83 High Street, the Isaac Lord house, “Old Jail,” 1771-1808

A Lord family tradition is that the house at 83 High Street was the 18th Century jail constructed in 1771 at Meeting House Green and moved in 1806.

Isaac Lord

Thomas Franklin Waters wrote that Isaac Lord purchased this lot with the ancient Richard Kimball house on the southeast end of it in 1784. Isaac Lord, son of Nathaniel Lord and Elizabeth Day, was born July 29, 1753 in Ipswich. He married Susanna July 27, 1776. Their children were Isaac, born 1777; Joseph, born 1778; Nathaniel, born 1780; Levi, born 1784. Isaac Lord died September 06, 1828 in Ipswich, and Susanna died April 06, 1841 in Ipswich. Waters does not indicate the date or nature of construction of this house:

“Richard Kimball received a house lot in 1637 which John Kimball conveyed to Richard Kimball (2) in 1696 (12: 114). Richard Kimball also owned the adjoining lot in his will, probated Dec. 25, 1752, which he bequeathed to his son Richard and daughter Elizabeth, who married Philip Lord. Richard Kimball sold the original Kimball house with a half-acre to Isaac Lord, felt-maker, Feb. 26, 1784 (142: 213) and Elizabeth Lord sold him a small piece of the adjoining lot, Dec. 5. 1805 (180: 219). Isaac bequeathed his property to his nephew Joseph.”

Waters wrote that the original Richard Kimball house stood on the site of the Thomas H. Lord house next door (still standing) and was occupied by his widow, when it had fallen into a very ruinous condition.”

“The Ould Gaol”

There’s an old tradition in the Lord family that the building at 83 High Street was once the town jail on Meeting House Green and was moved to High Street and converted into the house we see today. In 1973 Margaret Welden identified the house as the “Ould Gaol” for the Ipswich Historical Commission, but provided no documentation. The first Ipswich jail was constructed in 1652,  was replaced in 1684 and that was in turn replaced with a gambrel-roof jail in 1771.

Joseph Felt wrote in the History of Ipswich, Essex and Hamilton that in 1684, the year that the colony charter was revoked by King Charles II, the towns which sent juries to the courts in Ipswich and Salem were ordered to help build new houses of correction in the two towns. Salem built its first jail, a timber-frame building measuring “thirteen feet stud (interior height), and twenty feet square, accommodated with a yard.” Ipswich apparently replaced its existing jail near the Meeting House. An act in 1699 by the Massachusetts legislative ordered every county in the colony to build a House of Corrections for “rogues, vagabonds, common beggars…and the poor,” unless one already existed. Construction in 1684 of a “house of correction” is recorded in the Genealogy of the Willcomb Family. and the Massachusetts Historical Commission Reconnaissance Survey for Ipswich.  Thomas Franklin Waters wrote only that the “Old Gaol” served its purpose until it was replaced with a gambrel roof jail in 1771. (In Colonial Massachusetts, the jail and the house of correction were not always the same thing.)

Waters wrote, “On December 25, 1770, plans for a new building with keeper’s house were presented and approved, and a building committee was appointed to proceed forthwith. This plan has been preserved in the Court Files. The plan shows that the prison was a two story building with gambrel roof, and that the rooms under the roof were used for the House of Correction.” “In 1808, the old Goal site, with its yard was sold to Rev . David Tenney Kimball. The deed gives the bounds (and) the gaol reserved to be taken away by Jan. 1, 1808 (185: 152) recorded April 2, 1807.”

The 1771 jail was replaced in 1806 by a stone jail, and a large brick jail was constructed in 1828 at the site of the present Ipswich Town hall. Although observations of the roof construction in this house show no sign of a previous gambrel roof, Charles Kilgour, a former owner, wrote that when they removed the siding from the driveway side of the house many years ago, they noticed that above the second floor window was the imprint of a previous gambrel roof. This suggests that the second floor was the gambrel roof section, in which case that roof was removed and a second floor added, with a traditional gable roof above it.

Thomas Franklin Waters wrote about the houses on the east side of High Street at this location, but the exact reference to this house is unclear:

“Richard Kimball sold the original Kimball house with a half-acre to Isaac Lord, felt-maker for £100,  Feb. 26, 1784 (142: 213). and Elizabeth Lord sold him a small piece. Dec. 5. 1805 (180: 219). (The 1771 jail on Meeting House Green was replaced in 1806 after construction of the new jail was approved in 1805).  This would suggest that Isaac Lord  extended his lot by purchasing 1/8 acre from Elizabeth Lord with the intent to put a second house on the north side of his lot. 

Isaac Lord Isaac bequeathed his property to his nephew Joseph, whose heirs own the house now standing, but the original house stood on the site of Mr. Thomas H. Lord’s, and was occupied by his widow, when it had fallen into a very ruinous condition.” 

High Street Ipswich MA, early 20th Century.

Early Construction

83 High Street, Ipswich MA

Photo of the first floor of 83 High Street, from the Coldwell Banker site. The base of the fireplaces and the chimney is stone from the basement to the first floor.

The house was acquired by Rupert Kilgour and his wife Marion Lord in 1973 from Viola Lord, and was placed on the market in 2017. The Ipswich Town Historian toured this house and made the following observations: 

  • The front section of the Isaac Lord house is 17′ deep x 30′ wide.
  • Steep roof, narrow original building depth.
  • The earliest (front) part of the house is asymmetrical, with a 14′ wide room on the left front side, but only 8’6″ wide for the room on the right, often found in pre-Georgian construction, with a larger parlor on one side.
  • Massive stone fireplace foundation with bricks beginning at the floor level.
  • Foundation near the ground level, no granite facing.
  • Possible plank wall construction with corner bracing (late 17th Century in Essex County).
  • Exposed beams throughout, a boxed 10″ summer beam and exposed corner braces.
  • Floor boards in the attic are extremely wide.
  • Uncertain deed records before 1800.
  • Unusual casement type “L” hinges are used on a feather-edge door. Vertical sheathing in at least one room has a very wide feather edge, and narrow beaded vertical sheathing is in the first floor front hall.hall-parlorThe floor plan of the oldest part of the  Isaac Lord house is typical of a “hall and parlor” layout found in 17th and 18th Century coastal New England. The form entails a rectangular, timber-frame two-room configuration, two rooms wide and one deep with a steeply pitched side-gabled roof and a central chimney. The windows were asymmetrically placed. The depth of early hall and parlor houses varied from about 16 to 20 feet deep and up to 40 feet wide. A saltbox addition was usually added to 17th Century houses, or as part of the original construction beginning in the late 17th Century. The larger hall was the living room, and the smaller parlor served as a private room commonly used for sleeping.

83 High Street, 1978 photo by the Ipswich Historical Commission on the MACRIS site. The roof line and the windows in the front facade raise the possibility that the original house was extended in one or both directions.



Map by Thomas Franklin Waters of original land grants on High Street. The Isaac Lord house sits on the north side of the original Richard Kimball lot and 1/8 acre purchased from Elizabeth Lord (presumably the Robert Lord lot).


This closeup from the 1832 Ipswich map indicates the house at 83 High Street, owned by Isaac Lord Jr. at that time. The Widow Joseph Lord house, no longer standing, has been tentatively identified by a photograph.


The rear of the Isaac Lord house is in the center of this photo taken from the hill above by George Dexter, circa 1900.


83 High Street, Ipswich. Photo courtesy of Dylan Brown

Sources and further reading:


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