First Congregational Church. When the Winthrop group of thirteen settlers came to Ipswich, “upon ascending the hill above the river they found an outcropping ledge of goodly extent, forming a sort of natural platform, and upon this rock they built their church.”
This is the sixth church on this spot. The previous historic Gothic Revival church was dedicated on February 4, 1847. It was hit by lightning in 1965, burned and had to be torn down.
This green has always been the religious and governmental heart of Ipswich. A meeting house was built here by 1636. The original church was surrounded by a high wall to protect them from the ever-present danger of Indian attacks. Nearby were the stocks and whipping post.
The gilded weathercock at the First Church in Ipswich has graced the steeple of every church at that location since the middle of the 18th Century. It looks small from a distance but is said to weigh 40 pounds.
In 1908 the trustees of First Church asked celebrated Ipswich artist Arthur Wesley Dow to recommend a color for the church, the historic gothic building in the photos below. To their shock he suggested a red that was almost purple, but they went with it. Until it was repainted white in the 1940’s the church on the hill was called “the Red Church”.
The steeple on the old church was so tall that the rooster was 150 feet of the ground. Harold Bowen wrote that an old-timer named Raymond Dodge had helped paint the church. He accepted a $5 wager from Angus Savory who operated a drug store in the Odd Fellows building across the road to climb up and sit on the rooster’s back. His weight drove the rooster tight on its pivot and it took several months before a good wind storm loosened it so that it could rotate again.
This photo is found in the Life World Library (United States Volume) published in 1965. It was taken from the roof of the Tyler Building. Shown in the photo, starting from the bottom, are:
- 2 North Main Street, the John Appleton house (1677-1710)
- 8 North Main St, the Taverners Sparks house (1747)
- 12 North Main Street, Treadwell’s Inn (1737)
- 16 North Main Street, the Stephen Coburn house (1845)
- 1 Meeting House Green, the First Congregational Church (destroyed by fire)
Chuck Cooper tells us that at one point in time his grandfather, Charles Rand, who was a plumber in Ipswich, repaired the weathercock. He used a blow torch to re-solder the pennies which are the “eyes” of the rooster.
On June 18, 1965, lightning hit the steeple on the old Gothic church and the building was destroyed by fire. This steeple had also been hit by lightning in 1915. When the steeple was repaired the rooster was at first not reattached. Ipswich photographer George Dexter created a postcard of the rooster and sold enough to pay for its re-installment. The note on the card read,
“For many years I’ve served ye town
For many things I love it.
And though just now I feel cast down
I hope to rise above it.