Waldingfield estate, Ipswich

55 Waldingfield Rd., “Waldingfield” (1929)

Excerpt from “Of Farms and Family” by the Trustees of Reservations:

Randolph Morgan Appleton, also know as “Budd,” was the second son of Daniel Fuller Appleton. Born on Staten Island in 1862, he grew up summering at the Old House and graduated from Harvard in 1884. In 1888, he married Helen K. Mixter of Boston and had three daughters: Madeleine, Julia and Sybil. In 1889, Budd and Helen bought the Waldingfield Road property that had once been the Samuel Appleton homestead. They enlarged their estate by incorporating the existing early house into a large new house, and called it “Waldingfield” after the English town of Little Waldingfield from which the Appletons descended. That house was destroyed by fire in 1916. The present house (not shown) was later built by his daughter, Julia, and her husband, Charles Bird.

Waldingfield estate, Waldingfield Rd., Ipswich
The Waldingfield estate today
Waldingfield estate, 1898
The original Waldingfield estate, constructed in 1898 on the north side of Waldingfield Rd., was destroyed by fire in 1916.
Waldingfield estate, Ipswich MA
The 1898 Waldingfield Estate, with the early home of Samuel Appleton attached in the rear. They both burned in the fire of 1916.
The 1794 Samuel Appleton house, which stood to the right of the barn at the entrance to the Waldingfield estate.
Samuel Appleton homestead

Early history of the property

Thomas Franklin Waters wrote:

“The great Samuel Appleton Farm was granted on December 20, 1638, ‘containing four hundred and sixty acres more or less meadow and upland as it lyeth bounded by the River commonly called the ]Mile brook on the Northeast and by the great River on the Northwest on the West…to enjoy all the sayd Landes to him his heirs and assigns forever.’

“Major Samuel Appleton died in 1696, leaving his farm to his four sons, Samuel, John, Isaac and Oliver. He had conveyed a goodly portion of land with a house to his son, John, and a similar portion to Isaac, without a dwelling, in 1688. The old house built by Major Isaac was replaced on the same site by Major Samuel in 1794. The homestead farm of Major Samuel fell to his eldest son, Col. Samuel, and at his death, to his son, Samuel, the fourth of the name in successive generations. He died in London of small pox in 1728. His estate proved to be insolvent and the farm was sold to Captain Isaac Smith. His estate proved to be insolvent and the farm was sold to Captain Isaac Smith, who had an active part in the French and Indian War.

“Captain Smith’s son Samuel succeeded in the ownership and while in his hands, the farm was sold by piecemeal to many owners. The remainder of the Samuel Appleton farm with the old mansion was sold bv Samuel Smith to Samuel Obear in 1818, who sold to Hamilton Brown in 1821. It remained in his possession and that of his son, Albert S. Brown, until 1889, when it was purchased by Mrs. Helen K., wife of Randolph M. Appleton, son of Mr. D. F. Appleton. The old 1794 Samuel Appleton house was removed from its original location under the great elms and made a part of the new mansion which was built near by.

“The name Waldingfield was given to the new estate, as Little Waldingfield in Suffolk was the ancestral home of the Appletons, from which Samuel migrated to the new land. The house was almost wholly destroyed by fire Dec. 13, 1915.”

The present Waldingfield estate was built at the same location as the 1889 house, and some of the doors and paneling from the old 1794 Samuel Appleton house were reused in the present building.

Waldingfield estate, Ipswich MA
The 1898 Waldingfield Estate, with the early home of Samuel Appleton attached in the rear. They both burned in the fire of 1916.
The 1794 Samuel Appleton house was moved and attached to the rear of “Waldingfield”
Waldingfield Schoolhouse Ipswich MA
The former Waldingfield Schoolhouse sits beside the present house after having been moved from its original location near the estate entrance.

Arthur Lord wrote about attending the grammar school as a child in his “Recollections of a New England Boyhood 1886-1908. “I first attended, for three years, the one-room Appleton School, about a mile from home on Waldingfield Road. The road climbed a high hill, then descended precipitously to the railroad track, and continued through low woods where pink lady slippers grew. The crossing was dangerous – it was hard to halt a loaded wagon on that steep grade – so the railroad company stationed one of its older employees there in a little cabin. When a train was due, he appeared with a flag by day or a lantern by night. He also seemed to appear whenever I passed by and we soon became friends.”

