Ipswich and the Golden Age of Cycling

Ipswich couple on a bicycle for two on Central Street

The American popularity of bicycles originated in Boston, which held the first U.S. bicycle race on May 24, 1878. In 1883, Abbot Bassett of Chelsea set out on the first recorded 100 mile bike ride, meandering on an adult tricycle along the North Shore to Ipswich and back home.

George Chinn of the Beverly Citizen and Marblehead Messenger published the Essex County Wheelman’s Handbook, providing cycling routes, maps and lists of local hotels and bicycle clubs. The magazine noted that Ipswich Roads “have the reputation of being the best in the county.

In 1886 Boston businessman Pope introduced the Columbia Safety, a modern two wheel “safety” bicycle, priced at over $100 apiece, which enabled a cyclist from Newton to ride round-trip to Ipswich on the Newburyport Turnpike (Rt. 1) in 9 hours 50 minutes, setting a new record for a 100 mile ride. Pope advertised his bikes in a Boston publication called “The Wheelmen” and by 1890 the city had became the home of “Bicycle Fever”.

Ernest Currier opened a bicycle shop in this building on South Main Street in 1909.

The bicycle was a freedom machine, enabling people who had never traveled far from home to ride dozens of miles in a day. Bicyclists filled the roads, wearing their finest cycling clothes while perched on the status symbol of the era. The bicycle was the fastest vehicle on the road, and The Boston Daily Globe began promoting races and social events throughout the area. In 1909 Ernest Currier demolished a house at 46 South Main Street to build the town’s first bicycle shop, where he also repaired “horseless carriages.” The town’s first automobile dealership opened up next door in 1922 in the building that now houses Jungle Printing.

Sisters Flora and Susan Baker on a tandem bicycle, photo courtesy of Ipswich Historical Society

Sisters Flora and Susan Baker on a tandem bicycle, photo courtesy of Ipswich Historical Society

The photograph on the right (courtesy of the Ipswich Historical Society) shows sisters Flora and Susie Baker on a “Sociable”, a two-wheeled tandem bike with side-by-side seats and handlebars, convenient for courting (if you survived). North Shore tricycle tours took women to Gloucester, Ipswich, Essex and Newburyport accompanied by men on bicycles or together on tandem tricycles. Despite enduring public  rage, women began riding from home to work, and by the mid 1890’s two million American women owned or used bicycles.

Boston’s Mary Sargent Hopkins (aka “Merrie Wheeler”) published a women-specific cycling magazine, The Wheelwoman, expounding cycling as an element of social reform and physical well being, and in 1895, Boston’s Annie Londonderry became the first woman to bicycle around the world.


At the end of the century, Albert Pope turned his attention toward production of an electric automobile. Henry Ford began mass-production of the Model T in 1908 and soon thousands were being sold each day at the irresistibly low price of $240. The Newburyport Turnpike (Rt. 1) was paved in 1922 and Congress authorized massive paving of roads under Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). By 1930 Ipswich citizens began the commute by automobile to Boston for work, leaving little time for what now were considered children’s toys. Ironically, the bicycle fed our insatiable appetite for travel, independence and faster mechanized transport. American’s love affair with the automobile began and with it came an end to cycling’s “Golden Age.”

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The Great Colonial Hurricane and the wreck of the Angel Gabriel, August 25, 1635


Graph from article in the Boston Globe about the Great Colonial Hurricane of 1635.

On the last Wednesday of May, 1635, the Angel Gabriel, a 240 ton ship set out from England, bound for New England. The ship had been commissioned as the Starre for Sir Walter Raleigh’s last expedition to America in 1617. It was stout and built for combat armed with 16 guns, but on this final journey, it would cross paths with the most intense hurricane in New England history.

Alan Dunham of the National Weather Service office in Taunton reviewed accounts from mariners and settlers of New England and pieced together an estimated storm track and surge pattern for the Great Colonial Hurricane of Aug. 25-26, 1635, which reportedly “caused ye sea to swell about 20 foote,” and had the highest storm surge in recorded U.S. history.


Plaque at the Pemaquid Point Lighthouse in Maine

The Angel Gabriel was captained by Robert Andrews of Norwich, Norfolk County, England and was joined on the journey by the James, the Elizabeth (Bess), the Mary and the Diligence. As they approached the North American coastline, the unusually powerful early season hurricane struck. The Category 3 hurricane was moving faster than 30 mph with maximum winds of 130 mph. The three smaller ships were bound for Newfoundland and outran the storm, safely reaching their destination,

The larger and heavier James and the Angel Gabriel were on a course for New England. The James anchored off the Isle of Shoals but all three anchors were lost. It managed to limp into Boston two days later, its sails ripped apart, with all one hundred-plus passengers surviving. The Angel Gabriel took refuge in Pemaquid Bay and most of its passengers managed to disembark before the ship broke apart and sank with the loss of several lives.  A bark commanded by Captain Gallop made several trips to Boston transporting the survivors, many of whom made their way to Ipswich and became prominent founding members of the community. A new commemorative plaque was installed at Pemaquid in 2010.

