Featured image: the Preston-Foster house on Water Street.

Something To Preserve was published by the Ipswich Historical Commission in 1975 and is a report on historic preservation by the acquisition of protective agreements on buildings in Ipswich, Massachusetts. This important book described the process by which the town of Ipswich began to preserve at-risk historic homes after the town rejected efforts to set up a legal historic district.

Excerpts from the book:

In Ipswich, the oldest part of town has remained to an exceptional degree intact. The terrain and the settlers’ need for mutual support and protection kept it a compact town in its first century. The houses invited remodeling but not demolition.

By 1646 the population of Ipswich is thought to have been close to 800 inhabitants — 146 families. Twenty or more ships bearing immigrants were arriving each year along the shores of the Bay Colony and the pressure to find suitable places for settlement increased steadily. The affluent John Whipple, whose mid-seventeenth-century house is now open to the public, probably lived near Boston before he came to Ipswich. When he planned the distinctive architectural details of the house, he was building for posterity, as were the builders of most of the seventeenth-century dwellings which exist in Ipswich today.

The sandbar at the mouth of the Ipswich River, observed by Captain John Smith long ago and marked today by the line of breakers about a half-mile off Crane Beach, may be considered the single most important reason for the survival of so many old houses in Ipswich. Most Ipswich families in the early 1800’s had a seafaring member, but he shipped out of Boston, Salem, Beverly or Newbury port — all blessed with deeper harbors. Prior to the building of the Newburyport Turnpike after 1803, all overland communication between Boston and Newburyport, Portsmouth and Portland was through Ipswich. The turnpike, although not in itself  immediately successful, certainly helped to make Ipswich the quiet town it became.

What is most treasurable in the town is its core of historic houses. They reveal their age in sharp pitch of roof and unexpected breadth of chimney. Small and simple, built with the materials and skills at hand, these are frontier houses. Yet within their range they are not only sturdy but varied and lovely. The gunstock posts and overhang, suggestive of medieval houses; the fabulously wide hoards, suggestive of the virgin forests which stood nearby: the blending of form and function, austerity and beauty, suggestive of the Puritan mind — all combine to give a vivid impression of the world of their builders. And, oddly enough, these old houses are better suited to modern living than many later mansions. Designed for housewives with little except family assistance, centering on a warm family hearth, battened against the cold north and turning toward the southern sun, they are still valid, economically, socially and architecturally, in our own world.

In 1962, a major oil company purchased another important, centrally located house, where it planned to substitute a service station. This dwelling, at the foot of Meeting House Green, had been built circa 1707 by the same Colonel John Appleton who, in 1687, was jailed by order of the Royal Governor for his part in the “Andros Rebellion.” To save this house, and later others, by more organized methods than last-minute individual measures, the Ipswich Heritage Trust was organized under the aegis of the Ipswich Historical Society, which is its designated beneficiary. After long negotiation, the oil company relinquished title for a payment by the Trust of the full purchase price plus attorney’s fees and other costs. With the help of outside donations, the project was financed. Within two years, and at a price far less than cost, the house was sold for use as a professional center, with deed restrictions assuring the trustees that no significant changes would be made to the structure’s frame and outer appearance.

Meanwhile, the Trust took an option, and exercised it, on two more buildings on Meeting House Green, which were in deplorable condition and threatened with disastrous conversions or even demolition. One was built in the mid-eighteenth century by Dr. John Manning, Revolutionary surgeon and early crusader for smallpox inoculation; the other, on the same property, built before 1769, had been the town’s first post office and is perhaps the earliest in the country still standing. The primary purpose of the Trust was the purchase of buildings of historic and architectural distinction for resale under Preservation Agreements designed to maintain those features of each structure which have distinctive value.

In 1963 the Board of Selectmen, under the authority given them by Chapter 40C of the General Laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, appointed an Historic District Study Committee. The Committee’s purpose was to study the possibilities for, the physical boundaries of, and the rules and regulations governing, an historic district. After a year and a half of study and public hearings, the Committee submitted to the Great and General Court of Massachusetts a bill that delineated an area, necessarily quite large because of the number of historically valuable structures located throughout the center of town, as an historic district. Because of local opposition, this bill was killed by the House. Three subsequent attempts to establish a district also failed, one by action of the state’s Attorney General in 1967 and the other two by action of the two meetings in 1967 and 1968.

