by Tom Clasby
PART ONE — AS THINGS WERE
The road from Ipswich to Topsfield runs by Sullivan’s Corner going roughly east-west, about five miles from the railroad tracks at the edge of downtown Ipswich, till it meets the Newburyport Turnpike — U.S. Route 1 — in the neighboring town. Along the way, in the margin between upland and areas of former meadow, it traces the lower contours of a row of drumlin hills made of ice-laid glacial till. The road is also loosely parallel with a meandering old river, although the distance between them varies a good deal — more than half a mile apart some places, actually coming together at the Willowdale Dam, near Topsfield. The location that was once called Sullivan’s Corner is on the other side of the road from the hills, the river side, falling about midway between Bush and Scott hills — the second and third mounds coming out from Ipswich.
This land had been farmed since long before the arrival of European explorers, and establishment of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Some of the first pastures used by English colonists who founded the town were openings in the fertile river plains cleared by Algonquian tribes who camped in the region seasonally for millennia. Native women had used the fields for raising corn, squash and other crops, while the men took fish from the coastal waters.
For three centuries following the Puritan migration to this continent, the new settlers and their successors drew a livelihood out of the stony ground. The character of the farming changed over time, along with the origins and inclinations of the people doing it, but there was a common thread in the continuity of people doing the timeless work of producing food that sustained their community.
The route to Topsfield began as a driftway traveled by colonial cowherds driving the village cattle out to graze on common pastureland in the meadows along the river. Within three generations though, descendants of the original town proprietors, and later arrivals, faced pressures from a growing population, and abandoned the practice of pasturing their stock in common fields.
After about 1700, the shared expanses of pasture and tillage land gave way to private farms as the proprietors began apportioning shares of the common land among themselves, and established individual titles of ownership. With that, farmsteads spread along the outlying roads — away from the central village — and, from then on, the land was worked by successive generations of independent farmers.
Some of the last land to be farmed along Topsfield Road was at Sullivan’s Corner. The farm there stretched from the road to the river, where they’re somewhat farther apart, and where another road intersects from the south-west. Its boundaries changed a few times over the years, but from the beginning of the twentieth century the farm occupied an irregular and elongated area of about thirty-four acres. On its lower extremity the farm was bounded by four hundred feet of the river, while the northern edge, on Topsfield Road, was the shortest of any — just a hundred and twenty feet, corner to corner.
This is a story about the last years of that farm.
Continue reading: Who Was There
Text and illustrations Copyright © 2018 by Thomas Clasby All rights reserved.
- Sullivan’s Corner: The Backdrop
- Sullivan’s Corner: Who Was There
- Sullivan’s Corner: Saving the Barn
- Sullivan’s Corner: Putting Hay In
- Sullivan’s Corner: The World Nearby
- Sullivan’s Corner: The House on the Corner
- Sullivan’s Corner: The Cows
- Sullivan’s Corner: The Stand
- Sullivan’s Corner: The Land
- Sullivan’s Corner: The Farm in Repose
- Sullivan’s Corner: What Remains