12 Water Street, the Glazier – Sweet house (1728)

12 Water St., Ipswich MA
12 Water Street, the Glazier – Sweet house (1728)

The Glazier – Sweet House at 12 Water Street in Ipswich transitions the First and Second Periods of Colonial construction, and was built in 1728 by Benjamin Glazier, a sea captain. The original half house and early Beverly Jog addition remain with later additions. The Ipswich River is directly across from the house. Like many colonial homes in Ipswich it has a “Beverly jog” on the left side. The interior features many period-style furnishings. View MACRIS

The Glazier-Sweet house circa 1900.

This article by the late John Fiske was written in September 2013:

We have a dear friend who has moved three or four times since we’ve known her. And each time, she and her husband have bought or built a new house. As she said to us once, “I can’t stand the thought of living in a house that someone else has lived in.” At the very least, that proves that friendship can survive extreme differences of taste.

I love the fact that our house is fast approaching its 300th birthday and that the lives of many local families are now silently embedded in it. It is more than a human habitation, it’s a sign of human continuity. But the family that touches me most closely never lived in this house at all. They lived on the same lot, but in a house that was torn down to make way for this one in about 1725. I suspect we share the same field stone cellar, but that, apart from the river, is all that we do have in common.

Watercolor of the Glazier-Sweet house by Arthur Wesley Dow, who lived across the river.

I came across an old book by Alice Keenan, an enthusiastic local historian who was working about 70 years ago. And of course, I was delighted to find that it contained a photograph of our house taken in 1894. We already own an 1891 ink wash of the house by the celebrated Ipswich artist Arthur Wesley Dow (I’d come across it in a small local auction and was the only bidder. How often does that happen in these days of the Internet!) The photo and the painting of our house when it was not yet 200 years old – – each enriches the other and I love seeing our house as others saw it more than a century ago.


But Alice, like me, was fascinated by the Clarkes, the seventeenth- century family who lived in the earlier house. A couple of years ago in this column, I told you the story of Lisa finding a silver mounted cane in a nearby antiques shop. The silver band was engraved “George Clarke, 1697,” and of course she bought it and brought it home to the very spot, if not the actual house, where its owner had lived. It’s a treasured possession – how many objects can you think of that are in exactly the same place in 2013 as they were in 1697?

A silver-mounted, ivory-handled cane was a pretty swanky thing in a small seventeenth-century town, so George must have been quite a personage. The Clarkes had made their money by tanning leather. The Town Record of Jan 11, 1640, tells us that “liberty was granted to Thomas Clarke…to sett down Tann fatts, at the end of the planting lot, upon two rods reserved by the river.” Within living memory, the area in front of our house was known to the older locals as “the old tann fatts.” A poetic and slightly mystifying name if you didn’t know about the tannery and that a fatt was a large vessel. Shakespeare knew: “In thy Fatts our Cares be Drowned,” he wrote.

A rod is five and a half yards, and the town had reserved a strip two rods wide all along the river bank as far as the town wharf, which means that Clarke was allowed to place his tann fatts on town land. When you remember that tanning fatts were filled with liquids whose origin you do not want to know, you have to wonder how well the townsfolk were served by Clarke’s “liberty.” But then, Thomas Clarke was one of the 12 men who settled Ipswich in 1633 – not that could possibly have had anything to do with his liberty to place huge fatts of boiling, stinking liquid in a public right of way. I’m just happy that they’re not there now – that’s one bit of the past I’m pleased to leave behind.

Water Street looking upstream toward the Green St. Bridge. The Glazier-Sweet house is the two-story darker house. Photo by George Dexter, early 20th Century

In 1642, the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony ordered that “Tanners should not sett their fatts in tan-hills or other places, where the woozes or leather which shall be put to tan in the same shall, or may, take any unkind heats, or shall put any leather into any hott or warm woozes, etc.” You’ll need to read that three times to become as clear as I am, which is not at all. *(A wooze is a  liquid formed by leaching bark that is used for soaking hides during the tanning process.)

The town’s reason for reserving the two rod strip of land along the river bank was not much clearer than the General Court’s regulation of woozes. It was “for the purpose of turning or tacking vessels or boats up and down the river or passing over the land for purpose.” I assume that that made perfect sense at the time, though I have to wonder about the danger of a tacking boat striking a tann fatt. Could have been nasty.

A tanning house
Tanning house

Tanners must have been a slippery bunch, because their business was closely regulated. In the same 1642 order, the Grand Court decreed that to “prevent deceit in tanning leather…No butcher, currier or shoemaker should be a tanner, not should any tanner be a butcher, currier or shoemaker.” I bet customers breathed huge sighs of relief at this early example of consumer protection.

