The Methodist Church on Meeting House Green was constructed in 1859. Its steeple is eighteen feet wide at the base and over sixty feet tall, and is visible for some miles out to sea. The steeple appears on the town’s seal, drawn by Ipswich artist Arthur Wesley Dow.
On July 16, 1859, Trustees of the Ipswich Methodist Church purchased the present lot on the North Green from the County of Essex and proceeded to build their new meetinghouse without a dollar being pledged. The cost of the structure and the site was $12,000. The building is 62 feet by 84 feet with capacity for 700 people in the pews.
The steeple had been a prominent landmark since the church was constructed and appears on the town’s seal, drawn by Ipswich artist Arthur Wesley Dow in the late 1800’s.
The Methodist Church steeple is visible for some miles out to sea and was often used by mariners as a navigation landmark.
In June 1973, lightning struck the steeple and it is reported to have been further damaged by a hurricane in 1974. The estimate for replacing the steeple being in excess of $100,000, the steeple was removed and its base was capped. It stayed that way for almost a quarter of a century.
In 1996 Bell Atlantic (now Verizon) offered to rebuild the steeple with the condition that it could place cellular phone transmission unit in it. A previous plan to build a cell tower had been blocked by the town zoning board. The church accepted the offer.
Eighteen feet wide at the base and over sixty feet tall, the new steeple was constructed in Texas by Fiberglass Specialties Inc., and was transported to Ipswich in sections for installation.
The steeple has a steel frame and fiberglass exterior, exactly matching the specifications of the original steeple. Verizon pays a monthly fee to the church for use of the facility.
2018 ceiling Collapse
The entire sanctuary ceiling of the Ipswich Methodist Church collapsed at 4 p.m. on Friday, May 25. 2018 hours before a group of up to 100 people was scheduled to meet. The church temporarily relocated its services at Ascension Memorial Church which is behind the building on County Street.
The damaged sanctuary floor is in the process of being replaced. All of the pews were crushed by the weight of the falling ceiling, and will be replaced by comfortable chairs that can be arranged for community uses. The church hopes to partner with local organizations and groups as a facility for music, presentations and civic events, as well as the congregation’s services. A wheelchair ramp will be installed at the front entrance, and an elevator lift will provide access to the sanctuary and fellowship hall for disabled people. The building has been brought up to date for building and fire codes, and will be able to legally accommodate 250 people when the work is finished. The entire project is estimated to cost over $3 million.
by Thomas Franklin Waters
Tradition has it that Rev. Jesse Lee, the itinerant apostle of Methodism, came to Ipswich in 1790 and preached wherever opportunity offered, but no effort to gather a church seems to have been made at that time. When the Baptist Church was virtually extinct, some of the leading members of that body turned to the Methodist order, which was then becoming prominent in Essex County. Mr. Aaron Waitt, a Local Preacher, was invited to come to Ipswich and hold services.
Like Peter and John, Mr. Waitt was an “unlearned and ignorant” man. He worked at his trade as a shoe maker during the week, and declared the message, that he felt God had given him, with great earnestness on the Sabbath day. Services were held in the second story of the disused woolen factory, where the Baptist Society had worshipped many years, and many of the Baptist folk identified themselves at once with the new movement. Twenty-five of the Baptists were enrolled as Methodists in 1822. A Methodist Society was organized in the Spring of 1822, and Mr. Waitt removed to Ipswich, and took charge of the services. A Sunday School, consisting of three classes and twenty scholars, began its sessions, Mr. Charles Dodge acting as Superintendent He was the first man who began the Christian life under Mr. Waitt’s teaching.
The first class meeting was held in the house of Mr. Aaron Wallis. Daniel B. Lord was the class leader. Prayer meetings were held in the homes of the people. Mr, Isaiah Spofford’s interesting Reminiscences include the prayer meetings and singing meetings, which he attended in his boyhood and young manhood. He remarks that the “Amens” and “Glory to God” that were interjected with great unction “would shock the too sensitive nerves of modern Methodists.’
