Featured image: Linebrook Church, photo by George Dexter, circa 1900.
Linebrook Road has been said to follow an old Native American trail that connected Agawam (Ipswich) with Lake Cochichewick in North Andover. The area began to be populated by settlers with the founding of Ipswich, primarily as agricultural land, and was known as Ipswich Farms and derisively as Firetown.
The Perley family settled here early, and owned great tracts throughout Ipswich. James Howe, Jr., settled with his family, but in his latter years became blind, and the work fell upon his wife Elizabeth.
Elizabeth Howe was accused by a member of the Perley family of casting a spell on their daughter, and was among the first of the unfortunate women to be hung as a witch in Salem in 1692. (Examination of a Witch, by T. H. Matteson, 1853)
The outermost area, near the Old Linebrook Cemetery, was so distant from the center of Ipswich that many of the residents married people from Topsfield, Boxford and Rowley, and had affinity for those towns and churches.
Around 1740, the residents of Ipswich Farms began pressing for creation of a parish church of their own. Residents in Chebacco (now Essex), and the Hamlet (now Hamilton) had already formed separate parishes. The Massachusetts General Court on June 4, 1746, created the Linebrook Parish and ordered that the inhabitants establish the church. The boundaries followed Howlett’s Brook, Gravelly Brook, Bull Brook, the Egypt River, Bachelder Brook, and Mill River ending with a line approximately from Hood Pond back to the mouth of Gravelly Brook at the Ipswich River. The later part of Ipswich was set off to Topsfield in 1774 so that its residents could attend the church there, reducing the membership of Linebrook Parish to the community along the road from Ipswich, and a few Rowley families living north of the church to today’s Rt. 133.
From the founding of the colony, all residents of Massachusetts towns were required to belong to the parish church of their residency. The Massachusetts Constitution continued the tradition, and from 1780 until 1834, Massachusetts required towns to pay for the upkeep of a protestant church out of local tax funds. When parishioners requested to establish a separate parish within the town, determination was made by majority vote of the mother church. This section of the constitution was amended by bipartisan consensus in 1834.
The first parish house and cemetery were established on Leslie Road. The building was moved to the current location on Linebrook Road, and was replaced by the existing structure.
A school house sat at the intersection of Leslie and Linebrook Roads. Samuel Wigglesworth, Jr., son of the Rev. Mr. Wigglesworth of the Hamlet parish, Harvard, 1752, had been elected school-master by the Town, and kept school in Chebacco Parish three months of the year, three months in the hamlet, and two months in Linebrook.
Great loads of lumber and firewood from the Linebrook wood lots were carted into Ipswich daily, awaiting purchasers. Frequent trips by shipbuilders were made to Linebrook to select walnut and yellow oak, prized wood for the keels, masts and spars.
by M. V. B. Perley
This is ancient territory…There were vested rights, upon the southeast, as early as 1635. Before 1653 Ipswich-Linebrook was all improved. The earliest settlers were Batchelder, Foster, Sherwin, Howe, Perley, Fowler, Davis, Grant, Burnham, Cooper, Burpee, Tenney, Pingree, Kimball, Chapman, Dodge, Jewett, Dresser, etc. The earliest settlements were upon the south and north where the rivers led. It has always been a farming community.
The surface is agreeably diversified with hills, plains and meadows. Hunsley hill upon the northeast, 300 feet above the level of the sea, is the highest elevation in the county, except Baldpate in Georgetown, 392 feet, and Holts hill in Andover, 423 feet. The plain land is somewhat sandy and not now particularly adapted to farming. When the soil was new it was very satisfactory for raising the cereals, and our early ancestors sought and valued it for corn, wheat, flax and others. The valleys are rich and fertile. The meadows were highly prized by the settlers, for they were the principal source of feed for their cattle in winter. One hundred and twenty-live years ago Mr. Job Pingry owned three thousand acres of this territory.
Within our southwestern border is Hood Lake, fifty acres of beautiful water, lately stocked with choice fishes. Near the former site of the ancient church is ”pulpit rock,” having a perpendicular frontage of some ten feet, overlooking a broad plain, where Rev. George Whitefield electrified the multitude with the spirit of his power, as he reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and a judgment to come.