The Ipswich town meeting of 1964, in order to take advantage of possibly available state and federal funds, voted into existence an Historical Commission, the membership of which coincided with that of the Study Committee. The Commission continued a project begun unofficially — affixing to the town’s earliest buildings plaques on which are noted names of original owners and approximate dates. The Commission is empowered by Chapter 40, Section 8D of the General Laws, to “acquire in the name of the town by gift, purchase, grant, bequest, devise, lease or otherwise, the fee or lesser interest in real or personal property of significant historical value” and to “manage the same.” This power became crucial when, late in 1969, a combination of federal and local funds made possible in Ipswich a demonstration project in the use of easements in securing preservation restrictions.

To finance the costs of the Project, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development agreed to provide a grant of $21,375 with the stipulation that an equal amount be matched by the town or by some local agency. The Ipswich Heritage Trust agreed to raise the matching half. Members of the Commission jointly with trustees of the Trust then worked out a budget and employed a Director — John F. Cole, a man experienced in the real-estate market and expert in the architecture of the old homes of Essex County.The scope of the Project was determined by two studies. One was an examination of the enabling law and its background; the other was the making of an inventory of Ipswich’s old houses.

The term “Preservation Agreement” was chosen to fit best with the 1961 and 1969 Acts and yet to avoid the mystery of the usual legal nomenclature. Massachusetts statutes do not encourage use of the word “covenant,” which primarily means only an Agreement under seal. Under the Agreement’s provisions, the homeowner agrees not to permit any alterations to the designated interior or exterior features of his home. If he wishes to make any change, he must receive prior written approval of the Commission. If the Commission disapproves, the owner may request a review by a qualified person appointed by the Massachusetts Historical Commission. Of course, in the event of a serious disagreement that could not be resolved, either party would have the right to seek a ruling from the courts.

The Agreements were eventually signed by sixteen owners of first quality houses: eight of them were given without the payment of money;  the remaining eight were accompanied by equal amounts of $1,000 each. The signing was an historic achievement; it marked the beginning of a government-supported effort at preservation. For the Project, it meant that the Commission had been able to devise a Preservation Agreement which the homeowners were willing to accept.

The pioneering owners who signed the original sixteen Agreements with the Historical Commission for these Ipswich houses, (1971-1978): (note that some addresses have changed.

•    Ascension Memorial Church, 3 High Street
•    Harold Bowen, 3 Summer street
•    Edward R. and Barbara C. Emberley, 6 Water Street
•    Ian and Jean Forman, 97-99 High Street
•    John E. and Anne B. Greenlaw, 62 East Street,
•    Robert M. and Pattie T. Hall, 7 County Street
•    George E. and Louise C. Hodgkins, 80 East Street
•    Niels and Eileen Knakkergaard, 57 North Main Street
•    George R. and Sheila W. Mathey, 1 Turkey Shore Road
•    Paul J. and Cathleen C. McGinley, 26 High Street
•    James C. McManaway, Jr., 64 North Main Street
•    Ivan A. and Mary F. Nichols, 33 High Street
•    Theodora Perry, 2 Turkey Shore Road
•    Joseph and Vera ross, 104 High Street
•    Lovell Thompson, 142 Argilla Road
•    John C. and Katrina Vincent, 78 County Road

