As early as 1725, a group of Ipswich residents living on the south side of the river appealed for the right to build a separate church “for their convenience,” but no action was taken at that time.
In December, 1746, sixty-eight members of the Ipswich Congregational Parish signed an agreement pledging themselves to be incorporated as a separate Parish as soon as it could be approved by the General Court, and to build a meeting house near the South Green. They addressed a meeting at the First Parish on December 19 praying to be set off as a distinct body.
- “First, For that the Parish at this Time is so large that is sufficient to make Two either of which will be Considerably larger than most of the Parishes round about us.
- Secondly, For that the Parish having now but One Minister and their Meeting House altogether Unfit to meet in, it would Seem Unreasonable for us to join in ye charge of another Minister & House where we can’t be accommodated thereby.
- Thirdly, For that We Apprehend it would be Impracticable to Build One House that would with any tolerable Conveniency or Decency hold all the People at this Time, much less for ye future should our Numbers Increase as in Reason we may Expect.
- Fourthly, For that as we are mostly Farmers with large Families and so Remote from the present House as to Render it Difficult to meet there or to Return Home between Meetings.”
The meeting house was constructed, and dedicated in May, 1748. The leaders of the new church had been the most prominent men in the old, the wealthiest, the most influential, the highest in social distinction, and their absence in the First Church caused many years of distress.
The original South Church meeting house was replaced by a fine sanctuary in 1838. The house owned by Asa Brown was moved it to its current location on County Road in 1837 so that the South Congregational Church could be built facing the South Green on a lot west of the Heard mansion, now the Ipswich Museum.
South Congregational church burned on December 10, 1977. The lot is now a small park with two benches and the bell which survived the fire, surrounded by the old foundation.
In June 1899, the church steeple was struck by lightning and burned to the bell deck, causing the destruction of the bell. A new bell was contributed by Mrs. Elizabeth M Brown in memory of her husband the late William G Brown.
Bruce Lord adds:
“The South Parish House as it was known was abandoned as a church about 1920. Thomas Franklin Waters was the next to last minister. Edgar Fletcher Allen served from 1912 to 1914. Thereafter seminary students served until it closed. It was used for all sorts of events for the town. It still had an intact and playable organ. In the basement was a six lane bowling alley. My father was janitor of it for many years. My parents’ 25th anniversary party was held in the upstairs hall. It was probably the premier meeting hall for the town for many years.”
Chuck Cooper wrote about the 1975 fire that destroyed the building:
“I was working the evening shift on the Ipswich Police Department when the alarm was sounded. Bob Chambers was an Auxiliary Police officer and he was riding with me. We responded from the south and the building was really going when we arrived. It was a wicked cold night, well below freezing. There was concern for Mrs. Moore who was disabled and lived in the house just north of the large apartment building at the corner of Poplar Street and County Street. Officer Larry Jordan and myself removed her from the house. There were large embers all around. As we exited from her house the IFD wetted the area down to protect us and her from the embers. We got soaked. The aluminum siding on the apartment house was buckling from the heat and starting to steam.
I then was assigned to traffic duty at Payne St and Poplar Street almost across from my house. My wife, mother and grandmother took the pets and sought refuge at Nancy Adams Lowell house on turkey Shore road. We were all concerned as embers were landing all over the neighborhood.
Due to the low temperatures and the fact that my pants were soaked, they froze.
After the fire was knocked down, several firefighters who were manning large hoses were frozen to the ground. They had been holding the hoses/ nozzles for hours. One of those FF frozen to the ground was Norman Stone Jr.
Mutual aid departments patrolled the neighborhood looking for embers. Our house was wetted down several times that night. It was a very long, very cold night. If memory serves me correctly, the cause was a malfunctioning heating furnace.”
- Waters, Thomas Franklin: Ipswich in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Vol II, Chapter VI: “Division in the Parish”
- Waters, Thomas Franklin: Ipswich in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Vol II, Chapter XX: “The South Church”