Near the present church is one of the largest farms in the county, with excellent equipment. Opposite this barn is the site of the old garrison and tavern, where at a militia election the successful candidate was accidentally shot by his opponent, who was tried and convicted, but pardoned by the Governor before sentence was pronounced, and where upon an election day a Mr. J. P. climbed the flag-staff, unaided, to the top for the reward of a bowl of punch that had been placed there by means of ladders. Having reached the top and secured the prize, he offered to share it with any who might earn it as he had. Several attempts with as many failures made him Monarch of all he surveyed, with rights that none could dispute.
Early in the present century there was the very eccentric sign of a very eccentric man. It has found its way into literature, and has been told as an entertaining story by travelers far and wide, as follows:
October 30, 1811: “I left Salem with Mr. H. C. Crowninshield to see Line Brook vulgarly known as Firetown, a section of Ipswich, Topsfield & Rowley at the acute angle in which they meet. Never did I find so many opinions about the distance & the course of any place. I took my own way & went to Topsfield meeting-house. There at a tavern I found an intelligent woman who had lived in the neighbourhood. She directed me to proceed on the Haverhill road leaving the road to Ipswich on my right hand till I had passed two miles, then to take the right hand & about half a mile from the meeting house or four miles from Topsfield Meeting, I turned to the left & came to Line Brook Meeting House. I visited the Minister whose house is near the Meeting house upon rising ground west of it.
Upon my return through Ipswich as the road near the Meeting House went to Rowley I returned the half mile into the former road from which I had turned & continued towards Ipswich & in about a mile I crossed Newbury Turnpike at a Tavern kept by one Foster in Linebrook about three & a half miles from the Topsfield hotel, so that the best road from Salem is by Topsfield Hotel to Foster tavern or the crossroad at that place.
We continued on towards Ipswich, Line Brook extending nearly two miles beyond the turnpike towards Ipswich. Taking a left hand as we were leaving Line Brook & then passing over the Sands we entered Ipswich near the burying-ground above the Old Meeting House & proceeded into Ipswich upon the Newbury lower road till we reached Treadwell’s tavern on the Hill at bell ringing, half past twelve, & at Treadwell’s we dined.
Foster by trade was a blacksmith by business, a landlord. His sign hanging near the tavern door read as follows: “I shoe the horse, I shoe the ox, I carry the nails in my box, I make the nail, I set the shoe, And entertain some strangers too.” At times he would not reply when questioned unless addressed by his title. He was as obliging and generous as he was eccentric.”
The general appearance of Line Brook is poor but more so at the point towards Topsfield & Boxford at which we entered. We saw only one orchard & that an old one from Topsfield till we reached the Meeting House. Most of the lands were unenclosed & barren & the swamps were of no use, being filled with small pines small birch & alders with hummocks. Away from the road, some farms on favorite spots made a little better appearance. As we approached the Turnpike some farms were in better condition, but we soon passed to the moving sands which lay between Ipswich & this parish. It is generally considered as the poorest division of Essex. As it is the last place I have visited it is the most destitute of the means of enriching a farmer. And if the tastes of the people can be guessed by the rhymes on Foster’s sign their minds are of higher improvements than their barren country I found.”
The Linebrook community formed its own militia of 20-30 men for the Revolutionary war. Linebrook, a farming community of thirty-seven families, provided nineteen soldiers during the Civil War. During the Revolution, report said one day that the enemy was sailing up Batchelder’s Brook, and men, women and children fled for their lives. But one Dresser, whom they met, called them fools and deliberately taking out his pipe and lighting it, said, “I’ll take a little smoke before they get here.” They did not come, but we are not to infer that he is smoking now. Linebrook fought in the Indian wars, in the Revolution, in the war of 1812, and furnished some fifteen or twenty soldiers against the Rebellion.
Establishment of the Linebrook Parish
The inhabitants of this precinct were burdened in being so far remote from their respective places of worship. Besides, many living within that distance would be better accommodated here and with ample territory and consequently ample means, it was thought advisable to employ a religious teacher as early as 1739 or 40.
Shortly afterwards the propriety of a corporate parish began to be discussed, and a petition was sent to the Great and General Court of Massachusetts Bay. Finally, a committee of that body repaired to the several parishes, took a view of the situation and circumstances and heard the parishes concerned,” and submitted their report March 21, 1745, old style. “In Council June 4, 1746, it was ordered that the inhabitants and their effects by the report set off together with such other persons exempted as may join them.
