Postcard of High Street in IpswichCommunity

Historical Commission issues statement on over-development in historic neighborhoods

The Ipswich Historical Commission (IHC) would like to offer its perspective on the recent pattern of new housing developments impacting the town’s historic neighborhoods.

Ipswich has long been recognized as America’s best -preserved Puritan town and High Street has the largest concentration of First Period houses in the country. Ipswich is unique and unlike any historic town in America.   Our historic neighborhoods are a living museum with every historic home lived in and maintained by its owner.  The historic district contains four preservation neighborhoods listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The IHC mandate is to protect and preserve the town’s historic assets. This includes historically significant buildings, historic streetscapes, and the historic character of the town – all of these contribute to the town’s historic resources and make up the unique historic nature of the town.  This mandate includes the authority to designate historic properties and preserve these historic assets through the Demolition Review By-law.  The IHC provides historical background and input for proposed projects and by-laws in order to protect these historic buildings, streetscapes, and character.

Many residents of Ipswich are aware of the recent increase in proposals for construction in historic neighborhoods.  The most condemning of these proposals are:

  1. The proposed addition of 4 new units at the rear of 87 High St. There are currently 3 units on this property and this would increase the units to 7.  This property is within the Architectural Preservation District (APD) that was established in 2014. This project comes after recent approval of multi-family housing at 83 High Street, which is now under construction.  Lot lines for these historic properties were established in 1634–1640 when residents were required to live within a half-mile of the meetinghouse at the North Green. To facilitate this requirement, these lots had narrow frontages with deep rear landscapes, which were used for self-sustainability, and would typically include gardens, a small barn, pens for animals, and outbuildings.
  2. There is a proposal to build 5 new units at the lot on 108 Central Street (located just outside of the APD). This proposal also has the development of the rear of the lot.  This historic streetscape has many Victorian houses built in the period following the creation of Central Street in 1872.  This distinctive Ipswich neighborhood contributes to the overall historic character of the town. This is an area of town that the IHC would like added to the National Register of Historic Places in the future.
  3. A proposal to add 6 units at 126 and 128 High Street, which is not within the Historic District.  The Historical Commission reviewed and approved a demolition permit request for a dilapidated Victorian building at the rear of the property.  The development will eventually require replacing the Spa Tech building as well.  There is a great need for due diligence regarding the design and aesthetic details of this project.

The Historical Commission has previously approved converting barns at the rear of lots into residential structures in order to save these significant structures from neglect and demolition. Saving these singular buildings is very different from filling these residential lots with multiple new units at the rear of the lot with a single driveway.

Question: Is the Town of Ipswich forgoing its obligation to protect properties, streetscapes and the historic character of the community if it allows the rear sections of lots to be developed with new multiple unit construction that changes the historic integrity of the property and the neighborhood, as well? 

The Ipswich Historical Commission, with the full authority of Section 8D of the Laws of Massachusetts opposes the identified projects at 87 High Street and 108 Central Street in their proposed density and recommends other town boards to do the same.  

Addendum 1: Massachusetts General Laws (MGL) Section 8D: Historical commission; establishment; powers and duties

The East End Historic District - The East End includes the seafaring portion of the original village of Ipswich and offers an architectural history of the town’s development.
1893 Birdseye map of Ipswich The Central Street Victorian neighborhood - Central Street was laid out in 1870, Manning High School opened 4 years later, and stores began to be constructed. By 1884, the Victorian neighborhood that lines Central, Hammatt, Manning, Mineral, Liberty, Brown and Maple Streets had been created. The historic neighborhood is threatened by over-development.
South Green Historic District - The South Green dates from 1686, when the town voted that the area be held in common, and became known as the School House Green. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.
Engraving of Market Square in Ipswich from John Warner Barber’s Historical collections: being a general collection of interesting facts, traditions, biographical sketches, anecdotes, etc. relating to the history and antiquities of every town in Massachusetts,” published in 1839 Meeting House Green Historic District - The North Green was once the religious, governmental and commercial center of Ipswich, and where the town's most successful businessmen built fine Georgian, Federal, Greek Revival, Italianate and Victorian homes.
Goodhue's Store faced the South Green in Ipswich Ipswich Streets and Neighborhoods - The 19th and 20th Century saw the size of Ipswich grow greatly. New streets and neighborhoods were created, expanding the historic community.
Ipswich Mills Historic District - Six parallel streets, 1st Street to 6th Street plus Estes and Kimball Streets were laid out by the Ipswich Mills Company to provide housing for their workers, many of whom were Polish. Most of the houses were purchased by residents when the mill closed in 1928.
Ipswich Architectural Preservation District - No building within the Architectural Preservation District constructed before 1900 may be demolished, constructed or substantially altered without consent of the APD Commission, which also provides advisory design guidelines. 
High Street Historic District - High Street was on the "Old Bay Road" and has the largest concentration of “First Period” houses in America The Old Burying Ground is on High Street near Lords Square.

2 replies »

  1. Preserving Ipswich’s history is indeed important, but we also need to find ways of alleviating the community’s housing shortage in a sustainable and low-cost manner, and building additional units close to the town center seems like a good way of doing that. Adequate screening of the newer, bulkier rear units – likely with greenery – could make the changes appear minimal from the street. As land values continue to increase, adaptations that add units in the rear of the lots may be the best way to “save” historic properties, simultaneously preserving the facade and streetscape while allowing the uses and intensity of the site to respond to modern needs. Historic Ipswich is too quick to point out problems with these new developments without considering solutions that both honor Ipswich’s past and prepare for our future housing needs.

  2. I know why I plan to visit Ipswich for the 3rd time in either 23 or 24. It is NOT BECAUSE of new development, my liking the drive from North Carolina, nor because my GG…Father Palmer Tingley settled there in 1637. It is the beauty and feel of your historic clusters of neighborhoods. Oh, and the Choate River Pub!

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