The principal passenger was John Cogswell from Westbury Leigh, Wiltshire, born in 1592. He was a man of wealth and standing, married to Elizabeth Thompson, a daughter of the Vicar of Westbury parish. They embarked with eight of their nine children on the Angel Gabriel accompanied by his servants and many of their belongings for the new settlement at Ipswich. Cogswell and his family were swept from the deck and washed ashore, and more than £5000 worth of property, including cattle, furniture, and money were lost to the sea. Cogswell and his family were eventually transported to Ipswich, where he acquired a sizable estate in an area called Chebacco, which is now Essex. A house on that property, Cogswell’s Grant in Essex, is owned by Historic New England and is open to the public. Cogswell’s reputation and his comparative wealth gave him a leading position in the town.

The Burnham-Giddings house on Argilla Road was built by Thomas Burnham, descendant of the Thomas Burnham who survived the wreck of the Angel Gabriel.

Also among the survivors of the Angel Gabriel who managed to eventually reach Ipswich were Deacon John Burnham, Robert Burnham, and Lt.Thomas Burnham, who was made Selectman in 1647 and was Deputy to the General Court from 1683 to 1685. In 1667 he was granted the right to erect a sawmill on the Chebacco River. He owned land both in Chebacco and in Ipswich, which was divided between his sonsThomas and James upon his death.

The Burnham-Patch house at the corner of Poplar and Turkey Shore Road was probably built on the foundation of an earlier Burnham family dwelling.

One of the many historic properties associated with this family is the Burnham-Patch House at 1 Turkey Shore Road in Ipswich. Although it dates to the 1730’s, it appears to have been built on the floor plan of an earlier house from the 1670’s.  Heavy quarter-round chamfered framing timbers in the cellar provide evidence of the earlier structure. The large ell on Poplar Street was added in the  early nineteenth-century. The Burnham Patch house and the Heard-Lakeman dwelling across the street have two of the original covenants established with the Ipswich Historical Commission, featured in the book “Something to Preserve.”

The David Burnham house in Essex

The David Burnham House on Pond Street in Essex is said to have been built c. 1684 by David Burnham, son of Thomas Burnham, and remained remained in the Burnham family for almost 150 years. It was the subject of restoration work in the early 20th century by the Essex Institute under the auspices of George Francis Dow. The kitchen fireplace was the largest known to have been uncovered in Essex County at that time.

The White Horse Inn on High Street was built by Corporal John Andrews, son of the captain of the Angel Gabriel.

Captain Robert Andrews and his three nephews who had accompanied him also settled in Chebacco. Land records from 1635 show that his house lot adjoined the properties of Thomas Firman, John Perkins Jr, John Cross, Richard Hoffield and Thomas Hardy. Andrews apparently decided he was through with the maritime industry, and was allowed to sell wine by retail, “if he do not wittingly sell to such as abuse it by drunkenness.” His son Corporal John Andrews built the large house on High street, where he operated the White Horse Inn.

The Tuttle-Lord-Shatswell house on High Street

About John Tuttle, age 17, there is considerable confusion. It is reported that he settled in Chebacco but eventually moved to Dover, New Hampshire, where he became known to locals as “Shipwreck John Tuttle.” Other oral history suggests that he walked from Pemaquid to Dover.  He is apparently not the same John Tuttle, age 39, who arrived with his family in the “Planter” in 1635, but went to Ireland a decade later and never returned.  Town deeds record that John Tuttle purchased a lot along the Ipswich River cove near the present County Street in  July, 1638 but sold that property three months later to Reginald Foster. His son Simon Tuttle built a portion of the Tuttle-Lord-Shatswell house which still stands on High Street.

The Angel Gabriel was similar to the Mayflower but a couple of feet longer and carried four more guns.

The Angel Gabriel was similar to the Mayflower but a couple of feet longer and carried four more guns.

