Ralph W. Burnham, Antiques and Hooked Rugs

The building at 126 High St. in Ipswich has been through many owners but is still recognizable as the site of Ralph W. Burnham Hooked Rugs. In the late 19th Century, hooked rugs gained immense popularity, partly due to a Maine Peddler and rug hooker named Edward Sands Frost, who introduced preprinted hooked-rug patterns on burlap. In 1876, when Frost sold his business, he had about 180 patterns. Frost’s patterns included a wide variety of natural objects along with geometric patterns. As commercial rug designs supplanted traditional hooked rugs, traditional hand rug hooked rugs became valuable antiques, and were the most popular item in Ipswich antiques dealer Ralph Warren Burnham’s shop in Ipswich.

After Burnham, the building was used by Hi Liner and Melanson boats, then Bombadier and Northern Lights Skidoo shops.

High St. shop, still standing
Ralph W. Burnham
Ralph W. Burnham

Burnham was a collector, dealer, designer and repairer of hooked rugs, and an excellent if eccentric self-promoter. He employed artists to repair and restore antique rugs, as well as to duplicate the older examples. His promotional articles and booklets, were distributed widely, and featuredl mottoes such as “Happy the home all cheery and snug, whose every room is covered with a fine hooked rug.” Burnham told his customers how to care for their rugs, and believed that that hooked rugs should be kept face down in the best rooms to protect the rug surfaces, explaining the old saying, “I’ll mind the door while you tend the rugs,” when families scrambled to right the rugs when unexpected guests turned up at the front door. He also claimed that hooked rugs were sometimes used to cover “the bottom of burial caskets and had hooked therein the inscriptions which was afterward placed upon the tombstone.”

Photo from Tales of Old Ipswich by Harold Bowen
Just beyond the Choate Bridge on South Main Street, Ralph Burnham assembled several old buildings into one building which he intended to use as an art gallery. It later became a music venue known as the Kings Rook and the Stonehenge Club. and finally as a restaurant before it was torn down and replaced by the similar-looking professional building at that location now.
Burnham's Rogers House Restaurant
Another one of Ralph Burnham’s businesses was a restaurant in theOld Manse” at 1 High Street”Old Manse” at 1 High Street, now known as the House of Peace.
Burnham operated a tea room, restaurant and antiques business out of the old Hart House on Linebrook Rd., which he called, “Ye Old Burnham House.” The building is now the 1640 Hart House restaurant
Whipple house fireplace by George Dexter
In retirement, Ralph Burnham and his wife were the caretakers of the Whipple House, owned by the Ipswich Museum. This photo of the Whipple house fireplace was taken by George Dexter in the early 1900s

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