The first structure on the site was between 1692/3 and 1722. The former Baker’s Clothing Store at 37 South Main Street was built in 1828 and has a combination of Italianate and Greek Revival elements. The other Baker’s Store building next to the Choate Bridge burned after the Mother’s Day storm of 2006. The Joseph Manning house, just down the street was moved in the 20th Century to the other side of this building, in order to build the town’s first automobile sales and repair buildings, still standing.
Historical narrative by Susan Nelson (1999)
When the Town of Ipswich decided to develop the west side of “ye highway leading from ye Bridge” as a commercial corridor in 1692/3, twenty three lots ranging in width from 18-36 feet in width were apportioned. One of the first grantees was Robert Lord, who received Lot 14, just 18 feet wide, a width which matches that of present day Lot 174. The grants were made subject to very specific conditions about the improvements that were to be made to each lot, and prohibiting encroachment into either the street or the Ipswich River. As a result, many parcels were left undeveloped, so that in 1719 Town Meeting instructed the selectmen to make what deals they could to get the waterfront lots developed. In one of the first grants after this mandate in 1722, a boundary is identified by reference to the shop of Thomas Lord, already on the site of present-day Lot 174. This dates the first structure on the site between 1692/3 and 1722.
Lord himself received an additional grant from the selectmen in 1722, ” beginning at the Northerly End of the Land said Lords shop stands upon extending upon a Streight Line up the River about fifty feet till it comes to a Stake, which line ranges with the front of Joseph Abbey’s grant…” The house came into the possession of James Merrill of Falmouth, Cumberland County, Maine, who sold it to Dr. John Manning in 1771. Manning had studied medicine abroad, and was the first to introduce the then radical smallpox inoculations, in the face of strong opposition from the Town. He was also an entrepreneur, involved in many businesses, and built Ipswich’s first machine-powered woolen mill. On the same day he bought it, Manning transferred the property to his son-in-law William McKean, a tobacconist. McKean fathered Joseph McKean, later a professor at Harvard College and founder of the Porcellian Club there.
In 1778 McKean sold the property to Nathaniel Rust Jr., a cordwainer, or shoemaker. Rust lived in the building until at least 1813, as his name is mentioned in a deed of that date. In 1828 Amos Jones sold S. N. Baker ” a parcell of land… it being a part of the estate of Nathaniel Rust… and the same on which the dwelling house of the said Rust formerly stood…” While the early house was gone, the present building was already on the site, referred to in the deed as a “shop”. This dates the existing building to before 1828.
Subsequently the building was used as a store by Samuel N. Baker, as an illustration in the 1902 booklet, Ipswich, Mass. Resources, Development, Progress, shows. Baker owned several parcels along the river on South Main. He was described as “an insolvent debtor” in a deed of 1841 (in a transaction involving another lot) and his affairs were so tangled that his heirs were still clearing mortgages and quitclaiming to get clear titles as late as 1928. Florence Baker Williams eventually obtained the property from her relatives, the heirs of Baker, in 1917 and 1918. She then sold the store to Richard W. Davis in 1928.
Richard W. Davis was another who bought heavily along South Main St. in the 1920’s. Benjamin H. Davis, who had a radio shop next door at the Souther House, also shared this store with William Patterson in 1932. Patterson had a plumbing and heating business, and by 1936 had taken over the whole building. The Pattersons sold the store to James E. Stansfield in 1981, and today it is the home of a decorative arts shop and a beauty salon.
Like the other properties along the river side of South Main St., this lot was part of a set of grants by the Ipswich Selectmen in 1692/3 and again in the 1720’s. It represents a significant and early attempt to plan a commercial and transportation corridor in Ipswich. While the earliest building on the site has been lost, the existing shop (ca 1800-1828) reflects the continual evolution of this strip, an area which continues to be a vital and changing part of Ipswich’s commercial scene.