For 200 years a Georgian-style, timber-framed house stood at 16 Elm Street in Ipswich. In 1963 The house was dismantled, trucked to Washington and reassembled in the National Museum of American History and became the centerpiece of an exhibition on two hundred years of American home-building technology. Today, the house is the centerpiece of “Within These Walls” at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.
One House, Five Families, Two Hundred Years of American History
by Kerrie Bates
The Ipswich Actors Company performed J.T. Turners award winning play, “Within These Walls” at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington D.C. in 2013, celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the events that saved the house and took it to the Smithsonian. Within These Walls & The Virtual Museums were made possible through a series of grants from the Institution For Savings, our sole corporate sponsor, who, every day, remains true to their vision to positively affect the lives of every person, business, and organization within the communities they serve. A document sent to curators at the Smithsonian that details the inception of our project and eventually led to the invitation to perform our play in front of the actual House! 16 Elm Street, Within These Walls One House, Five Families, Two Hundred Years of American History.
The people of Ipswich fell in love with the production, and building of the set was, in truth, a bit of a reunion. We had eight fine carpenters show up who had worked together last summer on a project on our village green called The 1634 House. It was a timber frame hewed from logs and built according to the tools and traditions of the time. My husband, sons and I learned a lot about broad axes and community spirit that summer. A couple of the good woman dug mud and clay from the bottom of the Ipswich River, at low tide, to construct a beehive oven and pizza’s on Fridays became a celebrated tradition, musicians came to play and the hewers hued… but I digress here….
The strapping frame for 16 Elm Street was completed in two days under the spirited leadership of Jay Esty, and we all had fun. Meanwhile back at the Ipswich Town Hall Gym what seamed like miles and miles of canvass was soaking up gallons and gallons of primer. Pattern pieces were cut and the sewing began…. Next came the muralists. Julia Purinton of Mudusa Studios provided vision and drive for the team of artists. With the canvas panels tacked up to the side of her funky red barn, Julia organized a tribe of tromp l’oeil painters with a wide range of experience; from none at all, and I refer to myself here, to accomplished artists. The camaraderie was contagious.
Across town, J.T. Turner was up to his elbows in research materials. Inspired by your interactive Within These Walls web site, J.T. wrote an original play, celebrating the five families, who lived in the one house, over the 200 years that it stood at 16 Elm Street. Actors were cast, rehearsals attended. Through it all, operating behind the scenes, there was Daniel Bates, my husband, of The Bates Design Collaborative; working on plans, posters and promotions for our production. Robert Weatherall, grandson of Helen Lunt, one of the two whose foresight and for history, preserved the little clabbered house in the first place, was in charge of putting up the prefabricated structure. The DPW boys in bucked trucks showed up like a modern day cavalry to raise the roof.
The weather was wild. We had rain and wind, but the little canvas house gallantly stood the ground that she had lost in 1963. Once up, the effect was magical. In the morning residents drove past the empty Ipswich Police Parking lot, but by the time they came home, there almost in full scale was the complete house with pumpkins and mums at the front door. I thought we were going to cause a traffic accident. I smile now as I write…I met so many people… they came by to tell their stories, ask questions… Richard Lynch who had grown up in the house, stayed for a long time…poetically, he took a bow after the world premier of JT’s play.
Just next door to the lot that was once 16 Elm Street, is the Ipswich Museum, formally known as the Ipswich Historical Society. They were instrumental five years ago, working with your researchers in developing Within These Walls at the Smithsonian Museum of American History. Together, we are collaborating on 16 Elm to extend the outreach and educational opportunities that the enthusiasm for this instillation has generated.