58 North Main St., Ipswich MAHistorical Commission

2020 Mary Conley award for historic preservation

Since 1991, the Ipswich Historical Commission has presented the annual Mary P. Conley Preservation Award, named in honor of Mary for her endless dedication to preserving historical sites.

The Award is given each year to an individual or organization which has been outstanding in a voluntary work of historic preservation. Properties which have been recently restored or maintained over long periods of time to a high level of historical architectural integrity may be nominated.

The Mary Conley Award for 2020 is awarded to Ingrid and Stephen Miles, owners of the historic Captain Richard Rogers house at 58 N. Main St.

Front entrance in the Captain Richard Rogers house, 58 N. Main St., Ipswich MA
Front entrance at 58 N. Main St.

The Captain Richard Rogers house was built in 1728 and is considered to be one of the finest early Georgian houses in New England. Exquisite Georgian paneling in the front room exhibits an early high-style influence. The basement level of the house has an intact second period beehive oven and fireplace in the summer kitchen that was created when the rear ell was filled in.

The Captain Richard Rogers house is protected by a preservation agreement which includes the front and side facades facing N. Main and High Streets, the central frame including primary and secondary members , wooden architectural elements including stairs, paneling, moldings, mantelpieces, doors, and the shell cupboard.

Front entrance in the Captain Richard Rogers house, 58 N. Main St., Ipswich MA
Front stairs at 58 N. Main St.

Abraham Knowlton, “Workman of rare skill”

The Knowlton baluster design in the Richard Rogers House, here with a newel post with a turned and fluted shaft. Photo and text--John Fiske
The Knowlton baluster design in the Richard Rogers House, here with a newel post with a turned and fluted shaft. Photo and text–John Fiske

In the nave of the First Church, a short distance from the Captain Richard Rogers house is a pulpit and sounding board created by Abraham Knowlton that many believe to be the most innovative masterpiece of its time.

John Fiske of the Ipswich Historical Commission wrote, “In 1727-8, Abraham Knowlton created the elaborate balusters in the staircase of the Reverend Nathaniel Rogers house at 1 High St., with the most rococo newel post that he had yet produced. A year later, in 1728, he produced the baluster turnings across the street at the home of Nathaniel’s brother, Captain Richard Rogers.

“It was in the Captain Richard Rogers house that Abraham Knowlton produced the masterwork of his early period. A shell cupboard set at one end of a Georgian paneled wall whose opposite end contained a fine doorway that balanced the cupboard with perfect symmetry. The raised panels throughout the wall and doors were set in molded frames that were, in turn, set into a mortise-and-tenoned framework.

Flanking the fireplace were the newest things to come out of classical times, wooden copies of marble, stop-fluted pilasters. The tops of the door and the cupboard were arched with central keystones, in wood, of course, not marble. Nobody in Ipswich had ever seen a wall paneled like that.

n the front parlor of the Captain Richard Rogers House, Ipswich, c. 1728, Abraham Knowlton’s fireplace wall is the earliest example of Georgian interior design in Ipswich, and one of the earliest in America. Its studied symmetry, its stop-fluted classical pilasters with elaborate capitals and its raised panels were strikingly in advance of the walls sheathed with vertical, edge-molded boards of the first period houses (1635-1725) that preceded it (and that were still being built.
In the front parlor of the Captain Richard Rogers House, Ipswich, c. 1728, Abraham Knowlton’s fireplace wall is the earliest example of Georgian interior design in Ipswich, and one of the earliest in America. Its studied symmetry, its stop-fluted classical pilasters with elaborate capitals and its raised panels were strikingly in advance of the walls sheathed with vertical, edge-molded boards of the first period houses (1635-1725) that preceded it (and that were still being built.) Photo and text by John Fiske.

Steve and Ingrid Miles purchased the Captain Richard Rogers house in 1983 and have worked tirelessly to preserve and restore the house with integrity. Over 37 years, interior doors, stair treads and other woodwork were stripped of multiple layers of paint; the sealed fireplace and hearth in the living room were restored. In 2009, after educating themselves about historic preservation, Steve and Ingrid restored the front room including the elaborate clamshell cupboards. Much of the electrical wiring and plumbing in the house have been replaced and updated.

On the exterior, the granite foundation was repaired was reset using wooden levers; inappropriate windows and doors, the front steps and balustrade were all replaced with architecturally appropriate elements. The roofing and some siding have been replaced, windows were re-glazed and the house was recently repainted.

Master bedroom in the Captain Richard Rogers house, 58 N. Main St., Ipswich MA
Detailed Georgian fireplace, pilasters and doors in the master bedroom

Ingrid Miles states, “Of maximum importance regarding the preservation/restoration/renovation of this early Georgian Colonial is that no alteration has been made to the integrity of the room spaces throughout the residents occupancy since 1983. In other words, all rooms are intact as chamber rooms for the ell (original house). This is important because most antique homes have moved or removed walls to accommodate modern conveniences. From the beginning our intention was to preserve the integrity of the Georgian symmetry of interior spaces as well as the exterior front façade.”

cupboard at 58 N. Main T., Ipswich
Upper section of wall cupboard by Abraham Knowlton. The boldly carved, concave, double shell rests on pilasters whose fluted columns and stepped, ogee capitals echo those on the wall alongside. The fielded panels on the back of the cupboard are curved – a technically challenging design. Knowlton was notably skillful in combining flowing curves with straight verticals and horizontals. The present owners researched historic paint colors and painted the cupboard and wall in the colors that were available to Captain Rogers. (photo and text, John Fiske)

“How did inhabiting such an antique affect our lives? We joined the Ipswich Historical society, for one thing, thing, where Steve followed Paul McGinley and George Mathey as President. As John Updike described in his experience of moving to town, “First-period houses, mixed in with creditable specimens of the Georgian and Federal styles, were strung up and down our street, called High at one end and East at the other. Architectural conservation was freshly in the air; Ipswich’s old houses, left for centuries to fend for themselves, were no longer being torn down and, rather, were being fixed up by newcomers—commuters and artisans with beards, pigtails and a regard for history. We ourselves felt part, deeply and effortlessly, of the community because we owned a piece of its past, sleeping and eating in rooms where fourteen or so generations had left their scuff marks. We are fortunate to live in a heritage property.”

The Ipswich Historical Commission is proud to present the 2020 Mary Conley Award to Ingrid and Stephen Miles for their many years of service and contributions to the historic preservation of our community. Official presentation of the Award will be at a Select Board meeting later in 2021. View a list of past recipients of the Mary Conley Award.

3 replies »

  1. Hi Gordon,

    What a charming home so lovingly preserved. Love that green/grey shade of paint and those “rococo” newel posts – a word one would not expect to find in describing the woodworking of that period.
    The late John Updike’s description of the charms of Ipswich is most fitting.

  2. In 1991, The Ipswich Historical Commission wanted to honor Mary for all her outstanding community contributions.
    Mary was a very humble and private person. It was not easy to convince her to establish this Award in her honor.

    Mary accepted when we convinced her that homeowners would be excited to compete for the Award and thereby preserve architectural gems in our Ipswich period homes ,and at the same time, win an Award.
    Mary wrote me several personal letters explaining how upset she was that people were honoring her but how pleased she was that preservation took precedence.
    Thank you
    Donald Curiale

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