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