one house were tacked on another a mile or two away; barns were moved and turned into comfortable dwellings, and alas, comfortable dwellings turned into barns.

It is the people who built and lived in these houses generation after generation, irascible, brilliant, dedicated, impossibly dull and surprisingly witty, that made Ipswich the fascinating place it was and perhaps still is– Ipswich.

Categories: People

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1 reply »

  1. I had the privilege of sharing my booth at Olde Ipswich Days with Alice, when she had her first book published. She was truly one of a kind and had a wicked sense of humor. She also joined me when the second book was released and I always looked forward to her arrival. Since I viewed her as so purely Ipswich, hearing her state she was the “outsider” coming to make changes is amusing. I don’t doubt that is how she was viewed at that time. I have heard that said about a few others lately so it’s funny how some things never change!


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