31 County Street, Ascension Memorial Episcopal Church (1875)

The Episcopal Protestant Church in Ipswich was organized in 1839, and the new congregation was allowed to share the Methodist Meeting House. When the present Methodist Church was constructed, the old Town hall was moved the short distance to the newly-extended County Street as “Damon Hall,” where the Episcopal congregation met for about a decade.

The Congregation Meeting House on the left was replaced by the Gothic Congregational Church, which burned in 1965. On the right is the old Ipswich Town House, which is believed to have first been moved to County St. for use by the Episcopals when the present Methodist Church was constructed.
County St. and the two steeples circa 1860, before the Ascension Church was built. The identify of the building directly behind the Methodist Church is unknown. The former Episcopal parsonage is at that location now.

The present Ascension Memorial Episcopal Church on County Street was designed by famed architect James Renwick Jr. (1818-1895) and is considered “American Gothic Revival” in style. Construction was begun in 1869 and completed in 1875.

Ascension Church in 1869

Among Renwick’s other accomplishments include the designs of St. Patrick’s Cathedral and St. Bartholomew’s Cathedral in New York City, and the administrative building of the Smithsonian Institute known as “The Castle.”

The following is an article written by Beverly Perna about the Ascension Church exterior renovation.

Ascension Memorial Church has undergone a transformation to the past. According to Bradford Clark, the Ascension rector, planning for the exterior renovation began two years ago when a surplus of pledges made it possible to attend to needed repairs and cosmetic changes.

Phase 1 of the project was Nichols Hall to the side of the church. It houses the parish hall and rector’s office. Clark said there was no insulation and the wood exterior was rotting in spots. When that was completed, it was on to Phase 2 — the church itself. Clark said that with all the decisions that had to be made, the hardest one that took the most effort and deliberation was what color to paint the church. There was even a special Design Advisory Committee formed of artistic talents among the church members to sort through all the possibilities and to make a recommendation of colors.

Ascension Church

Parishioner Bryan Townsend, who owns the historic preservation company Terramor, served as the unofficial “clerk of the works” during the project. He said the paint had been peeling from the church’s exterior for sometime and had revealed previous layers, mostly of a reddish brown. “After we started sanding and scraping, we found the following colors (in order of appearance):

  1. Greenish olive
  2. Grayish greenish lichen
  3. Reddish brown
  4. Pale yellow

He said he thought the reddish brown was the longest lasting color in the church’s history and certainly was an appropriate color for a gothic revival church, as were the olive and lichen hues. Pale yellow was not, however, and Townsend surmised that in the 1960s when the gym and bell tower were built, yellow was an “in” color, and so they decided to paint the entire suite of four structures yellow.

Century of Color Exterior Decoration

Townsend said they did some research and decided to go with an historically sensitive palette of olive for the body of the church (an Eddie Bauer color called “Bittersweet”) and a rich brown (a Benjamin and Moore color called “Mink”). Greens, grays, and browns are all appropriate for a Gothic Revival structure from what they learned, he added.

“Because the interior of the church has similar trim in a rich brown, we decided a rich brown on the outside would not only work well to highlight the beautiful trim boards but would also echo the interior treatment,” he said. The olive on the body is somewhat close to the church back to its original color. So, the two colors speak to past colorations of the church and are grounded in research, with one reference relied upon greatly: Century of Color; Exterior Decoration for American Buildings – 1820-1920, by Roger Moss.

Further reading:

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