Thus the parish obtained its status, the right to command its parishioners and to tax their property. The perimeter of the parish is in part composed of five different brooks, and it was, therefore, determined by vote Jan. 27, 1746-7, to name it Linebrook.
Dec. 25, 1755, Dea. Jonathan Burpee, Sen. David Perley and Mark How were chosen as a committee to join with the neighboring parishes in perambulating the line, which was described in the petition to the Great and General Court, and recorded in the parish records March 17, 1752, as follows :
- In Ipswich, beginning at the mouth of Howlett’s Brook, so-called, by the north side of Ipswich river;
- thence running northeasterly by said river till it comes to Gravelly Brook, so-called;
- thence running northerly by said Brook across the West Meadows till it comes to John Smith’s, to the west branch of Egypt River, so-called,
- and by said river till it comes to the northeasterly corner of Bull Brook pasture so-called;
- thence northwesterly including said pasture till it comes to where said pasture strikes Rowley line;
- thence westerly on Rowley line till it comes to Batchelder’s Brook, so-called;
- thence northerly by said brook, including George Kilburn’s and Thomas Wood’s land on the east side of said brook, following the said brook till it comes to the easterly part of George Hibbert’s land;
- then, as said Hibbert’s land runs to the northwest corner thereof, including said Hibbert’s land;
- thence running northwesterly as the line runs between Jonathan Burpee’s and Aquilla Jewett’s land to the (Mill) Brook, on which stands Mr. Tenney’s grist-mill, so by the brook to the said mill;
- thence by said brook till it comes to Straight bridge; still southwesterly on said brook including Aaron and Job Pingree’s and Jedediah and David Kilburn’s and David Perley’s land on the north of said brook to an island in the Great Meadows, called Peabody’s Island, to Boxford line;
- thence southerly as Boxford and Rowley line runs till it comes to the Ipswich line;
- thence as the line runs between Boxford and Ipswich, till it comes to the corner bounds between Ipswich, Boxford and Topslield before Capt. Perley’s door;
- thence as the line runs between Topsfield and Ipswich, till it comes to the first mentioned bounds at Howlett’s Brook.
Feb. 11, 1774, a part of the parish with the same part of the town of Ipswich was by the General Court set off to Topsfield. No other changes have come to our notice and the Linebrook of to-day includes parts of Rowley, Ipswich and Boxford — the original line except in the set-off to Topsfield.
The first Linebrook Parish Meeting House (Leslie Road)
The first meeting-house was erected in 1743. On June 27, 1746-7, the parish voted to finish the house thus:
- First, the pulpit and deacon’s seat;
- second, the body seats below;
- third, three fore seats in each gallery;
- fourth, the gallery stairs and plaster under the gallery;
- fifth, a pew for the parish.
May 18, 1747, it was voted that the meeting-house be finished by the last of October. It was a two-story, square house, was furnished with box-pews, and was entered by a front door and a door on each side.
Dec. 28, 1747, a committee was chosen to receive and receipt for a gift from Abraham Smith, and discharge the executor. They were also to paint the pulpit suitably and put on it the name of Abraham /Smith deceased.
This house stood about a third of the way on the road from the Ipswich-Linebrook school house to the Rowley-Georgetown road. The building committee were John Smith, Thomas Potter, Mark How, Jonathan Burpee and John Abbott.
The genealogy of the Fowler family reads that James Davis, who married Abigail Metcalfe, gave the land on which the house stood. The parish records read that the price of pew No. 11, bought by Joseph Metcalfe and Jonathan Burpee, was “3 acres of land to build the house on.” The house was removed to the location of the present church and rebuilt in 1828 and dedicated Jan. 1, 1829. The rebuilding followed the old model. The present church was erected in 1848.
Their method of psalm singing was quaint. The tuner, as the leader was called, would read a verse or line and then strike some symmetrical movement, when all the organs vocal followed. In 1791, the singing-school was invited to assist the tuners, and their office began to decline.”