We may well believe that the enthusiastic hymns, the loud voiced testimonies, the frequent sighs and lamentations and the resounding Hallelujahs were a rasping experience to those accustomed to the frigid proprieties of the old way, and some charity is due the owner, who may have been tenant as well, of the old house on the comer of Summer and County Streets, for his brusque behavior. Capt. William Gould hired a tenement here and his wife, a fresh convert, rejoiced in the assembly of the saints in her home. The unsympathetic proprietor served notice either to stop the meetings or leave the house. The doughty Captain stood by his wife manfully, and they found a new home on High Street. Here their prayer meetings were held with all the fervor and at whatever length they desired. Here too, the first “love feast” was held.
High Street was a congenial home of Methodism. Daniel Bolles Lord, the first class leader, owned and occupied the house, afterward the Asher Blake dwelling. Capt. Daniel B. Smith, a near neighbor, was the second class leader, when the first grew so large that division was necessary. Charles Dodge made his home in the Caldwell house. When the vigorous Society built a meeting house, they chose a lot on East Street, where the house lately occupied by Mr. Harry B. Brown now stands (now the Ipswich Bed and Breakfast). This had previously been selected by the Baptist people for the sanctuary they were planning to build.
The meeting house was begun in September, 1824, it was completed and the sale of the pews was held on Christmas day. The building was forty by fifty feet with full galleries, and cost, including the price of the land, ($250), five dollars less than $2000. The Trustees, Daniel B. Lord, Daniel Lord, Aaron Treadwell Jr., Charles Dodge and Aaron Wait met at the meeting house and commenced the sale of the pews at ten o’clock. The total number of pews was sixtyeight A large portion of the most valuable ones was sold at once, a small premium being paid for choice. Mr. Spofford recalls that the pulpit was raised on pillars high above the people and was reached by a flight of stairs. The pews were plain and unpainted. The gallery was occupied at first by the singers alone, who took their pitch from Thomas Greenwood’s tuning fork, or from the key notes sounded by David Dow on his bass viol.
The original members of the Church, received at its organization in 1822 were: Daniel B. Lord, Charlotte Smith, Aaron Treadwell, Widow Hannah Meady, Charles Dodge, Mary Martin, Hannah T. Lord, Dorcas Fowler, Abigail Lord, Mrs. Martha Russell, Joannah Ross, Mrs. Maria Lamson, Elizabeth Treadwell, Mrs. Lucv A. Jewett, Mary G. Harris, Mrs. Susan Wait, Elizabeth Grow, Harriet Lord, Emme (Amy) Gould, Susan Underhill, Mary Warner, Mrs. Mary Ann Potter, Lucretia Perkins, and Mrs. Eliza Dodge.
Rev. Aaron Waitt, the first preacher, joined the New England Conference in June, 1825. Ipswich and Gloucester were then made one circuit, and Mr. Waitt and Rev. Aaron Josselyn were appointed Circuit Preachers. Mr. Waitt removed to Gloucester and Mr. Josselyn came to Ipswich, occupying two chambers, very scantily furnished, in the house on the comer of Middle Lane, as it was then called. Rev. Nathan Paine followed in 1827, a quiet man, who wore the regulation Quaker cut coat and low crowned broad brimmed hat. Rev, John T. Burrill was the Circuit Preacher in 1828. In 1829, Rev. John J. Bliss was appointed the Stationed Preacher.
During his pastorate, the famous revivalist. Rev. John N. Maffit, held a “protracted meeting’ as it was called, which was undoubtedly the most extraordinary episode in the history of the churches of Ipswich, since the days of Whitefield and Tennent. He preached sixty nights to congregations which occupied every inch of the meeting house. It is said that during an entire week, business was at a stand still, most of the stores were closed, the cotton mill was shut down for want of help, and every one seemed to be seeking the kingdom of God and His righteousness. Mr. Spofford’s Reminiscences are of extreme interest. He recalls that Mr. Maffit spoke with “soft, persuasive eloquence.’ During his sermons, he relates, the audience seemed spellbound, and when, after the sermon, he descended from the pulpit and went up and down the aisles, singing as no other man could, some familiar hymn, the people seemed to have no power to resist his invitation to go forward to the altar. The closing meeting was of great solemnity. The house was packed to the doors, floor and gallery, even the aisles. During his address, he asked all to join with him in repeating, “I feel to bless the Lord for what he has done for my soul.” After an hour or more, all were requested to kneeL Mr. Maffit offered prayer, and then a hymn was sung, containing the verse, “Now here’s my heart and here’s my hand To meet you in that heavenly land Where we shall part no more.”
