County Street bridge and factories, Ipswich MA

County Street, Sawmill Point, and bare hills

Green Street was once called Green Lane and was anciently known as Bridge Lane. There was apparently a foot bridge that crossed the river, where the Island in the middle of the span on which the present bridge stands. County Street, or Cross Street, as it was called, originally terminated at Green Street, and all travel from North or East toward Hamilton passed up Green Street, past the churches and back down Town Hill and over the Choate Bridge.

County St. bridge, June 2018
The County St. bridge today

In 1860, Ira Worcester and others of Ipswich, Hamilton, Wenham and Essex, addressed a petition to the County Commissioners, characterizing this route as “very circuitous and hilly and otherwise inconvenient,” and affirmed that “vast quantities of heavy material such as granite, coal, timber, lumber, lime and hay” passed over this roundabout road. They asked that a way be laid out over the land owned by the County and then by a bridge over the river to Mill Street, as the section of County St. from the river to County Rd. was then called. The County Commissioners laid out the new road on March 5, 1861, and the Town voted on March 11th to build the road and bridge.

County Street bridge, late 19th Century
County Street bridge, late 19th Century

The following story is from Ipswich Yesterday by Alice Keenan, written in 1982.

Ipswich mill on County st.
County St. mill. Late 19th Century photo by Edward Darling

What a difference! This old photo shows how County Street was once a town industrial center. Eventually the Lower Mill burned down and others closed their doors. Pictured in the background is Turkey Shore Road with Heartbreak Hill in the background. The County Street bridge, in center, was built in 1860.

When we first viewed this picture some years ago we must admit it was a complete puzzlement to us until we discovered the faint lettering that told us it was the Lower Mill on County street. In the background is Heartbreak Hill, totally devoid of trees and not looking at all like the Heartbreak Hill of today.

The Canney Lumber sawmill at the County Street Bridge
County St. bridge and sawmill
In this view from downstream, remnants of the dam on the right still exist. The sawmill is on the left and the Woolen Mill sits on the other side of the bridge.
Sawmill Point
Sawmill Point at the County St. bridge

When the County street bridge was built in 1860 it joined together Cross and Mill streets, which then became County street, and completely obliterated “Falls Island” which stood in the middle of the river and had always been a busy center of industry since Robert Calef built the first grist mill in 1715.

Fulling, saw, grist and woolen mills flourished, and by the time this picture was taken, Amos Lawrence and his Ipswich Mills had taken over the Woolen Mill, expanded it, and that along with the several small enterprises across the street: saw, box and veneer mills, owned and operated by the locals, made this now residential area a very busy and noisy place.

In time the mill burned down, the smaller mills closed their doors, and all that’s left to remind us of that long ago time are the three small houses, facing Elm street, and standing more or less on what was Fall’s Island.

The County Street sawmill
The sawmill at the County Street bridge
Postcard of the sawmill at the County Street bridge
Part of the sawmill complex at the County St. Bridge
The old woolen mill, later a box factory
The woolen mill on County St.
The Woolen Mill was at the northwest corner of the County Street bridge, but burned down.
View of the County Street mills from the Cove at Poplar St. Photo by Edward L. Darling.)

More photos and additional information:

Along the Ipswich River: Historic photos of the Ipswich River from original glass negatives taken by early Ipswich photographers Arthur Wesley Dow, George Dexter and Edward L. Darling.

The Ipswich River: The 35-mile Ipswich River flows into the Atlantic Ocean at Ipswich Bay. The Ipswich River Water Association works to protect the river and its watershed. Foote Brothers Canoes on Topsfield Rd provides rentals and shuttle service from April to October.

The Industrial History of the Ipswich River: The Industrial History of the Ipswich River was produced for the Ipswich 375th Anniversary by John Stump, volunteer for the Ipswich Museum, and Alan Pearsall, who produced the Ipswich Mural with funding from EBSCO.

The Choate Bridge: The American Society of Civil Engineers cites the Choate Bridge in Ipswich as the oldest documented two-span masonry arch bridge in the U.S., and the oldest extant bridge in Massachusetts.

The Old Town Landings and Wharfs: Many a pleasant sail down the river are in the memories of William J. Barton. “These were the names of the places and flats along the Ipswich River before my time, and familiar to me during my time. They were used by the fishermen and clammers. I know. I was one of them. It was the happiest time of my life.”

When Herring Were Caught by Torchlight: In the late 19th Century, most of the men around the river would look forward to “herringing” when fall arrived. The foot of Summer Street was the best landing. One year so many herring were caught, they were dumped in the Parker River, and Herring did not return for many years.

The Town Wharf: The Ipswich Town Landing is one of several locations along the River where wharves were located over the centuries.

Diamond Stage: In 1673, two fishermen from the Isles of Shoals, Andrew Diamond and Harry Maine, arrived together in Ipswich. Mr. Diamond built a platform for salting and shipping fish, and became quite successful. The location is still known today as Diamond Stage.

Water Street: In the book, Ipswich in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Volume I, Thomas Franklin Waters recorded the history of Water Street, which is part of an early public right-of-way that extended from the wharf to the Green Street Bridge, then cotinued along the Sidney Shurcliff Riverwalk to County St.

Visit the Ipswich River Watershed Association site

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