Walking tours of historic Ipswich

Lower summer Street, Ipswich
Lower Summer Street near the Ipswich River

The National Trust for Historic Preservation defines heritage tourism as “traveling to experience the places that authentically represent the stories and people of the past and present.” The historic neighborhoods of Meeting House Green, High Street, the East End, and the South Green offer well-preserved streetscapes of 17th to 20th century homes. Walking tours of historic Ipswich are led by town historian Gordon Harris, who tells the stories of the town’s historic houses and the people who lived in them.

Scheduled, group & family tours

Tours are available by family or group request, and are also scheduled a few times a year through open signup.

  • One hour tours: the charge for scheduled tours is $10 per person, minimum $60 for a requested one-hour group or family tour. View tour choices below.
  • Two hour tours: the charge for scheduled tours is $15 per person, minimum $100 for a requested two-hour group or family tour. View tour choices below.

TO RESERVE: Email Ipswich town historian Gordon Harris at historicipswich@gmail.com or call / text (978) 979-6598. Please indicate which of the tours below you are requesting, and a way to contact you,

Walking tours from Meeting House Green

One-hour tour: Meeting house Green and N. Main St. Distance is 1/2 mile, and includes N. Main St. (The most historic and leisurely tour)

Two-hour tour: This tour begins at Meeting House Green. Distance is about 1.2 miles, and visits Meeting House Green and the East End (N. Main, East, Summer, Water, and County Streets. (Includes First Period houses and the River)

Start location: These two tours start at the garden across from the Ipswich Public Library on Meeting House Green. View at Google Maps.

Walking tours from the Ipswich Visitor Center

Two-hour tour: This comprehensive Historic Ipswich tour touches on the South Green, and follows the River to Water, Summer, County East Streets, Meeting House Green, North Main and South Main Streets, with a total distance of 1.5 miles. This tour takes a full two hours, and is for participants who can walk at a faster pace. 

One-hour tour: This tour includes the South Green Historic District, the exterior of the Whipple House, the Old South Cemetery and parts of South Main Street. This leisurely tour takes a full hour.

Start location: In front of the Ipswich Visitor Center at 36 South Main St. View location.

High St. Historic District

One-hour tour: High Street in Ipswich has the greatest concentration of First Period houses in America, dating from the late 17th Century into the first couple of decades of the 18th Century. This tour is a little over 1/2 mile. Your guide describes the architectural features of First Period, Georgian and Fedearl houses, and what makes them different. (We don’t go inside the houses, which are all privately owned.)

Old North Burying Ground

One hour tour: The Old North Burying Ground has some of the oldest tombstones in New England dating back to the late 17th Century, and are thought of as American folk art. This leisurely walk in the Old North Burying Ground in Ipswich includes up to a hundred tombstones carved between 1673 and the late 1700s. Town historian Gordon Harris shares the stories of the interred, and where their houses still stand. Carvings vary from the death heads of William Mumford, to the Essex/Merrimac style of John Hartshorne and the Leighton family, to the elaborate tombstones carved by the Park family. We visit the tombstones of the town’s earliest and most influential families, as well as other individual or family tombstones by request.

This tour is conducted in the late afternoon when the position of the sun in the fall casts shadows that make the inscriptions easier to read. Group size for each tour will be limited to about a dozen people, repeated during the fall.

Time: 3:00 pm.  Duration: 1 hr.

Charge: $10 / person, which you can pay by cash or check when we meet. Please preregister by emailing historicipswich@gmail.com

Start Location: Front gate at the Ipswich Old North Burying Ground at 63 High St. Limited parking is available on High St. Additional parking may be available at the Payne School at Lord Square. 

Reserve a tour

To request group or family tours, Please email historicipswich@gmail.com or call / text (978) 979-6598. Please indicate which tour you are requesting, the number in your group and provide your email address.

Scheduled tours

Tours by individual signup are occasionally scheduled through this site,and through Lexington Community Education and Essex National Heritage. Prices vary, and signup is through the sponsoring organizations. View the calendar below.

Custom ancestry and architectural tours by request

Ipswich is the country’s best-preserved Puritan town, and its residents have been the proud custodians of its history. Many people trace their roots back through several generations to Ipswich, one of the earliest towns in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Historian Gordon Harris leads customized tours for people wishing to “walk in the footsteps of their forefathers,” in which we visit the neighborhoods, houses and gravestones of early settlers and their descendants. Custom tours were recently provided for descendants of Isaac Cummings, William Fellows, Reginald Foster, William Story, Richard Kimball, and John and Judith Perkins.