The congregation here joined hands, forming a complete chain with the preacher. The novel methods and great excitement, incident to these meetings, roused great opposition among those unfriendly to Methodism. It is said that the other churches were so alarmed by the inroads upon their own congregations that the celebrated Dr. Lyman Beecher was invited to hold a series of meetings for a week to stem the tide, but to no purpose. It has been said that some two hundred members were gathered into the Methodist Church as the result of these meetings. That number may have been admitted on probation, but the records of the church for 1829 and 1830, show that 15 were admitted to full membership in 1829, and 79 in 1830. These included Daniel Clark, John Perkins, Robert Kimball, Ezekiel Peabody, Joseph Wait and a multitude of other worthy men and excellent women, who added great strength to the struggling church.
Rev. Jacob Sanborn was the Preacher in charge in 1830, and the increased vigor of the Church was further manifest in the erection of a parsonage on the lot adjoining the meeting house. Joseph Wait bought the lot, June 16,
1830, and after the parsonage was built, conveyed it to the Trustees “with the buildings, the same having been built by subscription, and by said Trustees, their Committee.” May, 6, 1831.
Rev. Enoch Mudge was assigned to the Church in 1831, but was removed in the course of the year to take charge of the Mariners’ Church in New Bedford, the pulpit being supplied by Local Preachers until the Conference. Rev. Epaphras Kibby was then appointed Preacher and after a year, Rev. John T. Burrill returned for a two year pastorate in 1833 and 1834. He was succeeded by Rev. Newell S. Spaulding in 1835. The reaction from the tense times of the Maffit revival was now being felt. The item appears in the record under Dec. 3, 1835. “It was found the classes were not well attended.” Under June 9, 1836, it was reported : that the weekly prayer meetings were generally well attended but there was no special revival The Class Leaders reported a total membership of 216, 122 constant in attendance and 7 wilfully neglectful.
Rev. Edmund Beebe was Stationed Preacher in 1836 and 1837. The Record of the Quarterly meetings, Sept. 17, 1836 is interesting: It was found that the church was a little more engaged in love and unity than they were the last meeting.
The examination of the stewards and leaders took place and it was found by those that were present that they continued to believe in the doctrines, usages and discipline of the Church, that they enjoyed a good witness of their acceptance with God, And were trying to go forward in every good word and work. An addition was made to the meeting house this year. It was voted in April, to enlarge the house, to move it back, raise it up and finish a vestry on the ground floor. The new pews were sold to Josiah Caldwell, James L. Wells, Daniel Clark, George Warner, Manning Dodge, Ebenezer Russell and Daniel L. Hodgkins, the appraised value being $60.50 each. The total expenditure for the enlargement was $1038.72. A bell was also purchased at a cost of $300, probably by subscription.
Rev. Joel Knight occupied the pulpit in 1838 and 1839. He had a wife and three children under fourteen years, His allowance for 1838 was: Salary $248, House rent $40, Table expenses $75, Fuel $37, Traveling expense $14.40, a total of $414.40.
Bro. John A. Newman was appointed “door keeper for the love feast tomorrow morning.” The Presiding Elder had recommended earnestly in the previous year that the practice of Love Feast tickets be adopted and that hereafter none be admitted without them, or notes of admission by those who were not members of the Church, and that the doors should be closed at the precise hour and not be opened until the close of the exercise. The Stewards declined however to use the tickets, as the practice was not introduced at the beginning, and they had never found it convenient to use them.
Sanctification was a theme of frequent remark at this time. The Presiding Elder recommended in November, 1837, that a prayer meeting be devoted to the consideration of it, and also that Wesley’s sermon on Dress be read to the congregation. The Stewards reported in April, 1839, that two openly profess sanctification. The total membership in full communion then numbered 154, the class membership 125, and the average class attendance 92. It was also reported that there had been 60 conversions during the year and that 45 were on probation.