View the Ipswich houses with preservation agreements

31 County Street, Ascension Memorial Episcopal Church (1875) - Ascension Memorial Episcopal Church on County Street was designed by famed architect James Renwick Jr. (1818-1895) and is considered “American Gothic Revival” in style. Construction was begun in 1869 and completed in 1875. Among Renwick’s other accomplishments include the designs of St. Patrick’s Cathedral and St. Bartholomew’s Cathedral in New York City, and the administrative […]
3 Summer Street, the Benjamin Kimball house (c 1720, alt. 1803) - At 3 Summer Street is the Benjamin Kimball House, a 1720 two-story, end gable building with a center chimney. The core of this house, probably a 2 room cape, was moved to this location in 1803 and expanded at that time. The Benjamin Kimball house is late first period but has been altered with Georgian and Federal […]
33 High Street, the Waldo-Caldwell house (1660) - The Waldo-Caldwell House at 33 High St. is listed by the Ipswich Historical Commission as having been built in 1660. Unlike many First Period homes that began as half-houses, 6he present house was built in full as a two-over-two-room, central chimney plan house, with massive summer beams, a huge fireplace, and heavy chamfered frame, a very […]
58 North Main Street, the Captain Richard Rogers House (1728) - The Capt. Richard Rogers House at 58 North Main Street in Ipswich is significant because of its fine Georgian style.  Richard Rogers descended from  Nathaniel Rogers who lived on the South Green. The house was built in 1728 about the time of the Rogers’ Manse across High Street. The central hallway with a closed string-course balustrade and […]
7 County Street, the Thomas Dennis House (1663) - The house at 7 County Street dates to two periods. Shoreborne Wilson, a cooper, built a house and a cooper’s shop on this site about 1660 (3:133). Thomas Dennis bought the property in 1663 (8:69) and added an adjoining parcel in 1671 (3:201). The rear ell of the present house dates from that period, with wide chamfers […]
26 High Street, the Philip Call house (1659) - The Phillip Call House at 26 High St. in Ipswich is a 2 story timber-frame First Period house built by cordwainer Philip Call about 1659, enlarged around 1725. It was probably at first a one over one “half house” with the front door on the right side. The evolution of this property to its current twelve […]
104 High Street, the John Kimball house (1715) - The John Kimball house, 104 High St. was  built in 1715 and is one of three “John Kimball” houses along High Street, two said to have been built by the father, the third by the son. The house at 77 High St. was built by John Kimball Sr., who died in 1698.  The house at 110 High St. is […]
Wainwright-Treadwell house, East St., Ipswich MA 62 East Street, the Wainwright – Treadwell House (1727) - Thomas Treadwell arrived in New England in 1635 with his wife and infant son Thomas. Excerpts from his will read that in 1671 he bequeathed to the junior Thomas his property on “Treadwell’s Island” between Labor in Vain Creek and Fox Creek. To his son Nathaniel he gave half of his upland house, barn and […]
80 East Street, the Perkins – Hodgkins House (c 1700) - The First Period Perkins-Hodgkins house is believed to have been built in 1700 on the foundation of the earier Jacob Perkins home. The house has been greatly expanded and modernized over the years, but the original asymetrical structure continues to anchor the corner with Jeffreys Neck Road. Notable are the cellar joists, which are laid sideways instead […]
103 High Street, the Merchant – Choate house (1670) - The Merchant – Choate House at 103 High Street is one of the original “Covenant” houses. The building dates to approximately 1670, but the right half may contain timbers from a previous structure on this site which was built in 1639. That simple story and a half cottage is believed to have been built by […]
6 Water Street, the Preston – Foster house (1690) - The Preston – Foster House at 6 water street is described in “Something to Preserve” as having a typical original first-period floor plan in the original front structure. In the right half are two massive quarter-round chamfered summer beams typical of the late seventeenth century. The very sharp-pitched roof and purlins add additional evidence of the […]
1 Turkey Shore Road, the Burnham-Patch-Day house (1730) - The Burnham-Patch House at 1 Turkey Shore Road in Ipswich has one of the original covenants established with the Ipswich Historical Commission. It is believed to have been built in 1730 based on the early Georgian paneling, but in the book “Something to Preserve” it is described as “much more difficult to date than the Heard-Lakeman dwelling” […]
2 Turkey Shore, the Heard – Lakeman House (1776) - The Heard-Lakeman House at 2 Turkey Rd. in Ipswich, built in 1776, is one of the original 14 houses with Historical Committee covenants. The book “Something to Preserve” describes it as “a typical center-chimney dwelling of the mid-eighteenth century.” The interior contains fine raised-field paneling and a handsome Georgian stairway with turned balustrade. A very […]
88 County Road, the Col. Nathaniel Wade House (1727) - The Nathaniel Wade House at 88 County Road in Ipswich is one of the original 16 houses that have preservation agreements (“covenants”) with the Ipswich Historical Commission. The house was built in 1727 by Captain Thomas Wade. The Wade brothers, Jonathan and Thomas, owned nearly, if not all, the land in the area from Argilla […]
168 Argilla Road, the Tilton-Smith house (c 1720) - The “Tilton-Smith House” at 168 Argilla Road in Ipswich was awarded the 1999 Mary P. Conley award. Built circa 1720 by Abraham Tilton Jr., a 1998 fire took away much of its original frame, but the owner totally rebuilt the home with attention to historical detail and authentic 18th century craftsmanship. He saved what was […]
Day-Dodge house, 57 North Main, Ipswich MA 57 North Main Street, the Day-Dodge House (1737) - The Ipswich Historical Commission presented the 2008 Mary P. Conley Preservation Award to Craig and Grace Hanson, owners of the Day-Dodge House. The unusual double house is at the corner of North Main and East Streets, with two entrances and asymmetrical bays. The side facing East Street and may be a reused barn or similar structure from around 1640-1660. Thomas […]

6 thoughts on “Something to Preserve

  1. Charles and Abby Paull once lived in the John Wise house. They were my grandparents. I remember visiting them there when I was a wee lad. Is the John Wise house part of the preservation agreement?

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