To reserve: Email Ipswich town historian Gordon Harris at historicipswich@gmail.com or call / text (978) 979-6598. Please indicate your ancestry or architectural interest, and a way to contact you,

Self-guided tours

Walking tour of historic Ipswich
The red route is 3/4 mile and starts at Meeting House Green. The full tour is 1.4 miles and starts at the Ipswich Visitor Center

Some scenes from the tours:

17 replies »

  1. I am a descendent of the CALDWELL’s. Is this tour offered year round? Would love to make arrangements to take the tour in the Fall 2022. I’m from Colorado.

  2. A friend and I took the historic tour yesterday and enjoyed it very much.
    Mr. Harris’ knowledge of Ipswich was astounding and much to our
    benefit as was, his friendly ease of delivery.

    Thank you also to the owners of the John Wesley Dow house
    for welcoming us into their home which they have maintained
    as faithfully as humanly possible to the period.

  3. Just spent a lovely afternoon on a historic walking tour, narrated by Gordon Harris. This is a must for every resident. You will be filled with pride as a result of your enriched understanding of the role our great town and it’s citizens have played in American history. You will also gain a perspective of how history impacts current issues, such a town planning and development. Gordon’s passion for history and research, is our win, as he literally is able to answer all questions. His gift as a storyteller, makes the experience one to remember.

    • My husband and I took a Gordon tour in Sept. 2019 and it was wonderful. If I lived closer, I would do it again. He is an excellent guide and has a wonderful knowledge of the town of Ipswich.

  4. I went on a tour with Mr. Harris this July. As one whose family is derived from Ipswich but who had never visited, it was a true privelege to hear Mr. Harris speak with passion and erudition on the history of a town that is now very dear to me. Those with even the faintest interest in history should avail themselves of the opportunity to hear a real authority on Ipswich by scheduling a tour.

  5. Thank you Gordon, for the great tour of Ipswich on Aug. 4th. With Daniel Hovey, the immigrant, being my 9th great-grandfather, and us being the only ones on the tour that day, you were able to spend a little more time on various Hovey homes around town. And yes, I think we did find the original site of Daniel’s house on Tansey Lane. It is a long trip from Arizona, but we will be back, very soon, hw hope. Thank you again for making the history come alive. It was a great day for both of us.

  6. We had a delightful, informative, entertaining walking tour of Ipswich. Gordon had the history, humor and time to do it justice. Great take!

  7. Mr. Harris was kind enough to arrange a private tour for me and my father. We walked for hours through Ipswich — we were given the option to drive but declined — as Mr. Harris gave us an enthralling orientation to Ipswich history. He took us to numerous sites of note to the Fellows family and expounded some of the reasons for their importance. I encourage anyone interested in Ipswich to schedule a tour with Mr. Harris; it is a real treat to hear someone discourse avidly and expertly on a subject about which he is passionate, especially if the fate of one’s family is tied into that subject.

  8. Regarding the Walking Tours – highly recommended! If you want to learn why they built the way they did, Gordon knows his stuff. These people were practical, orderly and committed. They had town rules for building and for respecting the land. To top it off, seeing a home that was built by, or belonged to, your own ancestor is really exciting. I love this town, and I’m so thankful it has been preserved. Thanks to Ipswich and all those who have worked, and continue to work, for this amazing history.

    • Annie , Do you know when your family came over. “our” Kimball ancestors came in 1634 , Richard & family came from Suffolk ,England and he was a wheelwright–just curious -kevin

  9. As a descendent of early pioneer Isaac Cummings, it was a special moment to be standing on land he owned as his life in Ipswich was described. Gordon made history come alive for a tour bus of descendents. Thank you Gordon.

  10. My mom’s family has been in Ipswich and Rowley since the Great Migration and we lived there back in the early 70s. I need to head up that way and take this tour.

  11. This is one of the best walking tours I’ve been on. Gordon’s knowledge of the history of Ipswich allowed us to understand the daily life of Ipswich resdents from the time the town was established through the Revolutionary War and beyond. We learned things the history books omit. It is worth your time to take this tour!

  12. If you have a chance, take Gordon’s tour! Even as an Ipswich resident, I learned so much about our town and our history. Take the tour, you will be glad you did!

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