Saving the Rooster

sketch of Ipswich in 1834
Sketch of Ipswich in 1834
The weathercock atop the steeple of the First Church in Ipswich.
The rooster on the steeple at First Church in Ipswich

The gilded weathercock at the First Church in Ipswich has graced the steeple of every church at that location since the middle of the 18th Century. It looks small from a distance but is said to weigh 40 pounds.

The origin of roosters on church steeples comes from the Ninth Century A.D. The pope reportedly decreed that every church in Europe should show a cock on its dome or steeple as a reminder of Jesus’ prophecy that the cock would not crow the morning after the Last Supper, until the disciple Peter had denounced Him three times (Luke 22:34). Because of this story, “weather cocks” have topped church steeples for centuries, both in Europe and in America.

Our town rooster was likely created by Deacon Shem Drowne or his son. America’s first documented weather vane maker, Drowne created the famous grasshopper vane atop Boston’s Faneuil Hall (1742), the rooster now on First Church in Cambridge (orig. 1721), and the large copper Indian for Boston’s Province House (1716). The Ipswich Rooster was saved when the beautiful old First Church burned in 1965 and was remounted on the steeple of the current church. Read more about the First Church in Ipswich.

First Church in Ipswich 1749
First Church in Ipswich, 1749-1846
First Church in 1934
First Church, 1934
First Church, 1846 – 1965 (when it was painted red)
Meeting House Green Ipswich aerial view
Aerial view of Meeting House Green and part of the lower North Green, from the first half of the Twentieth Century. Although the church has changed, must of the landscape remains the same.
The rooster was re-mounted on the steeple of the present First Church,

Saving the Rooster

from Tales of Olde Ipswich Vol. 1, by Harold D. Bowen

Grounded in 1915 was the rooster which graced the steeple of the Old North Church. George Dexter took this photo of it and imprinted the verse on a picture postcard.

Photographer George Dexter created and circulated this postcard and thus raised money to return the Rooster to the steeple of First Church. The size of the Rooster can be determined by comparing its height to the handrail and its width to the door.

Old Man Lightning never strikes twice, they say. But whenever he has a dislike for anything, he will hit it any number of times to attain his goal, which is total destruction. The Old North Church was an example of this. The steeple was struck many times, and in 1965 it was destroyed.

Back in 1915 the steeple was the target of lightning, which set fire to the steeple. It was at this fire that the new steamer of the Fire Department was used to battle the blaze and was hooked up to pump from the cistern in front of the Public Library. It threw a stream over the rooster that kept watch over the town from the steeple. The rooster was taken down and repairs were made to the steeple. There was some talk about whether the rooster would go back up because of the expense involved.

Rooster at First Church in Ipswich
Reverend and the Rooster

No rooster on the North Church spire? This aroused quite a few people who wanted to see it in its proper place. One of these persons was our old friend, George G. Dexter, who recorded with his camera nearly every important event. Dexter was determined to do something about the fate of the rooster. With his camera he went up to the Old North Chapel (which is still standing) where the rooster was stored and took a picture of him. Then he made up a set of picture postcards and sold them. Pictured on the postcards was the rooster, his metal feathers somewhat scarred from the flames. Imprinted on the card were these words:

“For many years I’ve served ye town
For many things I love it.
And though just now I feel cast down
I hope to rise above it.

George Dexter sold enough of these cards to pay for the cost of returning the rooster to the top of the repaired steeple.

—Harold D. Bowen

A Wager on the Rooster

by Harold Bowen

Raymond Dodge and Rubin Andrews planted a flag on the North Church spire in No. 1900 while they were painting it red. This photo was taken by Angus Savory, and is courtesy of Sandy Godzik.

If someone offered me all of the gold at Fort Knox, or all of the tea in China, I doubt very much if it would be enough to induce me to climb up and sit on the rooster’s back at the Congregational Church. And today, it is only 100 feet off the ground.

But years ago, one man was bet five dollars that he wouldn’t dare to do that same stunt. Then the rooster was about 150 feet from the ground, on the steeple of the Old North Church.

Most people remember Raymond Dodge as the man who put in the greatest number of hours spotting planes during the war and reporting the same from the observation tower on Town Hill. For this he was honored several times by Uncle Sam.

