These photos are from one of my favorite hikes in Mass Audubon’s Ipswich River Sanctuary at 87 Perkins Row in Topsfield. Twelve miles of trails weave through an amazing mix of forests, meadows and wetlands, with great views of the Ipswich River from the central drumlin and two eskers that were left by retreating glaciers only 15,000 years ago. View the location at Google Maps.
The land was a gift to Mass Audubon by Thomas Emerson Proctor (1873-1949), who was the beneficiary of his father’s amassed fortune from the leather business, and retired to Topsfield where he lived until his death in 1949. Proctor first lived in the historic home of Captain Dudley Bradstreet (1765-1833) which is now the Audubon Visitor Center. At the turn of the 20th century, Proctor owned nearly half of the land in Topsfield, and the remains of his mansion are nearby on Proctor Drive. The Turner Hill Mansion on Topsfield Rd. in Ipswich was the home of his sister Ann Rice, and his brother’s home, the Proctor Estate in Ipswich, is now the home of New England Biolabs. Both provide public access under the Ipswich Great Estates Bylaw.
Like Bradley Palmer (whose extensive holdings in Ipswich were given to the state to become Bradley Palmer State Park and Willowdale State Forest) Proctor joined the Essex Agricultural Society and won first prizes for his Jersey cows, plowing teams, potatoes and other crops at the Topsfield Fair. In 1898 he purchased the Dudley Bradstreet farm on Perkins Row, followed by purchases of surrounding lands totalling about 4000 acres. He set a goal to plant a specimen of every hardy North American tree on his estate, and is said to have brought in thousands of other species of plants. The property features a Rockery designed by Japanese landscape architect Shintare Anamete in 1905.
Proctor created a network of carriage trails on the estate which he made available to the public. In his will, he gifted almost 2000 acres of his estate to Massachusetts Audubon. Originally known as the Proctor Wildlife Sanctuary and Annie H. Brown Reservation, the name was later changed to the Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary.