The South Green Historic District was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. The proposal was submitted by Margaret E. Welden for the Ipswich Historical Commission and is copied below.
The South Green dates from 1686, when the town voted that the area be held in common, and it has fulfilled various community needs. Cattle were gathered here to be driven to outlying pastures. All adult men reported monthly to the Green for military training. Above all, the South Green was the educational center of Ipswich. In fact, it was first known as the School House Green.
As early as 1636 a Grammar School was established in Town. Ezekiel Cheever, famous New England educator, came to Ipswich in 1650 as schoolmaster. The first schoolhouse was built on the corner of Poplar and County Road. by 1652 and Cheever taught there until 1660. The Grammar School remained in this location until 1704, when it was moved to the new Town House on Meeting-House Green. In the mid-18th century Madam Rogers, wife of Samuel Rogers, kept a school for young ladies in her home at the north end of South Green.
In 1794 the Grammar School moved back to the area into a new building on the corner of County and Argilla Roads. From 1828, the South District of town shared the building for its own school, and in 1836 the Grammar School merged with a new English High School. That merger brought radical changes in the scope and purpose of the Grammar School, and many residents marked that date as the passing of the ancient school. The second district school moved to a new building nearby at Payne and Poplar Streets about 1850, and the High School left the old South Green building in 1874.
Today the South Green is no longer the educational center of Ipswich. The boundaries of the South Green essentially ware determined when the Green was set aside by the town 300 years ago, and today they remain nearly the same. The Heard House marks the Northwest corner, then the boundary line runs south to Saltonstall Creek, crosses County Rd., then runs north to the Sweeney Tavern, which marks the northeast corner. The line then runs east to the northwest starting point. The boundaries were predetermined by the structures in the area.
The following is from Ipswich Yesterday by Alice Keenan, written in 1982:
“The South Green is a most fascinating microcosm, the people who lived there and the structures that ring it — 17th Century, Georgian, Federal and Greek Revival — a fragile link to the Ipswich that was — and a nagging and constant reminder of the precious heritage that we have inherited and more times than not, use so carelessly.
We remember seeing a picture of the Green, painted about 1840, and being struck by the beauty and complete serenity of the scene. Two riders canter by the house, the lady, ramrod straight in her side-saddle, her feathered hat and elegant skirted riding habit reminding us of a time romantic. Her gentleman companion, faultlessly turned out, wears his fawn riding suit with an air of careless elegance. Down the street, in front of the Giddings house and store on the corner of Argilla Road, two ladies walk arm in arm, deep in conversation. Five enormous elm trees line up on the western side of the Green, and underneath a chaise is being drawn by two sleek horses.
The Colonel Baker house looks much the same as it does today, minus of course, the office addition built by Dr. Pallotta. Next door one can glimpse the Aaron Smith house, and further down the old Walley-Dana manse that many of us can still remember. Across the Green stands the old Swasey Tavern, three storied, and looking as elegant as only a Georgian mansion can — this before it was so sadly “Victorianized.”
And, gleaming ghostly in the background, the focus of the picture — The South Parish House — newly built, columned and pristine, and now gone forever. Here near the Green lived the Rev. Nathaniel Ward, author of “The Body of Liberties” and “The Simpler Cobbler of Agawam,” his house on the east side of the Green. Cotton Mather tells us that Ward had inscribed over his fireplace, “Sobrie, juste, pie,” (soberly, justly, piously) and afterwards added “Laete” (gladly). Close by lived his son-in-law, Dr. Giles Firmin.
Across the way lived the Honorable Worshipful Richard Saltonstall, son of Sir Richard, whom on his arrival, was immediately honored with public office. Deputy to the General Court in 1636, and although one of the elite establishment, disagreed violently with his peers, standing alone in his opposition to such important and controversial items as life tenure for “a certain number of magistrates” and “single-handed and alone lifted his voice like a great trumpet in the Great and General Court” against the stealing of slaves “as contrary to the law of God and Country,” and demanding the imprisonment of the officers of the ship that had stolen them. The brook that halved his generous grant was known for generations as “Norton’s,” but is now and forevermore “Saltonstall’s Brook.”
That famous schoolmaster, Ezekiel Cheever, lived near the corner of Poplar street and kept the school-house nearby. He labored here between 1650 and 1661 before moving on to Boston and its Latin School. The Rev. Nathaniel Rogers, pastor of the First Church from 1638 to 1655, the first of the long line of Rogers to shepherd the Puritan flock, lived to the rear of the Colonel Baker house, “sundry remains” being found when a water line was dug to “the Gables” in 1846.
As time passed, more houses were built, the mansion of John Heard in 1799, and the tone of the South Green already established, remained. Augustine Heard always had his eye out to acquire, move or tear down those houses surrounding the Green, already perhaps crumbling, in an effort to enhance and preserve. the park-like setting he so admired. He bought the property of Daniel Cogswell when that 1816 house and store was partially destroyed by fire, moved the store-house from the area adjacent to the present location of the Whipple House, and set it up next to the South Side Cemetery where he put it to use as a barn.
The old Crompton Inn, built in 1693, the favorite stopping off place of Judge Sewall for a helping of “roast fowle”—and later the home of Colonel Choate, the builder of the bridge, was torn down in 1836 and the land sold to Heard. Its neighbor, the 1740 Walley-Dana House that used to sit in front of the Whipple House was bought by the Heritage Trust in the mid-1950’s and taken down. The old house, weak with age, had been eyed by the telephone company as a perfect site for a new office building. Thankfully, the Trust came to the rescue and the area was opened up to reveal the Whipple House in all its glory. The telephone company had to be content with buying another old house further down County Road, moving it to the back of the property and erecting the present telephone building.
The Whipple House has been around, too. Originally it stood down on Saltonstall street, and in 1927 it was moved to its present location — the land the generous gift of the Crane family. A delightful picture of the 17th century structure, squarely in the middle of the Choate Bridge, looking for all the world like it was wedged in to stay, is a particular favorite.
It was the building of the second Meeting House of the South Parish in 1837 that pulled the South Green into focus and finally opened up a clear view down the Green and the old Bay road. The old Meetinghouse that stood directly in front of the new was pulled down, the old Rust House moved down County Road and the 1727 Colonel Nathaniel Wade House that stood guard on the southern end of the old “trayning field” could be plainly seen.
Across the way from the Wade Manse, the South Side burying ground, owned jointly by the First and South Parishes stood silent sentinel on the land conveyed by Dr. John Manning in 1773 and again in 1795. The civic-minded Dr. Manning sold the town more land for widening the road and extending the training field. In time, in 1859, the town would acquire ownership of all the church owned burial grounds, “their conditions often in deplorable neglect and a notable improvement in the cemeteries resulted.”
It seems everybody was improvement-minded. In 1892, a civic-minded group, and we rather suspect that the Rev. Waters and the Appletons were among its leaders, prevailed upon the town to fill and grade the South Green ‘where a fine lawn was established.” Flower beds were planted and maintained “by the South Side people, and bordered by the splendid elms became a thing of beauty.” Eventually the town assumed the care of the Green and for many long years it remained “a thing of beauty.”
Today, alas, things are sadly different. The South Green or School House Green or Training Field–all part of “that microcosm of social and architectural history of the town” seems rather lost and forlorn–coming to life once a year for a carnival-like affair–and forgotten until the next. Let’s hope that when we’re handing out birthday gifts during our 350th celebration we don’t forget the South Green–and maybe, once more, it will become “a thing of beauty” that it deserves.”