Map prepared by Arthur Lord of Waldingfield Rd. during his childhood
Map prepared by Arthur Lord of Waldingfield Rd. during his childhood shows the Appleton School across the street from its present location.

Julia Bird Reservation

The 59 acre Julia Bird Reservation adjacent to the Waldingfield estate is part of Essex County Greenbelt, and features a network of protected open space and trails along the Ipswich River. Two parking spots are provided on Waldingfield Road near the railroad overpass. The grounds were contributed to the Essex County Greenbelt by Julia Appleton Bird (1894-1982), the daughter of Randolph Morgan Appleton and Helen K. Mixte, and wife of Charles Appleton Bird, owners of the Waldingfield estate.

Julia Bird Reservation

The following is an analysis of the Waldingfield Estate by John Harden from an architectural history point of view. The goal is to understand the context of the existing property in order to inform the design of the future project.


Change has always been present on the Waldingfield property. Every one hundred years the property has been transformed. In 1638 the original homestead for Samuel Appleton was constructed on the site. As with most New England homes, it was likely expanded often over time. Early photographs show the structure as a classic New England Georgian home. It was constructed in wood, with clapboards and a large central chimney mass. While the original location cannot be confirmed, early maps of the area show the home adjacent to the existing barn, close to the current entry to the property.

In 1889, the original home was moved to a site closer to the river and a new addition and formal front entry was added. This may have been in response to the new railway line built in 1838 adjacent to the original homestead site. A new drive was created forming a central axis from the homestead site to the new building location. Appropriately, the new addition was designed in the Neo-Classical style, creating a more formal relationship to the site. Typical of buildings of the time and in the Neo-Classical style, they were intended as objects within the landscape, and celebrated with long axial connections such as the allee of trees along the drive.

Early photographs show the formal gardens located at the front of the home and creating a major axis toward the south. These formal gardens are in keeping with the Neo-Classical style of the home and were of the time. In 1916, both the original homestead and the new addition were lost to fire. A site plan completed in 1925 clearly shows the foundation and cellar, all that remained from the fire, with the structure of the gardens still intact.

In 1929, the current structure that we know as Waldingfield was built, approximately in the same location as the 1889 structure. The time period and the existing conditions of the formal gardens places the 1929 construction in very interesting context. There are elements of the design that relate to the Picturesque movement. Specifically, the relationship between the built structure and the landscape is more informal, often involving ruins or follies in the design. The 1929 construction was designed around the existing site walls of the garden, even reconstructing one as a memory of the original homestead.

Many other attributes of the current structure are of interest. While maintaining the main central axis to the east, the home is asymmetrical with a large wing to the north. The carriage house aligns with the southern axis, but also relates to an informal continuation of the axis to the north as it enters the woods and follows along the river. To the north, the landscape slopes in an informal relationship to the river, bending to the right and away from the central axis of the home. While the view of the river is respected and celebrated from the home, it is allowed to exist in its natural setting.

The home itself is understated in its style. While there are some Neo-Classical elements such as the pilasters on the elevations and the arched openings, the building is in quiet deference to the landscape. It is more similar to the ruins of Hadrian’s Villa than the highly detailed facades of the classical age. A single foundation wall remains as a memory and literal ruin on the property as the natural grade slopes toward the river. Lastly, as further evidence of the influence of the Picturesque movement and as a reference to the ruins of Pompeii, etches are made in the stucco of the facade representing equestrian themes.

An analysis of the current building and the relationship to the landscape reflects the thinking of English estate design from the 18th and 19th century. During that time, architects traveled to Europe on the Grand Tour including visits to the buildings that inspired Neo-Classicism, as well as to ancient ruins such as the re-discovered city of Pompei and Hadrian’s Villa. These examples of archaeological ruins illustrated the power of nature and a different idea of what was considered beautiful. Instead of the formalism of the Neo-Classical style that suggested mankind created beauty by controlling nature, architects began to understand that nature in itself could be beautiful. Architects began to design estates organically and respecting the natural formations of the land, working within the idea of the Picturesque movement. Relationships were created between the buildings and the gardens, and between the fields, hills, and rivers. In the case of Waldingfield, the 1929 structure was built over the literal ruins of the previous home and the original homestead.

Almost a hundred years after the construction of the current Waldingfield home, we recognize the importance of the history of the site and the natural environment. The property will continue to change with the times as allowed within the Great Estates Ordinance, but it will do so by paying respect to the past.

Sources and further reading:

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