The Railroad comes to Ipswich, December 20, 1839

The stagecoach era ended abruptly when the Salem tunnel opened, and two days later on December 20, 1839, a train from Boston made its first passage through Ipswich. It arrived about 9 o’clock on a Friday morning with 50 passengers, taking only 34 minutes from Salem. Townspeople were delighted, but the opening of the railroad and the end of stagecoach travel led to the decline of Ipswich as one of the most important towns of Massachusetts, and removal of its courts.

The Ipswich Depot was approximately at the location of the Institution for Savings.
The Ipswich Depot was approximately at the location of the Institution for Savings. On the right is the Damon Building, and the brick building is the Hayes Hotel.
Train approaching the mills

The Eastern Railroad from Boston to Salem opened for travel two months later on August 27, 1838. A new era of travel dawned at once on the wondering eyes of the shore people of Essex County. The cars took eleven hundred the first day with no fatigue to anybody, kept it up day after day and in about a month ran it up to sixteen hundred while crowds of curious spectators gathered near the depot at each arrival and departure.

Early locomotive
Manufacturer of locomotives in Boston, serving the Eastern Railroad

Excerpt from The Standard History of Essex County by Cyrus Mason Tracy:

So began the Eastern Railroad, the giant that stretched forth its arm and laid literally a hand of iron upon the bosom of Essex County. On December 18, 1839 the cars ran through the Salem Tunnel and to Ipswich. The town was delighted but the opening of this road led the way to the removal of the courts from Ipswich. It had long been one of the three shire towns of the county and reluctantly yielded this prestige.

By the next summer the Eastern Railroad had its cars running to Newburyport and on November 9, 1840 it leaped the Merrimack and made its entry into New Hampshire in triumph, fifty-four miles from the Massachusetts capitol.

The document establishing the Newburyport Railroad refers to two acts: One establishing the Georgetown Branch Railway Company, and another establishing the Newburyport Railway Company, both in 1846.

Photo of railroad crossing with father and daughter
The crossing shanty on Liberty Street, which was called Gravel Street until the 20th Century. Not far in the distance is the crossing shanty on Linebrook Rd., which was called Boxford Rd. Photo courtesy Linda George Grimes
The Damon Building on the corner of Market St. and Depot Square faced the Depot.
Ipswich Depot
Greek Hotel Ipswich
The building formerly at 44 Market St can be seen in the distance in this old photo of the Ipswich Depot, taken before 1900.
Railroad crossing at High St.
High Street crossing before the bridge was built. The houses on the left are on the short section of High Street that was bypassed by the bridge and is now known as High St. extension.
The trolleys were not allowed to cross the tracks until the bridge was constructed.
Train at Tedfords in Ipswich
The tracks behind The grain building that is now part of Tedford’s Lumber
Coal barn in Ipswich
Washington St. old coal barn along the tracks near Washington St.

Sources and further reading

Jack Dziadul at Ipswich Hobbies produces 1/87 scale structures for model railroads. Three of his model kits are based upon Boston and Maine Railroad structures in Ipswich. You will recognise the models below that represent 1) the Section House that used to be along the tracks by Topsfield Road across from the present MBTA parking lot, 2) the crossing shanty that is now on display at the Ipswich Museum at 54 South Main Street, and 3) the REA Building / baggage shed that is now behind the Hegarty residence at 82 High Street.

1 thought on “The Railroad comes to Ipswich, December 20, 1839”

  1. “The Stage, the Stage” reminds me of a bank commercial from when I was a child. Wells Fargo it must have been…not sure if they had that particular bank in New England, but they were everywhere in California. Had a stagecoach emblem.

    You’ve just dredged up a dormant memory…thanks!

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