Until the second half of the 19th Century, much of the area bounded by Central Street, Washington Street, Mineral Street and Market Street was a wetland with an open sewer known as Farley’s Brook running through it. Brown Square developed as an industrial area beginning around 1885.

The railroad came to Ipswich in 1839, changing the town forever. Stagecoaches no longer made their way up Town Hill, and the center of commerce moved to Market Street. In the same year, the steam shovel was invented, making it possible to move vast quantities of soil, level tracks, and fill in wetlands. By the end of the 19th Century, the geography of downtown Ipswich surely looked much different from it had only a few decades before.

The wetlands as described in the early journals are shown on the map. Farley brook was dug, and the land was raised and filled, enough that it became buildable by the mid-19th Century. This map was created with an interactive map that shows the effect of predicted sea level rise.

Shown on the above map are the wetlands which divided the western half of Ipswich from the center of town (Meeting House Green and North Main St.) as indicated in early records. The wet area extended past Dirty Lane, given that name because it was so muddy, afterwards called Baker Lane, and now known as Mineral Street.

Farley’s Brook was trenched to drain the swamp, and the land was filled such that it became habitable in the late 19th Century. The 1634 wetlands map was created with an interactive map that shows the effect of predicted sea level rise for selected communities, and suggests that downtown Ipswich could once again be under water, as it was with the Mothers Day Storm of 2007.

I’ve read that Elm Street once had a knoll, and the soil was removed to fill in Central Street, which didn’t exist until 1871. Hammatt Street followed, and William G. Brown acquired the uninhabited land as a site for his coal and gas business. Industries moved into Brown Square in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, and it has become the town’s oldest surviving industrial park, with direct access to the railroad.

Original land grants in the
Original land grants (shaded) in the “low and swampy” area of Brown Square and Hammatt St.

Land grants to the settlers

Thomas Franklin Waters wrote about the original land grants in the area bounded by Mineral and Washington Street in his two-volume book, Ipswich in the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

Mark Quilter: “An acre lot was granted to Mark Quilter, and recorded in 1638. His son, Joseph, succeeded and his heirs sold a house and six acres of land to Dr. Samuel Wallis, April 4, 1724. His daughter, the Widow Sarah Rust, inherited and her heirs in turn. It is now included in the B. & M. railroad land and the Burke shoe factory lot. The cellar was near the brick building of the Burke factory.”

John Wyatt “owned a house lot in 1638 and the Town Record describes it as “lying in Bridge Street (now Washington St.) and butting upon the south end upon the same street, having a house lot of Mr. Norton’s on the east, and a house lott of Mark Quilters on the west.” It was included in the Quilter lot in 1717.

The Rev. John Norton, “Teacher of the Ipswich Church, he received a grant of three acres, called a “house lot” in the record of grants, but later “a pasture.” It was a low swampy lot, and could never have been used for building purposes. It was on “the lower side of the Mill St.” (Market St.). Joseph Quilter acquired possession and conveyed to Michael Farley, measuring 15 rods on the street, in exchange for another lot, Sept. 20, 1710. John Treadwell owned in 1753. Capt. John Lord owned, and later Wm. G. Brown.

In 1635, Christopher Osgood had received a grant, bounded by John Proctor south, John Robinson north, William Fuller east, the swamp west. Waters writes that in 1710, Osgood’s property was transferred to Capt. Beamsley Perkins, who “carried matters with a high hand.” An ancient footway crossed the rear section of his property from Wilde’s Court, continuing up the hill to Loney ‘s Lane. He obstructed this way and forbade travel, and the matter was carried to Court. The complaint read as follows:

“The way is stopped, and is in the possession of Captain Beamsley Perkins, who it is molests us, the lots of Proctor and Osgood being in his possession. And the squared loggs that were laid over the brook and the low watery mirey ground to the brook have been taken from thence. Then this draught does but only signify such a way for a foot way in ancient times granted and used by a considerable number of the town inhabitants, but now deny’d to be and molested therein by Captain Beamsley Perkins.”

Gen. Michael Farley, conspicuous for his civil and military service, was a delegate to the Provincial Congress at Concord, and “a citizen of sterling quality.” The settler Mesheck Farley (1) was granted a lot which was apparently the location of Micheal Farley’s home on today’s Market St. Michael Farley first plied his vocation as a tanner on this spot, and added to his lot through purchases of land behind it from Joseph Quilter, as mentioned above. The brook that ran through the wetland crossed the Farley property and was thus named.