Rev. George Lesslie
The Rev. George Lesslie came from Ireland when he was eighteen months old with his parents who located in Topsfield. a graduate of Harvard College, a divinity student of Rev. John Emerson of Topsfield. He was ordained and installed as pastor of the Linebrook church on November 15, 1749, the day of the organization of the church. He married Deacon Burpee’s youngest daughter, had eight children (six sons). He was “an eminent scholar, intellectually powerful, and a pious and successful minister.” The Parish voted to give Mr. Lesslie for his salary “one hundred pounds, new tenor, yearly; By Indian corn at Christmas time at six shillings a bushel, the one half of his salary; and by pork at Christmas at six pence a pound, the one-quarter of his salary; and by beef at four pence half penny a pound by the last of October, the one quarter of his salary…and twelve cords of wood at his door year.”
The church was incorporated with thirteen male members, and in that year twenty-two members were added. From 1749 to 1770 forty-six members were added, bringing the total to eighty-nine, after which the population of the parish diminished. In the aftermath of the Revolutionary war, the value of paper currency depreciated, and the parish was unable to make up the deficiency in Mr. Lesslie’s salary. In 1779 the pastor requested that his employment be dissolved, and he and Mrs. Leslie moved to Washington, NH where he served the church there for 20 years, until his death in 1800.
The Parish was unable to fill the position permanently for ten years, until the Rev. Gilbert T. Williams was ordained and installed in 1789 and served until 1813. The parish at that time was reduced in size to one man and three women, and the church went for the next 47 years without a settled pastor. The Rev. David Tullar, having retired from the ministry, began preaching at Linebrook in 1824 at the age of 76. Prospects improved, and the old meeting house on Lesslie Rd. was moved to the current location. Rev. Tullar closed his ministry in 1830 at eighty-two years of age. For the next 30 years the church was cared for by supply ministers, no pastor being installed. In 1860 Mr. John Perley bequeathed a fund, “the income from which shall be paid…to the Orthodox Congregational Society, Linebrook Parish, in the towns of Ipswich and Rowley, for the support of preaching and a Sabbath school in said Society annually while the society has a settled minister.”
Pastors to hold office under the provision of this fund were Ezekiel Dow (1860-1866), Alvan M. Richardson 5 years, Benjamin Howe 12 years, Edward H. Briggs 4 years, Rev. William Penn Alcott, 1887-1919, Rev. Emery L. Bradford (1919-30 retirement not listed).
The second Linebrook Meeting House (standing)
Edited from Ipswich in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, by By Thomas Franklin Waters
The Revolutionary War brought great hardship to the little Parish and to the Pastor. The currency was greatly depreciated and the salary upon which he was settled was so diminished that it afforded him a living only by pinching economy. There is no record of his school in these later years. Again and again he appealed to his Parish to increase his salary, but the Parish did not or could not afford him relief, and he asked release from his pastorate in a long and earnest letter, dated Oct. 22, 1779, more than thirty years after he began his ministry.
A chaotic condition continued in the church for several years, the Baptist faction pressing evidently for the ultimate possession of the meeting house. In April, 1820, the Committee of conference reported an agreement with the Baptists to allow them the use of the house six Sabbaths consecutively beginning with the third Sabbath in May, and half the time until April, 1821.
In January, 1828, the Parish had regained such vigor and hopefulness that the great project of taking down the old meeting house and rebuilding in a better locality was entered upon with enthusiasm. A new lot was secured, still occupied by the present meeting house. Daniel Searle and Mark R. Jewett contracted to do the work in April, and on November 4, 1828, the Parish voted to accept the rebuilt house on condition that the builders “paint the pulpit & elders pew and bannisters by the pulpit stairs, some devout color” and “make all necessary repairs in the pews which is wanted to make them good and decent.” The rejuvenated sanctuary was rededicated with great dignity on January 1, 1829.
A new house of worship on the same site was built in 1848, and dedicated on November 22. The building committee contracted with Charles C. Bracket for $1850 and the old meeting house, the Parish furnishing the pews used in the Unitarian meeting house in Ipswich, which had been sold to the Town for a Town House.
John Perley, Esq., a native of the Parish, died on May 11, 1860, bequeathing to the Parish seven thousand dollars, to be held in trust as a perpetual fund, “the income of which shall be paid to the Orthodox Congregational Society, Linebrook Parish, in the towns of Ipswich and Rowley, for the support of preaching and a Sabbath School in said society annually, while said society has a settled minister.” The income from this fund has enabled this ancient Church to maintain its worship, notwithstanding the loss in population of the neighborhood, and the decline of the church-going habit.