Singularly enough at this very time, when some were professing sanctification and many had manifested unusual interest in the higher life, there were unusual trials and difficulties. The Society voted on April 5, 1838, “That there be a tything man appointed whose duty it shall be to attend to the faithful discharge of his duties and that the Society shall…..any member or members that shall prosecute for noise or disturbance, within the bounds of prudence.”
Again in April, 1843, a Committee was appointed to keep order in and around the meeting house in time of service and it was voted that this notice should be read from the desk at some favorable opportunity. There is no intimation regarding the source of this disorder, whether it was due to troublesome boys, who attended prayer meetings as a place of amusement and conducted themselves accordingly, or whether there was strife and bitterness within the church itself. The anti-slavery question had now become acute, and the line of division between the ardent abolitionists and the moderate anti-slavery people and those who deprecated any discussion, was sharply marked. No doubt there was much disagreement on this burning topic in the other churches of the Town, but in the Methodist, sympathy with the slave, found its fullest expression, and the most uncomprising attitude toward slavery was resolutely maintained. Mutterings of the coming storm were heard in July, 1839, when James Caldwell presented a series of Resolutions with a Preamble, regarding slavery which were amended, unanimously adopted, and then ordered printed in Zion’s Herald and Zion’s Watchman.
Rev. Daniel Wise came to the Church in 1840, an able preacher and keen controversialist. One of the prominent members had said that he believed it was right for men and women to be held in bondage under some circumstances. He assailed this position unsparingly from his pulpit. When the Rev. David Tenney Kimball preached his well remembered sermon from the text, “I dwell among mine own people,” which was undoubtedly an attack upon Methodism and the itineracy, Mr. Wise replied very vigorously. He was succeeded in April, 1842 by Rev. W. Ramsdell, owing to the failure of his health, and Dan. Weed, the teacher of the Latin Grammar School, supplied the pulpit a portion of the time.
Rev. Daniel Webb was assigned as the Preacher in charge in August, 1842. He remained but a year, but events moved so rapidly during that period, and the dissatisfaction of a large minority became so pronounced that twenty-five members, led by Rev. Orrin Scott, seceded, declaring that they could no longer hold fellowship with slave holders or their defenders. They joined what was then called “The Methodist Wesleyan Church in the United States,” called Rev. Mr. Minor to be their minister and met for worship in the small hall owned by Mr. Hammatt, which then stood on the northeast comer of his lot. They maintained their independence for several years, despite the opposition of the old Church, but returned when, as they believed, the righteousness of their contention was recognized. Mr. Spofford remarks in his Reminiscences of this period “No one at this day, unless he be old enough to remember can have any idea of the bitterness of the contentions which took place with regard to the abolition of slavery.”
It was the general opinion of the brethren that things were getting no worse among us at least, thank God, but they confidently believed that there had been some improvement. Samuel Hunt, John A. Newman and N. R. Wait were appointed a Committee to consider the purchase of a double bass viol, and if it seemed expedient to proceed to secure the funds and make the purchase.
In August, 1843, Rev. John S. Springer was assigned to the Ipswich Church and remained two years. Though the dissatisfied portion had withdrawn, the Church was not perfectly harmonious. The vestry was frequently used for anti-slavery meetings and the “diversity of feelings regarding letting the House for any but strictly religious meetings, as the Town had lately purchased a house every way adapted to such other purposes etc.”, which is mentioned in the record of the April meeting, may refer to this use. However that may be, the Church was gaining courage. Blinds for the vestry were secured. In Sept., 1843, the pew owners took action and rearranged the audience room, erecting a new pulpit at the other end of the building. In February, 1844, Mr. Springer ventured to believe that better times were at hand, as his personal note in the Record suggests.