The swampy lot on which the Ipswich mill and dam are situated was granted to Richard Saltonstall in 1635 for the site of a grist mill. The millers were for many years Michael and Mesheck Farley (2), after which Michael Farley and Nathaniel Brown purchased the mill, and the Farley family owned and operated the mill for a century.

William G. Brown creates the town’s oldest industrial park

Michael Farley’s lot was conveyed to John Brown of Ossipee, NH in 1850. John Brown sold the lot to Jacob Brown (whose home at 11 Topsfield Rd. still stands). Jacob Brown owned a coal wharf on the River and operated the town’s only ice business. Jacob’s son William G. Brown extended the family holdings, bought the wetland that is now Brown Square, and became one of the most prominent Ipswich businessmen. In 1863, William G. Brown became sole owner of his father’s coal business, and in 1877 he incorporated a private Gas Light Company at the rear of the Market St. lots (along today’s Hammatt St). Pipes were laid, and a limited area in the center of the Town was lighted. The plant was enlarged in 1890, but the company closed when coal gas was replaced by natural gas in the 20th Century.

Farley Brook can be seen running through the area, which has not yet been developed in this 1872 map of Ipswich.
By 1872 William G. Brown owned the entire area of today’s Brown Square. Farley’s Brook separates his land and that of Dr. Wildes.
William G.Brown's coal gas plant on Hammatt St.
The round structures were part of William G.Brown’s coal gas plant on Hammatt St.
Two identical barns on Hammatt St.
Two nearly identical barns sat side by side on Hammatt St. in the Brown Square block.
coal_gas_hammatt
Brown’s coal gas building still stands.

dustbane-adGeorge B. Brown built a grain mill just across the tracks at the end of Brown Street, facing Washington St. The facility was purchased by Dustbane Products, founded in 1908 by two entrepreneurial Canadians, Chester E. Pickering and George W. Green. The company continued its Ipswich operations, but the building was totally destroyed by fire in 1964.

The 1884 Ipswich Village Map shows the George B. Brown Grain Mill (large building in red) at this location. Brown built a nice Victorian home nearby on Liberty St. Note the multiple railroad sidings behind the mill.

brown-square-1884-map
By 1884, William G. Brown had begun the gas works in the rear lots of Market St. George. B. Brown’s Grain Mill is shown as the red building beside the tracks on Washington Street. Hammatt St. and Brown Square do not yet appear on the maps. Farley’s Creek cuts through the backyards of Central St., which had only recently been created.
This coal barn sat along the tracks across from Brown Square and burned in 1976 in a spectacular fire. It was built by George B. Brown as a gristmill.
This coal barn sat along the tracks across from Brown Square and burned in 1976 in a spectacular fire. It was built by George B. Brown as a gristmill.
Barton stone
A.J. Barton & Son Stone and Monuments opened in 1889 on the east end of Brown Square and was the oldest business in Ipswich, but has ceased operations.
In this view from the 1893 Ipswich Birdseye map, the Brown Square area is still undeveloped
In this view from the 1893 Ipswich Birdseye map, Hammatt St. is populated. Canney Lumber and Barton Stone have moved into Brown Square but the end of the block is still undeveloped. The factory with the smokestack in the lower left corner was George V. Brown’s grain mill, which in the early 20th Century became the Dustbane factory. The Hammatt St. parking lot appears to be an orchard.

By 1910, Brown Square is fully developed, anchored by the Burke Heel Factory. By 1910, Brown Square and Granite Street are developed, anchored by the large Burke Shoe Heel Factory.

The Burke Shoe Heel Factory

In the 1880’s, George V. Millett house, whose home still stands on Spring St., was a partner in the company “Millett, Woodbury & Co., Shoes,” which operated out of shop on Brown Square. In the 1896 Town Report, we read,

“Millett & Woodbury have permitted us to use their whistle as a fire alarm, and have kept a steam pressure sufficient to blow at any time. To compensate them for coal burned, we suggest the town remit their water rates, about $16.”

The company closed its Ipswich plant in 1899 and moved to Beverly. F.L. Burke & Son heel Manufacturers of Rowley purchased Millett,Woodbury & Co’s shoe shop in Ipswich, and built a large factory on Brown Square.

Burke Heel Factory, Brown's Square, Ipswich

The Burke & Son heel factory at Brown Square burned on June 19, 1933. In the adjoining lot was the Canney Lumber Co., where most of the building and lumber was destroyed. The lumber business was eventually purchased by Tedford and Martin.

