The Giles Firmin Park: from tannery to arboretum to playground

In 1762 Benjamin Lamson set up a tannery on County Road along Saltonstall Brook, which starts in a wetland between the Public Works facility and the YMCA, crosses County Road and empties into the Ipswich River behind the brick Verizon building. The old building continued for many years as Farley’s Tannery, which advertised that it could use all parts of discarded animal carcasses. In the 1880s it became the location of the Stackpole Soap Factory, which also processed animal parts. The smell must have been horrendous!

Stackpole Soap Company
The Stackpole Soap Factory was located on County Road where the Giles Firmin Park is located now. Photo by Edward L. Darling, courtesy of Bill Barton.
View of the Stackpole Soap Factory from County Rd.
Giles Firmin Park
The Stackpole Soap Factory was torn down in the early 20th Century and the Giles Firmin Garden was created by private donations. Photo by George Dexter

The locality became very unsightly and in 1906, the land and buildings were bought by a private association which removed the unsightly buildings, laid out the lot as a park and garden. An ornamental parapet with inscribed slabs was erected over the brook, lawns and shrubbery beds established, and trees were planted. The Garden was maintained by the subscriptions of the proprietors and became a very attractive feature of the neighborhood.

Giles Firmin Park
The Giles Firmin Park is maintained today by the town of Ipswich as a neighborhood playground but is no longer an arboretum.
Land grants south green Ipswich
Early land grants near the South Green. Giles Firmin received 6 acres along Saltonstall Brook at the site of today’s Giles Firmin Park.
The 1832 Ipswich map
The 1832 Ipswich map shows the Ipswich Powder House near the south end of the Giles Firmin grant and the entrance to the Ipswich DPW. Thomas Norton set up tan vats by the brook now known as Saltonstall’s. In 1762 Benjamin Lamson from Newbury set up a tannery, which passed quickly to John Farley, who carried it on for many years and passed it to his sons. The old tan house was last used by the Stackpoles for their soap manufactory.
The 1884 map of Ipswich shows Stackpole & Son Soap Manufacturing at the location of today's Giles Firmin Park.
The 1884 map of Ipswich shows Stackpole & Son Soap Manufacturing at the location of today’s Giles Firmin Park.
Closeup from the 1910 map. The Ipswich DPW garage is situated on a section of the former R, F, Kinsman property.

Giles Firmin

The park was named after the first owner of the property, Dr. Giles Firmin (1614-1697) who arrived in New England in 1632. He received a grant in 1638 of 100 acres five miles from the center of Ipswich for a farm, and the six acre plot near the South Green where he built his house, in exchange for a promise to stay for at least three years and practice medicine. Firmin married Susanna Ward, daughter of Nathaniel Ward, the first pastor of the church at Ipswich.

Treatise by Giles Firmin
A treatise by Giles Firmin

Finding the practice of medicine unprofitable, Firmin wrote Governor Winthrop complaining of “my want of accomodation here,” and that “The gaines of physick will not finde me with bread.” By 1647, Firmin had sailed back to England, leaving in Ipswich his wife and children. The ship he was on grounded and broke up off the coast of Spain. It was recorded that “At the very time when he was in extreme danger of being drowned, a little child of his about four years old then with her mother and the rest of the family in New England lay crying out at times through the night, “My Father, My Father.” This moved his relatives to pray heartily for his safety.

Nineteen persons were drowned that night but Firmin and the rest of the passengers and crew were saved. Eventually reaching England, Firmin turned to theology and became a minister of considerable distinction. He died in 1697 after preaching for more than four decades.

Sources and further reading:

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