Argilla Farm

107 Argilla Road, Argilla Farm (c. 1805)

The Ipswich Historical Commission’s “Partial List of Historic Houses” prepared by Susan Nelson dates the house at 107 Argilla Road to 1785 with later alterations. Thomas Franklin Waters wrote the following for the Ipswich Historical Society in December 4, 1899: “Allen Baker built the substantial hip-roofed farm house nearby early in the present (19th) century. The Allen Baker farm house was purchased by Mr. Ephraim Brown and inherited by his son Thomas, whose widow and son own and occupy the historic spot today.”

The story of Argilla Farm

The land and marsh on the east side of Labour-in-vain Creek, extending to Northgate Road were bequeathed to John Winthrop in 1634. The Agawam Sagamore Masconomet had controlled the land, and made terms with Winthrop as follows:

I doth testify that I Maskonomet did give to Mr. John Winthrop all that ground that is between the creek commonly called Labour in Vaine Creek & the Creek called Chebacco Creek, for which I do acknowledge to have received full satisfaction in wampampeage & other things and also for the sum of twenty pounds to be paid unto me by the said John Winthrop, I do fully resign all my right of the whole town of Ipswich as far as the bounds thereof shall go, all the woods, meadowes, pastures & broken up grounds, unto the said John Winthrop in the name of the rest of the English there planted.”

1832 map of Argilla Rd. in Ipswich
Closeup of the 1834 Ipswich map shows Argilla Farm, with two houses, owned by Ephraim Brown (today’s Argilla Farm house) and the ancient home of John Baker, which no longer stands, along with Baker’s house at Castle Hill Farm.

In 1637, Winthrop conveyed the Argilla Farm acreage to his brother-in-law Samuel Symonds, who became Deputy-Governor of the Colony. In 1644, John Winthrop sold Castle Hill to Samuel Symonds, and removed to Connecticut. 16 years later, Samuel Symonds sold Castle Hill and some portion of Castle Neck (300 acres) to his stepson Capt. Daniel Eppes. After Symonds’ death the the Argilla Farm property came into possession of Thomas Baker, who had married one of Symonds’ daughters. It was next inherited by his son John Baker. Thomas Franklin Waters wrote the history of the estate through the 19th Century:

“The whole western portion of the original Argilla farm seems thus to have come into the possession of John Baker. Colonel Baker died Aug. 1, 1734, aged forty-four, and left the farm to his son John. The latter became a man of large influence and great public usefulness. He was Town Clerk for many years, one of the Committee of Correspondence and Inspection during the Revolution, Colonel of a regiment, feoffee of the Grammar School, and Justice of the Sessions Court, and not least of all, father of twelve children. His town residence was the substantial dwelling on the Heard property, facing the South Green.

“In the partition of the estate in 1786, the widow received ‘the southwest end of the mansion in town,’ and two acres near the house, ‘from the house-block southwest by the street, etc,’ with the southwest end of the house at the farm with 33 rods of land bounding on Caldwell’s lane four rods and twenty links, and other lands. John received twenty-five and one half acres in ‘the great pasture,’ bounded by ‘ the highway to the Town’ and ‘the highway leading from Cape Ann to Castle Hill,’ with other lands, including Eagle Nest Island. Allen Baker received fifteen acres fronting on the highway, about forty-live rods from Labour-in-vain Bridge to Caldwell’s lane, with the northeast end of the farm house and the new barn, with other land.

“After their mother’s death in 1797 John received ‘one acre at the North corner of the close, so called, beginning at the north corner of John’s new dwelling house,’ and Allen, the west end of the old dwelling house, etc.,’ with all the privileges to said lane (Caldwell’s) which belong to said Argilla farm.’

“Allen Baker built the substantial hip-roofed farm house nearby early in the present (19th) century. The Allen Baker farm house was purchased by Mr. Ephraim Brown and inherited by his son Thomas, whose widow and son own and occupy the historic spot today.” —Thomas Franklin Waters, December 4, 1899

Argilla Farm Ipswich Arthur Wesley Dow
Argilla Road, with Argilla Farm on the right in the distance. Photo by Arthur Wesley Dow, from cyanotype image.
Photo by Edward Darling c 1900
Photo by Edward Darling c 1900

Lieutenant Governor Samuel Symonds

The Argilla Farm was conveyed by John Winthrop Jr. to Samuel Symonds in 1637. Symonds sent the following letter to Winthrop, describing how he wished his new home on the lot to be constructed. The house described is one or two rooms wide and one room deep, two stories in height, with a full cellar, central doorways and stairways, and wood chimneys on either side. (Archaic spelling corrected.)

Samuel Symonds’ house as described in his letter to John Winthrop.

To the Right Worshipful his much honored brother John Winthrop of Ipswich, Esq: speed this I pray.

Good Sir—

I have received your letter, I thank you for it, it hath bin my earnest desire to have had an opportunity long ere this to have been with you again, but was hindered by the weather, and still my desire lasts, but now I cannot, by reason that my wife her time draweth very near.