The Burke Heel Factory is in the distance on Brown Square, with Canney Lumber Company on the left in this early 20th Century photo. In the foreground is the old Brown Coal Gas facility. In the background on Washington Street is the Dustbane Manufacturing Company, located in the former G. B. Brown grain mill. The former grain elevator at Tedfords is in front of it.
Burke Heel Factory fire
Aftermath of the fire at Canney Lumber and the Burke Heel shoe factory. It left standing the building that is now Ipswich Brewery.
An early view of Hammatt St. from Central St.
An early view of Hammatt St. from Central St.
harris_oil_hammatt_st
Harris Oil Company on Hammatt St.
Houses once lined Wildes Court into the present Hammatt St. Parking lot.
Houses once lined Wildes Court into the present Hammatt St. Parking lot.
Brown Square circa 1950
Brown Square circa 1950. Behind the current Mercury Brewery building, the land was still undeveloped. Harold Bowen wrote that in the early 20th Century, a one ring circus would come to Ipswich each year and set up in Brown Square.
When the Hammatt St. parking lot was built in 1958, most of the houses were removed, and large culverts were laid underground to carry Farley Brook.
When the Hammatt St. parking lot was built in 1958, most of the houses were removed, and large culverts were laid underground to carry Farley’s Brook.

Clam Strips

In 1940, Soffron Brothers Clam Company purchased the Brown Square property and built a seafood processing factory on the site. The four brothers, Tom, George, Pete and Steve, were the children of Greek immigrants who came to work at the Ipswich mills. The brothers got their start digging Ipswich clams. They moved their shucking house to Brown Square from its initial location on the family farm at Locust Road. Their largest customer was a rapidly growing restaurant chain, Howard Johnsons. Saffron Brothers were the exclusive suppliers of clams to the Howard Johnson chain for 32 years, which featured Ipswich Fried Clams on the menu.

To keep up with demand the Soffrons opened additional soft-shell clam shucking plants from Seabrook, New Hampshire, up the Maine coast to Nova Scotia. As demand continued to grow and the soft-shell clam became more difficult to source, the Soffrons invented the Tendersweet Clam, which was a sliced clam strip made from an ocean sea clam that could be harvested in large quantities from ocean shoals far at sea. Pete and Steve built ocean fishing vessels, invented the dredging techniques for harvesting, and built patented processing equipment and new processing facilities in New Jersey.

At Brown Square they constructed a large industrial freezer that used the same flash freezing technique then being used in Gloucester to freeze fish. Tom and George perfected cooking techniques for breading and frying the product, and traveled throughout the Howard Johnson chain teaching the restaurant staff to properly prepare the delicious clam strips. The frozen Tendersweet Clam strips could be shipped from Maine to Florida and was exactly the product Howard Johnson needed for his restaurant chain, which grew coast to coast to 1000 locations at its peak. Soffron Brothers continued in business into the 1990’s spanning three generations of family ownership until the building and land was sold to Mercury Brewing. (thanks to George A. Soffron, son of Stephen Soffron, for this information.)

Shucking clams at Soffron Brothers in the 1950's
Shucking clams at Soffron Brothers in the 1950’s

A few years ago, Ipswich Shellfish’s neighbor on Hayward St., the Ipswich Brewery, bought the old brick building where thousands of shoe heels had been manufactured, and millions of clams shucked. The facility now produces many varieties of Ipswich Ale.

Ipswich Ale Brewery
The Ipswich Ale Brewery is in the remaining section of the former Burke Shoe Heel factory.

But what about Farley’s Brook?

The wetland is gone, but Farley’s Brook still runs underground from behind the laundromat on Central Street, under Brown Square and the Hammat Street parking lot, beneath Market St. and Zumi’s, emptying into the Ipswich River. Harold Bowen wrote that much of the sewage from High, Central and Manning Streets once flowed into the brook, and that the Ipswich Gas Company and the Burke Heel factory used it for waste disposal. Charlotte Lindgren informs us that before Farley’s Brook was piped underground, the oft-quoted phrase was “Manchester by the sea, Gloucester by the smell, and Ipswich by the sewer.

Photo from the 1961 town report

Course of Farley Brook

Farley's brook is a seasonal stream, flowing gently behind the Victorian-era houses on Central St.
Farley’s brook is a seasonal stream, flowing gently behind Victorian-era houses on Central St.
Farley Brook goes underground behind the laundromat on Central Street
Farley’s Brook goes underground behind the laundromat on Central Street.
Farley Brook dumps into the Ipswich River behind Market Street
Farley’s Brook dumps into the Ipswich River behind Market Street. A tombstone at the Old North Burying Ground is a more fitting tribute to the esteemed General Michael Farley.
Ipswich Brewery historic plaque
Ipswich Brewery historic plaque

Sources

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