But in his younger days he was a painter and worked for Rubin Andrews, the contractor. One day when they were painting the steeple, Angus Savory who owned the drug store across the street bet him five dollars that he didn’t dare to go up and sit on the rooster’s back, as the story remembered by Vincent Boylan goes. Granted, five dollars then was worth three times as much as today. But even fifteen dollars is not much for this kind of a stunt.

Raymond Dodge climbed up and sat on the back of the rooster. Of course, he won the bet, but in doing so the rooster tipped up a little, so to right it again, Raymond laid his whole body across it and balanced it across the back of the rooster.

In so doing, he righted the rooster, but his weight drove the rooster down on the spindle so hard that it wouldn’t give the wind direction. Finally, after several months, with the help of the winds of mother nature the rooster was able to free itself, and it has been giving the wind direction ever since. Some people will do anything to make a buck.

—Harold D. Bowen

12 Meeting House Green, the First Church Vestry (1832) - Built in 1832, the Vestry at 12 Meeting House Green was deeded to the First Church in Ipswich, Massachusetts in 1838 by George W. Heard, Esquire. It has served First church and the community of Ipswich as a Chapel and now as a coffee house and meeting place. The historic building was recently restored.… Continue reading 12 Meeting House Green, the First Church Vestry (1832)
First Church Ipswich MA 1 Meeting House Green, the First Congregational Church (1971) - A meeting house was built here by 1636. This is the sixth church on this spot. The previous historic building burned in 1965. This green has always been the religious and governmental heart of Ipswich.… Continue reading 1 Meeting House Green, the First Congregational Church (1971)
Sandown Meeting House Seating in the Meeting House - The question of greater and lesser dignity, carrying with it the question of higher or lower seats, became so vexing that the task of “seating the congregation” was laid upon the Selectmen.… Continue reading Seating in the Meeting House
Saving the Rooster - The gilded weathercock at the First Church in Ipswich has graced the steeple of every church at that location since the middle of the 18th Century. … Continue reading Saving the Rooster
First Church burns, June 13, 1965 - It was a sad day for Ipswich when on June 13, 1965, lightning hit the steeple on the sanctuary of the First Church on Meeting House Green and the building was destroyed by fire. The building was more than a century old and was considered to be one of the best examples of Gothic church… Continue reading First Church burns, June 13, 1965
First Church steeple, Ipswich MA A Wager on the Rooster - In 1900, Raymond Dodge was painting the First Church steeple. Angus Savory bet him five dollars that he didn't dare to go up and sit on the rooster's back. … Continue reading A Wager on the Rooster
19th Century: Religion divided the town - Revivalist Rev. John N. Maffit held a "protracted meeting" which was undoubtedly the most extraordinary episode in the history of the churches of Ipswich since the days of George Whitefield and Gilbert Tennent, preaching sixty nights to congregations which occupied every inch of the meeting-house. … Continue reading 19th Century: Religion divided the town

3 thoughts on “Saving the Rooster”

  1. It appears that you do not know the identity of the maker of the rooster. I don’t know that I can provide conclusive evidence on the maker’s identity, but I traveled to Ipswich in the late 1960s or early 1970s as a child to see the rooster with my mother and father. The rooster was in storage for restoration. According to my mother, a distant relative crafted the rooster and donated it to the Church. The name would most likely be “Anthony Potter” of Ipswich MA or one of his children. He died in 1690. I have a family history,
    autobiography (Darius Potter 1833-1921), and biography of his father and one for his half-brother (less distant relatives) that my mother put together for her D.A.R membership. I can barely read the hand written biography, but somehow my mother was directed to the Ipswich rooster, even though she grew up in Kenosha, WI.

    1. Could you please provide some documentation? There was a farmer named Anthony Potter in Ipswich, but we have nothing that indicates the Potters were metal workers or created the rooster.

      1. All I have is a family history, part of it is hand written reproduction, which is hand written in cursive and very hard to read. It also contains a reproductions of family history starting with Anthony Potter. AP had a son John, who had a son John, who had a son Daniel, all of which lived in Ipswich, MA. Daniel died in 12/15/1779. If the rooster weather main is mentioned in hand written portion I will let you know.

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