Wednesday, July 28, 2010

In My Footsteps: Trip 59: Ipswich, Mass.

In My Footsteps
Christopher Setterlund

Trip 59:  Ipswich, Mass.
July 1, 2010

            When I was a child I remembered the name ‘Ipswich’ being on a wooden sign which hung above the duplex where I lived in Yarmouth.  Each of the homes on our side of the street featured the names of North Shore towns such as Swampscott and Essex; of course I did not realize that until I was older.  When I got the chance to I was so excited to get to visit the actual Ipswich and take in what this North Shore town had to offer.
John Whipple House
            Originally called ‘Agawam’ by the local Native Americans Ipswich got its name from the corresponding town in Suffolk, England in 1634.  The first European settlers became farmers, fishermen, and shipbuilders while the Ipswich River provided water power for mills.  At the turn of the 20th century however it was stockings, made by the Ipswich Hosiery Mills, which became the town’s greatest export.
            The sheer number of historic homes in Ipswich was something I should have expected from a town that traces its heritage back nearly 400 years.  The Rogers and Brown House is one such place that I stopped to see.  Originally built in 1750 this old colonial ‘manse’ is run today as a very beautiful and popular Bed & Breakfast.  The home was built by Dr. Rogers near Ipswich’s South Green, upon his death his wife agreed to sell the house to Dr. Asa Brown to make way for the building of the Old South Church.
Heard House/Ipswich Museum
            The Rogers’ house was moved to its current location.  It was subsequently attached to a slat box home first owned by Nathaniel Rust who was a glover.  Dr. Brown then made several changes to the home which included several fireplaces, a carriage barn, and three staircases.  Today the Bed & Breakfast has all of the modern amenities.
            Another historic home which is even older than the Rogers and Brown Bed & Breakfast is the John Whipple House on South Main Street.  The whole area surrounding this house is filled with other historic homes so it makes for a great walk on a sunny day.  The first thing I noticed about this home was the fact that the year it was built has been changed on the sign.  The year 1677 is in bright paint yet underneath can clearly be seen the year 1655.  I have since discovered that the reason for this change in the established year is due to a dendrochronology test in 2005.  This is the process of tree-ring dating.  This test proved the earliest part of the house was built in 1677.  John Whipple was a British soldier and entrepreneur.  It was restored and has been a museum since 1899.
The Great House at Castle Hill
            Located just across the street from the Whipple House is the Heard House which also doubles as the Ipswich Museum.  This property, along with the Whipple House, is the main cog of the Ipswich Historical Society.  Built in 1800 the house was the dwelling of John Heard who was a prominent merchant in Ipswich.  He dealt all over the world with a large concentration of his dealing being in China and the West Indies.  The descendants of John Heard lived in this large home until it was purchased by the Ipswich Historical Society in 1939.  The museum is open from May through October with it being possible to gain admission to both or only one of the Heard and Whipple houses.
            If historic homes are not your thing there is something with just as much history without all of the walls and furniture.  Appleton Farms is 658 acres of beautiful green fields, trees, and picnic areas, not to mention all of the livestock.  This is America’s oldest continuously operating farm being established in 1636 by Samuel Appleton.  Initially he grew only corn and other vegetables along with hay; later generations of Appletons expanded the crops to include timber, beef, and dairy. 
The incredible rear lawn of the Great House.
            The farm is open sunrise to sunset all year long.  The folks there recommend allowing yourself two hours to fully enjoy the farm and what it has to offer, possibly three hours if you are also partaking in the Appleton Farms Grass Rides.  These are more than five miles of lush green paths which were originally designed for horseback riding.  The five paths, called ‘rides’ after the English term for carriage path, all meet in the center of the land at a place called the ‘Roundpoint.’   Appleton Farms and the adjacent Grass Rides are a great way to spend a day in Ipswich.
            The final stop on my trip to this amazing North Shore town was also the most exquisite.  Castle Hill was a spot well known to the local Native Americans for centuries and became farmland when John Winthrop Jr., son of the first governor of Massachusetts, laid claim to the land in 1637.  It is on the way to Crane Beach, which can be accessed from this property along the walking trails.  I cannot explain the majesty of this area, not only the natural beauty but the amazing architecture of The Great House. 
The Great House sits atop Castle Hill.  It was built in 1928 and includes fifty-nine rooms.  During my trip here there was a summer concert being set up on the lawn behind the Great House.  The lawn was something unexpected entirely as well.  It was not so much anything about the grass, but more of the spaciousness of it.  I can only describe it as a hundred foot wide swath of green which starts at the back of the Great House and slopes down for as far as the eye can see.  I was in awe of the scope of this landscaping marvel.  There are trails which encircle the property and I found out beforehand that much of The Next Karate Kid movie was filmed on the grounds.  I highly recommend taking the time to fully engross yourself in the natural and architectural wonder of Castle Hill.
For me now Ipswich means much more than a wooden sign above a childhood home.  It means numerous historic homes, and rich, lush farms.  Ipswich also means the incredible sights at Castle Hill.  I believe everyone needs to see Appleton Farms and Castle Hill for themselves to truly appreciate them.  It is a worthwhile trip.  Have fun and happy traveling!
DirectionsWhipple House/Heard House:  From Rt. 1 north take a right at Ipswich Rd., continue onto Topsfield Rd.  Continue onto Market Street, turn right at S. Main Street.  The Heard House in #54 with the Whipple House being directly across the street.
            Appleton Farms:  From Rt. 128 North take Exit 20A.  Take Rt. 1A North.  Travel about 7 mi. north on Rt. 1A and turn left onto Waldingfield Rd.  There is a small parking area at the street corner.
            Castle Hill:  From Rt. 128 North take Exit 20A, take Rt. 1A North for 8 mi. to Ipswich. Turn right onto Rt. 133 East and follow for 1.5 mi. Turn left onto Northgate Rd. and follow for 0.5 mi. Turn right onto Argilla Rd. and follow for 2.3 mi. to entrance.
            The - Appleton Farms
            Rogers and Brown

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