Legend of Heartbreak Hill, Ipswich MA

The Legend of Heartbreak Hill

When the lands of Ipswich were apportioned among the settlers, the summit of the large hill near Argilla Road was designated as a planting lot because the Indians had already cleared it for corn. It was referred to as Heart Break Hill in town records as early as 1635, but the 1832 Ipswich map gives it the name “Hardbrick Hill” referring to the abundance of clay and the early existence of a brick works. Argilla Road gained its name from the ancient Greek word, ἄργιλλος (árgillos, “white clay, potter’s earth”). Glacial stratified deposits at the surface include marine and estuarine clay deposits. The 1832 Ipswich map shows a brick yard on Heartbreak Rd. across from the swan pond, which may have been an early clay pit. It’s near the head of a what was once called Norton’s Brook but is now known as Saltonstall’s Brook.

The 1830 Philander map of Ipswich identifies "Hard Brick Hill" and a brickyard on today's Heartbreak Rd.
The 1830 Philander map of Ipswich identifies “Hard Brick Hill” and a brickyard on today’s Heartbreak Rd..
Heartbreak Hill rises beyond Turkey Shore in this 19th Century photo of the County Street woolen mill, no longer standing.
Heartbreak Hill rises beyond Turkey Shore in this 19th Century photo of the County Street woolen mill (no longer standing).
Mary Ellen Russell shared this photo. “The picture is my maternal grandmother, Alice Bennett, circa 1920, on a rock at the top of Heartbreak Hill.” Behind her is Labor in Vain Creek, with the Ipswich River and Treadwell Island in the distance. On the right appears to be Steep Hill and Castle Hill, with Crane Castle showing on top of it.

Until a century ago, the bare summit of Heartbreak Hill offered a commanding view of Ipswich Bay, which inspired a romantic poem by Celia Thaxter in the late 19th Century.

The Legend of Heartbreak Hill

In Ipswich town, not far from the sea,
Rises a hill which the people call
Heartbreak hill, and its history
Is an old, old legend known to all.

It was a sailor who won the heart
Of an Indian maiden, lithe and young;
And she saw him over the sea depart,
While sweet in her ear his promise rung;

For he cried, as he kissed her wet eyes dry,
“I’ll come back, sweetheart; keep your faith!”
She said, “I will watch while the moons go by;”
Her love was stronger than life or death.

So this poor dusk Ariadne kept
Her watch from the hill-top rugged and steep;
Slowly the empty moments crept
While she studied the changing face of the deep,

Fastening her eyes upon every speck
That crossed the ocean within her ken;
Might not her lover be walking the deck,
Surely and swiftly returning again?

The Isles of Shoals loomed, lonely and dim,
In the northeast distance far and gray,
And on the horizon’s uttermost rim
The low rock heap of Boone Island lay.

And north and south and west and east
Stretched sea and land in the blinding light,
Till evening fell, and her vigil ceased,
And many a hearth-glow lit the night,

To mock those set and glittering eyes
Fast growing wild as her hope went out.
Hateful seemed earth, and the hollow skies,
Like her own heart, empty of aught but doubt.

Oh, but the weary, merciless days,
With the sun above, with the sea afar,—
No change in her fixed and wistful gaze
From the morning-red to the evening star!

Oh, the winds that blew, and the birds that sang,
The calms that smiled, and the storms that rolled,
The bells from the town beneath, that rang
Through the summer’s heat and the winter’s cold!

The flash of the plunging surges white,
The soaring gull’s wild boding cry,
She was weary of all; there was no delight
In heaven or earth, and she longed to die.

What was it to her though the Dawn should paint
With delicate beauty skies and seas?
But the sweet, sad sunset splendors faint
Made her soul-sick with memories:

Drowning in sorrowful purple a sail
In the distant east, where shadows grew,
Till the twilight shrouded it, cold and pale,
And the tide of her anguish rose anew.

Like a slender statue carved of stone
She sat, with hardly motion or breath.
She wept no tears and she made no moan,
But her love was stronger than life or death.

He never came back! Yet faithful still,
She watched from the hill-top her life away.
And the townsfolk christened it Heartbreak Hill,
And it bears the name to this very day.