Rev. Joseph Dennison succeeded Mr. Springer in 1845, and Rev. Lorenzo R. Thayer was the Preacher in charge in 1846 and 1847. The purchase of a lot for a burying ground and of a hearse was considered and several Committees were appointed, but neither project materialized. The more expensive undertaking of building a vestry in the rear of the meeting house was carried through successfully by subscription, and a building, 40 by 50 feet was erected in 1847, at the cost of $400. Unusual appreciation of the choir was evinced in the vote of thanks to Samuel Hunt, the chorister, and the choir for “their well timed efforts in maintaining their part of religious worship.” The ponderous double bass viol evidently secured an agreeable improvement in the music of the sanctuary.
Rev. Stephen Gushing was assigned to the church in 1848, Rev. Charles Baker in 1849, and Rev. James Shepard in 1850. In September of that year the Society voted to enlarge the meeting house by adding five pews in depth at the rear; that the pews that may be added to the house shall be the fourth, fifth and sixth from the pulpit, with the two back, making in all 20 floor pews or twenty upon the lower floor. That the owners of four pews in the Galerie nearest the Singers have the privilege of taking the new ones and leave theirs for the Society. That the moving of the vestry be left to the Trustees. In April, 1851, a Committee was appointed to improve the front of the meeting house and vestry and another to finish off a part of the old vestry into two rooms. It was reported in April, 1852, that $667 had been spent in these improvements.
Rev. Moses A. Howe was the Preacher in charge in 1852, and during his ministry the New England Conference met with the Church, an event of notable interest to the Town. Rev. John W. Dadmun succeeded in 1853, and was followed by Rev. Jeremiah L. Hanaford in 1855. A new outbreak of disorder occasioned the appointment of a Committee in April, 1855, to see “that our meetings be not disturbed by persons disposed so to do,” and in the following April, the Selectmen were requested to appoint John A. Newman a special police officer “to see that order be restored in our evening meetings.”
Despite the occasional disorders, the Church enjoyed an even going prosperity. Rev. William C. High came to the pulpit in 1857 and his return was desired by unanimous vote in 1858. In September, 1858, a Committee of seven, A. D. Wait, W. 11. Graves, John Perkins, C. W. Chapman, J. M. Wellington, William Stone and D. L. Willcomb was appointed to estimate the expense of a new edifice. There was a more conservative party, which felt that the old meeting house had not yet outlived its usefulness, and a Committee made some canvass for funds, until it was evident that the popular sentiment was in favor of a new house.
During the ministry of Rev. Cyrus L. Eastman, in 1859 and 1860, the question of building was pressed vigorously. The seating accommodations were evidently insufficient and a Committee was appointed in 1859 “to find seats for the
people and keep order in the meeting house during service.” But the lingering fondness of many for the old house and
their unwillingness to abandon it found expression in the vote to appoint another Committee to report on the expense of repairing it. The perennial disorder of the mischievous boys in the gallery may have been one of the constraining causes that encouraged a new departure. As late as March 26, 1860 it was voted : “That Br. Hodgkins be a Committee to keep the Galleries clear of Boys on Sacrament Day.”
On July 16, 1859, N R. Wait, W. H. Graves and J. M. Wellington, Trustees, purchased the lot on which the present house of worship stands, from the County of Essex (591: 24). They proceeded to build the new meeting house without a dollar being pledged, being personally responsible to the contractor. It was erected at a cost, including the site, of $12,000. Rev. George Bowler was the architect, William H. Smith of Ipswich, contractor and builder. The dimensions are 62 feet by 84 feet, with a chancel, 11 by 29 feet, a vestibule 8% feet wide, and a tower 18 feet square, with 700 sittings in the pews. Mr. Wait purchased the lot on the corner and erected his dwelling there. In 1860, County St. was laid out across the County land and the stone bridge by the Lower Mill was built.
Rev. Austin F. Herrick was assigned to the Church as Preacher in charge in 1861. The Civil War had just begun. Mr. Herrick wrote regarding his pastorate: “The first company from Ipswich in full military dress, on a beautiful Sabbath in June, entered the church in a body and reverently listened to words of counsel, and united in prayer and then went forth to the terrible strife, some never more to return. Soon young Potter, the only son of his mother, and she a widow, laid his life upon his country’s altar, and his embalmed body was borne back by comrades to church and cemetery for funeral rites and military burial.” John J. Jewett Jr. died from wounds received at Gettysburg and was brought home for burial on July 25, 1863.
