Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary

An autumn walk in the Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary

These photos are from one of my favorite hikes in Mass Audubon’s Ipswich River Sanctuary at 87 Perkins Row in Topsfield. Twelve miles of trails weave through an amazing mix of forests, meadows and wetlands, with great views of the Ipswich River from the central drumlin and two eskers that were left by retreating glaciers only 15,000 years ago. View the location at Google Maps.

Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary trail map
The photos in this post were taken on the highlighted route. Click on the map to download a full size trail map

The land was a gift to Mass Audubon by Thomas Emerson Proctor (1873-1949), who was the beneficiary of his father’s amassed fortune from the leather business, and retired to Topsfield where he lived until his death in 1949. Proctor first lived in the historic home of Captain Dudley Bradstreet (1765-1833) which is now the Audubon Visitor Center. At the turn of the 20th century, Proctor owned nearly half of the land in Topsfield, and the remains of his mansion are nearby on Proctor Drive. The Turner Hill Mansion on Topsfield Rd. in Ipswich was the home of his sister Ann Rice, and his brother’s home, the Proctor Estate in Ipswich, is now the home of New England Biolabs. Both provide public access under the Ipswich Great Estates Bylaw.

Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary Welcome Center
Mass Audubon’s Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary visitor center is located in the Bradstreet farmhouse, which sits high on a drumlin at the end of a long driveway off of Perkins Row in Topsfield MA.

Like Bradley Palmer (whose extensive holdings in Ipswich were given to the state to become Bradley Palmer State Park and Willowdale State Forest) Proctor joined the Essex Agricultural Society and won first prizes for his Jersey cows, plowing teams, potatoes and other crops at the Topsfield Fair. In 1898 he purchased the Dudley Bradstreet farm on Perkins Row, followed by purchases of surrounding lands totalling about 4000 acres. He set a goal to plant a specimen of every hardy North American tree on his estate, and is said to have brought in thousands of other species of plants. The property features a Rockery designed by Japanese landscape architect Shintare Anamete in 1905.

Proctor created a network of carriage trails on the estate which he made available to the public. In his will, he gifted almost 2000 acres of his estate to Massachusetts Audubon. Originally known as the Proctor Wildlife Sanctuary and Annie H. Brown Reservation, the name was later changed to the Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary.

Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary observation trail
Trail from the parking lot to the observation tower. Bring some sunflower seed with you; Chickadees will follow you on this trail and eat from your hand.
The Ipswich River widens to become a vast wetland
The Ipswich River widens to become a vast wetland
Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary esker trail
The South Esker trail is not far from the canoe landing.
Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary Hassocky Meadows
Hassocky Meadows
Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary stone bridge
Stone arch bridge at the beginning of the Averill’s Island trail
Averill Island trail at the Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary
Averill’s Island Trail
White Pine Loop at the Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary
White Pine Loop
Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary North Esker Trail
The North Esker
Entrance to the Rookery at the Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary
Entrance to the Rockery
Inside the Rockery at the Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary.
View from inside the Rockery
Mallards are plentiful along the boardwalk leaking from the Rookery back to the Visitor Center
Mallards are plentiful along the boardwalk leading from the Rockery back to the Visitor Center

Read: A Private Arboretum at Topsfield Massachusetts, Better Homes and Gardens, August 1906

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