Anyway, if the Supreme Court of Massachusetts has any concern today about what is currently going on in “the old tann fatts,” I can assure them that neither Lisa nor I has ever put anything into hot or warm woozes – whether we go by the 1640s’ or the 1960s’ use of the word.

An 1894 photograph, an 1891 painting, a 1697 cane, words from the 1640 Town Record and from a 1642 court ruling – all part of our house and the people who’ve lived in it and looked at it. No, I’m glad we didn’t build a brand new house when we moved to Ipswich.

Glazier-Sweet house, 12 Water St.
Glazier Sweet house, 12 Water St.
Ipswich River historic photo
The Glazier-Sweet house is the third building from the right in this old photograph of Water Street. Since that time the chimney was moved to the opposite side of the house. The buildings on the right of the picture are where the Ipswich Yacht club is now.
Watercolor of the Glazier-Sweet house by Arthur Wesley Dow, who lived across the river.
1891 watercolor by Arthur Wesley Dow of the Ipswich River and the cart path that is now Water Street. The Glazier-Sweet house is in the foreground.
Benjamin Glazier house
The Benjamin Glazier house, photo taken in the 1980s by the Ipswich Historical Commission.

This story is by the late John Fiske, a former member of the Ipswich Historical Commission and co-owner of Fiske and Freeman Fine Antiques.

On the front of our house is a plaque by the town’s Historical Commission identifying it as the Glazier-Sweet House, 1725. Benjamin Glazier bought the lot from Nathaniel Clarke in about 1720 and erected his, now our, “half-house” a year or two later. Half-houses had two rooms, one up, one down, and often a third room in a lean-to running along the back. The front door and chimney were at one end.

Half-houses were starter homes – the idea was that the owner would soon be able to add the “missing” half on the other side of the door, thus making the traditional seventeenth-century, central chimney house. Poor Benjamin never did this, and our house remained a modest half-house for a century and a half. In the late nineteenth century it received an addition, known locally as a “Beverly Jog,” and then in the twentieth century it was extended again into the comfortable, 2,500 sq ft house that it now is.

The “improvers” who had enlarged it had been more concerned with making it modern and comfortable than with historical authenticity. Hence, the ugly front door it had when we moved in.

We turned to Sid to make us a new one. Sid is a Vermonter with sap in his veins; if it’s wood, Sid’s the man. But what should the door look like?

When Benjamin built the house, the seventeenth-century planked door was just giving way to the new fangled (and expensive) Georgian paneled door. But Benjamin was no trend-setter: he had neither the money nor, we believe, the attitude. We’re as sure as we can be that he had an old-fashioned planked door made of local white oak. So that’s what we wanted from Sid.

But because the door opened into our front room, we needed it insulated against the New England winter. So Sid designed a two-faced, plank door with high-tech insulation sandwiched in the middle. We’re delighted with the result, and if Benjamin is looking down at us, he’ll be green with jealousy: we have the door he would have built if he could.

But at least he’d agree that the house looks more like it did when he built it – now, he just wants us to change the color to something closer to his.

Summer beam and floor joists in the oldest section of 12 Water St.
Downstairs room
12 Summer St. Ipswich
Upstairs bedroom


Excerpts from the Massachusetts Historical Commission site, MACRIS , 2004

The house is set facing east across Water Street and the Ipswich River, set back from the street on a corner lot. A low rubble stone retaining wall in front of the house contains the difference in elevation between the house and the street.

Originally built c. 1728, the core of this small, simple, vernacular house has grown with additions on three sides and has been extensively altered. However, the additions and alterations do not obscure the original half house form and probably early Beverly Jog addition. The original part of the house, heavily restored since 1987, is three bays wide by two bays deep. The roof is framed without returns and there is no cornice. On the original block and the Beverly Jog addition current sash is consistently 6/9 on the first floor of and 6/6 on the second, so is probably contemporary. An exterior chimney on the north elevation was probably added in the twentieth century.

The house expanded with many ells in the perhaps two hundred and eighty-six years since its erection. The first, possibly late eighteenth or early nineteenth century addition was probably the two and one-half story gable-roof ell placed perpendicularly off the rear elevation. It is no longer possible to say how many bays deep it was as a one and one-half story Beverly Jog addition on its south elevation and two gable-roof ell additions of two and one stories on its north elevation obscure the original configuration. Its south elevation has two widely separated 6/6 windows on the second floor and a contemporary sliding glass door on the rear of the first floor. Off the west or rear elevation of this ell is a one-story shed-roof ell with a 4/4 window on the south elevation and double 4/4 windows on the west elevation.

Sources and Links

2 replies »

  1. This house is currently for sale. In real estate photos, first floor summer beam appears to be chamfered. Has that been documented?

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