Rev. Joseph C. Cromack followed in 1863, Rev. Isaac J. P. Collyer in 1864 and 1865, Rev. Jesse Wagner in 1866, 1867 and 1868. Through the earnest personal effort of Mr. Wagner, the organ was purchased at a cost of $2121.25. Rev. Charles A. Merrill was the pastor in 1869 and 1870, and Rev. Charles H. Hanaford in 1871 and 1872.
The fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the Church was celebrated on May 1, 1872 with great enthusiasm. Twenty-nine ministers came to honor the occasion, including the venerable Rev. Aaron Josselyn, who knew the Church in the days of its feeble beginnings. His address was of peculiar interest, with its personal reminiscence : “I was but twenty-one years of age when I was first stationed here, and they called me the “Little Preacher” for Bro. Waitt was large and robust, while “I was small and pale.” Rev. A. D. Sargent recalled that in 1831, he came to Ipswich and found Rev. Enoch Mudge, Pastor, “the first man ever licensed to preach in New England in the Methodist Episcopal Church.” Rev. C. A. Merrill, in his address, alluded to the fact that during his stay in Ipswich, the Society and Parsonage Tents were erected on the Hamilton Camp Ground.
The Pastor, Rev. Mr. Hanaford, taking advantage of the anniversary, announced that a debt of $800 on the building remained unpaid, that it needed paint and other repairs, and that it was felt by the people that the time was ripe for paying all arrears and providing for a new parsonage. He stated that if $2000 could be raised during the day and evening, it would be sufficient, together with what would be realized from the sale of the old parsonage and with gifts expected from friends of the society, to carry through this great enterprise. Subscriptions were pledged by those present, the Soliciting Committee, which had been engaged in correspondence, announced the result of its work, and it was found that $3200 was pledged, with the prospect of material increase from friends who had not been heard from, ensuring the complete success of the plan. The new parsonage was built forthwith in the latter half of 1872.
Rev. Ebenezer A. Smith 1873-1875
Rev. Frederick Woods 1876-1877
Rev. George Whitaker 1878
Rev. Porter M. Vinton 1879-1880
Rev. Chas. Smith 1881-1882
Rev. Chas. T. Johnson 1883-1884
Rev. John Galbraith 1885-1887
Rev. Austin H. Herrick 1888-1889
Rev. James F. Allen 1890-1892
Rev. George M. Smiley 1893-1895
Rev. George F. Durgin 1896-1898
Rev. Francis J. McConnell 1899-1901
Rev. Arthur Bonner 1902-1904
Rev. Frederick Woods 1905-1907
Rev. Alliston B. Gifford 1908-1911
Rev. Arthur D. Stroud 1912-1915
Rev. William J. Kelley 1916
Our survey cannot be completed without a glimpse at the small grass plot, in front of the Methodist Meeting House. Here the first Town-house was built. The order of the Town, Dec. 28, 1704, specified a building about 32 feet long, about 28 feet wide, about 18 or 19 feet stud, “with a flat roof raised about 5 foot.” A school room was finished in the lower part, and the upper was used for a court room and for town meetings. It was replaced by a new building, erected at the joint expense of Town and County, in 1793-94, a much more pretentious structure with a high belfry or steeple. It stood with its rear end close to the high ledge, which has been blasted to its present level, but which was originally as high as the eaves of the building itself. Thus, in close proximity to prison, stocks and whipping post, the Courts held their stately sessions from 1704 to 1854, when they ceased their sittings, and the house was sold and removed to the corner near the railroad station. It was utilized by Mr. James Damon for a hall and stores, and was totally destroyed by fire, April 14, 1894. Famous judges sat in the bar; great lawyers, Webster, Choate and Story, made their pleas; momentous cases were decided under its roof.
In front of the Methodist Church in Ipswich where the old Town House once stood is a sign erected during the Massachusetts Tercentenary Celebrations that reads as follows: “Here on August 23, 1687, the Citizens of Ipswich. led by the Reverend John Wise, denounced the levy of taxes by the arbitrary government of Sir Edmund Andros, and from their protest sprang the American Revolution of 1689.”