Concerning the bargain that I have made with you for Argilla, my wife is well content, & it seems that my father Peter hath imparted it to the Governor, who (he tells me) approves of it very well; also, so I hope I shall now meet with no rub in that business, but go on comfortably, according as I have & daily do dispose my affairs for Ipswich.

Concerning the frame of the house, I thank you kindly for your love & care to further my business. I could be well content to leave much of the contrivance to your own liberty upon what we have talked together about it already.

I am indifferent whether it be 30 foot or 35 foot long ; 16 or 18 foot broad. I would have wood chimneys at each end, the frames of the chimneys to be stronger than ordinary, to bear good heavy load of clay for security against fire. You may let the chimneys be all the breadth of the house if you think good; the 2 lower doors to be in the middle of the house, one opposite to the other. Be sure that all the doorways in every place be so high that any man may go upright under.

The stairs I think had best be placed close by the door. It makes no great matter though there be no partition upon the first floor; if there be, make one bigger than the other. For windows let them not be over large in any room, & as few as conveniently may be; let all have current shutting draw-windows, having respect both to present & future use.

I think to make it a girt house will make it more chargeable then need; however, the side bearers for the second story being to be loaded with corn, etc., must not be pinned on, but rather ether let in to the studs, or borne up with false studs, & so tendoned in at the ends. I leave it to you & the carpenters.

In this story over the first, I would have a partition, whether in the middest or over the partition under, I leave it. In the garret no partition, but let there be one or two luthrn (gable) windows, if two, both on one side. I desire to have the spars reach down pretty deep at the eves to preserve the walls the better from the weather. I would have it cellared all over, & so the frame of the house accordingly from the bottom. I would have the house strong in timber, though plain & well braised.

I would have it covered with very good oak-heart inch board, for the present to be tacked on only for the present, as you told me. Let the frame begin from the bottom of the cellar, & so in the ordinary way upright, for I can hereafter (to save the timber within ground) run up a thin brick work without. I think it best to have the walls without to be all clap boarded besides the clay walls. It were not amiss to leave a doorway or two within the cellar, that so hereafter one may make comings in from without, & let them be both upon that side which the lucorne window or windows be.

I desire to have the house in your bargaining to be as completely mentioned in particulars as may be, at least so far as you bargain for, & as speedily done also as you can. I think it not best to have too much timber felled near the house place westward etc. Here are as many remembrances as come to mind. I desire you to be in my stead herein, & whatever you do shall please me.

Yours ever, S. Symonds

Sources and further reading:

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12 thoughts on “107 Argilla Road, Argilla Farm (c. 1805)”

  1. I grew up at Argilla Farm in the 1950s-1960s. It was a great place to live. Plus my best friend lived at Crane Castle. We sure had some great places to play as children.

    1. One of my favorite family outings was to visit my Aunt Ruth, Uncle Ralph, and cousin Shirley Johnson at Argilla Farm. I remember seeing Fur Bear.

      1. Linda , I remember your aunt and uncle , your aunt Ruth made me a superhero cape (Batman was my fav show!) which I wore to a frazzle! Your uncle wrote my parents a poem about my impending birth. My parents were Tom and Dena Hinderer

  2. I was Born in Ipswich in 1963, my father ran the Argilla dairy operation and we lived in the farm house until 1967. I can remember walking up the hill with my parents to visit the people who lived in the big house, they had a big Newfoundland dog named Fur Bear.
    I understand the farmhouse and barns burned down sometime in the 1970’s

      1. The farm was below the big house on the hill. I think there’s a horse riding business where the dairy farmhouse and barns used to be but maybe I heard wrong.

  3. Samuel Symonds was my 11th GGF. His daughter Elizabeth was my 10th GGM. I hope to go visit Argilla Farm someday with my first cousin Toni! Thank you for the information and sharing how it was a great place to live!
    Dr. Joan Graham Nathan

  4. My father’s uncle Bob McKenzie managed part of the farm in the the early 40s-50s? My dad George McKenzie is 94 and telling me the story as I write

    1. We have owned and lived at Argilla Farm since Dec. 1974. We are very interested in learning more about the history of the farm. We would love to have you contact us to tell us what you know about Argilla Farm.
      Thank you,
      Pege and John Verani

  5. We have owned and occupied Argilla Farm since 1974! We enjoy reading your memories of the farm prior to our living here. We would love to have you contact us and give us more information about your memories and those of your family of life on Argilla Farm.
    Pege and John Verani

  6. Hello, My name is Bob Grant I live in Pennsylvania, grew up in Ipswich. My Father was employed at Argilla Farm for 20 years until the Guernsey Herd Dispersal in Sept of 1946, brought on due to the passing of legendary Guernsey manager , Bob McKenzie. I was actually named after Bob McKenzie ! I remember visiting the the Guernsey Herd owned by Mr Glessner when I was a teenager. The herdman there was Ralph Johnson and he developed a sucessful Guernsey herd. I have great knowledge of the Guernsey Herd and farm up until the dispersal but don’t have much knowledge of the history since then.

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