Timeline of Linebrook Church
By J. B. Felt, in The History of Ipswich, Essex and Hamilton
- 1742, Dec. 2nd. A committee report, that the West End do not become a parish, but keep up preaching among them.
- 1744, April 12th. Voted, that they be set off.
- 1746, June 5th. The General Court allow some of West Ipswich and of Rowley to become a distinct parish, who vote, Jan. 27th, 1747, to be called Line Brook Parish.
- 1749, Nov. 15th. Sixteen males sign a covenant and are formed into a Church. This Church had Ruling Elders till after 1757.
- 1823. There were only two female members.
- 1833. There were fourteen males and twenty females.
- 1744. A house had been erected. A vote is passed in 1747, to have it finished. It was near the burying-ground.
- The old one is pulled down and another built, on the present spot, in 1828.
- 1790, Nov. 15th. The town grants Bull Brook towards the support of the ministry at Line Brook.
Statement by the Linebrook Church, an Independent Congregational Church
“The Linebrook Parish was incorporated in 1746 by an act of the Massachusetts Legislature as a “parish” — a region served by a particular church and its pastor. The church building now used by the Linebrook Church was built by the members of the Linebrook Parish in 1848, their third meetinghouse. Its historic nature and some of its contents have been the subject of news articles and books. The church building was not occupied except sporadically from the early 1990’s until 2006, when the new Linebrook Church was formed. The building was, however, faithfully maintained by the assessors (trustees) of the Linebrook Parish in anticipation of being used once again as a church building. Linebrook Church is grateful to and proud of these assessors, who have protected and preserved a lovely colonial-style building so that it might be ready for a congregation. Their faith in the future has been honored by God.”
Nomination of the Linebrook Church area for the National Register of Historic Places, by Anne Grady, 1984
The Linebrook Church and the four houses along the same side of Linebrook Road east and west of it form an intact 19th century grouping with no intrusions. The houses include the Country Federal house at the easternmost end of the area, the richly-ornamented Queen Anne dwelling next west, the Greek Revival cottage with a hint of Gothic just west of the church, and the simpler cottage with doorway drawn from Asher Benjamin’s Practice of Architecture (1833) at the west end of the area.
The remains of the Linebrook Pound, built before 1832, just across Leslie Road form ah appropriate termination at the east end of the area. The church is a fine example of the New England Village church in the Greek Revival style. The houses form a period setting for the church which is the major focal point of outer Linebrook. These properties occupy a strip of more or less level land on the northeast side of the road. A wooded hill rises behind them. A late 19th century face wall stretches across approximately half of the frontage. The houses across the street were built in the mid 20th century.
- History and Genealogy of the Perley Family by M. V. B. Perley, 1906
- Pen-Ramble in Linebrook by M. V. B. Perley
- The Diary of William Bentley, 1802
- The Tenney family, or, The descendants of Thomas Tenney of Rowley, Massachusetts, 1638-1904 M. V. B. Perley
- The Indian land titles of Essex County, Massachusetts by Sidney Perley
- The Agawam manual and directory published by M. V. B. Perley
- A short history of the Salem Village witchcraft Trials by M. V. B. Perley
- Descendants of James Howe by M. V. B. Perley
- Linebrook Parish Church Records, 1747-1819, Ipswich-Rowley Massachusetts, by M. V. B. Perley
- Ipswich in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Vol. I by Thomas Franklin Waters
- Ipswich in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Vol. II by Thomas Franklin Waters
- History of Ipswich, Essex and Hamilton by Joseph. B. Felt
- Constitution of Massachusetts: Creation of Parishes (Wikipedia)
- The Historical Collections of the Topsfield Historical Society, Volume 20
- “Historical Address, Tercentenary Exercises, Linebrook Congregational Church, Sunday September 14, 1930” by Emory L. Bradford, on file at the Ipswich Historical Commission.
- Benjamin, Asher, Practice of Architecture, 1833- New York: Da Capo Press, 1972
- Perley, Martin Van Buren. History and Genealogy of the Perley Family. Salem: M. V„ B„ Perley, 1906
- Town’s oldest church looking for some help by John P. Muldoon – September 28, 2021
- GoFundMe: Renovate the Historic Linebrook Parish