Many other ships and lives were lost in that storm, including 21 passengers on a small bark who had set out from Ipswich on August 21. As they rounded  Cape Ann they were suddenly met by the force of the winds. Reverend Avery, his wife and nine children and his cousin Antony Thacher, his wife and six children were on board, bound for Marblehead where Rev. Avery was to become pastor of that church. Mr. and Mrs Thatcher were thrown onto the rocks on the place now known as Thatcher’s Island and were the only survivors. He recorded the terror:


Thatcher’s Island off of Cape Ann

“And as my cousin, his wife, and my tender babes sat comforting and cheering one the other in the Lord against ghastly death, which every moment stared us in the face, and sat triumphing upon each others’  forehead, we were by the violence of the waves and the fury of the winds (by the Lord’s permission), lifted up upon a rock between two high rocks, yet all was one rock, but it raged with the stroke which came into the pinnace. The waves came furiously and violently over and against us.”“Now look with me upon my distress and consider my misery… my goods and provisions swimming in the seas, my friends almost drowned, and mine own poor children so untimely… before mine eyes drowned and ready to be swallowed up, and dashed to pieces against the rocks by the merciless waves, and myself ready to accompany them.”

Read more about the Great Colonial Hurricane

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The Ipswich Post Offices

The Old Post Office on North Main Street

In 1775, a committee from Ipswich began meeting with other towns, from Newburyport to Danvers, regarding the establishment of a regular postal route. The Provincial Congress appointed a post office for Ipswich, and James Foster to be its keeper. The mail had been carried through Ipswich up to this time, carried by horseback on a route that took six days from Boston to Portsmouth and back again.

The first known post office in Ipswich was on North Main Street in the small red building across from First Church. It was built in 1763, probably as a barn or warehouse.

The Ipswich Post Office was established on May 4, 1775 with Deacon James Foster as Postmaster. Daniel Noyes succeeded him on Oct 5, 1775. He graduated at Harvard College in 1758, was the teacher of the Grammar School and was Representative to the Provincial Congress in 1774, 1775. After twenty-five years of continuous service, he was succeeded by Joseph Lord in 1800.


James Foster Postmaster 10/11/1773
Daniel Noyes Postmaster 01/05/1776
Joseph Lord Postmaster 11/25/1800
Isaac Smith Postmaster 07/01/1805
Nathan Jaques Postmaster 09/14/1807
Ammi Smith Postmaster 10/05/1818
James H. Kendall Postmaster 08/10/1829
Stephen Coburn Postmaster 08/28/1832
John H. Varrell Postmaster 04/18/1861
Joseph L. Herman Postmaster 07/20/1865
John H. Cogswell Postmaster 01/03/1868
Edward P. Kimball Postmaster 08/02/1886
Luther Wait Postmaster 07/11/1890
George A. Schofield Postmaster 08/16/1894
George P. Smith Postmaster 05/04/1898
Olive P. Smith Postmaster 12/10/1900
Luther Wait Postmaster 04/22/1902
James H. Lakeman Postmaster 05/01/1914
Charles E. Goodhue Postmaster 01/31/1923
Sylvester D. Conley Postmaster 07/10/1935
Eugene Matheson Acting Postmaster 02/15/1944
Eugene Matheson Postmaster 03/16/1945
David DeMario Acting Postmaster 04/13/1959
David DeMario Postmaster 09/21/1959
Marlene A. Kinan Officer-In-Charge 12/19/1975
John M. Warren Postmaster 07/03/1976
Paul I. Chase Officer-In-Charge 11/30/1979
David E. Hyde Postmaster 03/08/1980
Linda L. Coan Officer-In-Charge 12/27/1989
J. R. D’Allocco Postmaster 10/19/1991
Deb Tinney Officer-In-Charge 02/20/1997
Peter Golden Officer-In-Charge 05/27/1997
David R. Gamache Officer-In-Charge 11/19/1998
James D. Lance Postmaster 03/27/1999
Michael C. Quinn Postmaster 10/13/2007
At the location of the Caldwell building next to the Choate Bridge there once stood a large mill built by Dr. John Manning. The mill failed, and became  the Smith Building, where it hosted businesses and  and hosted the Ipswich Post Office until the building burned in

At the location of the Caldwell building next to the Choate Bridge there once stood a large mill built by Dr. John Manning. The mill failed, and it became a commercial building known as the Coburn Building and the Smith Building, and hosted the Ipswich Post Office for a while. In the center of the building was the variety shop kept by Mr. Stephen Coburn, who was also Post-master. The post office occupied a small room with glass windows, against which the letters for general delivery were placed, and a few private boxes. Postage was high, letters were rare, and the small volume of weekly newspapers required little space The Smith building burned in 1869 and was promptly replaced by the Caldwell Building, still standing.

By the mid 19th Century, the Post Office was in the brick building at Meeting House Green known as the Odd Fellows building. A room in the Post Office was used to recruit soldiers for the Civil War.

During Luther Wait’s first term as Postmaster, the Post Office was in a row of small shops known as the Jones Block that stood where the Christian Science Church is now. Luther Wait was appointed postmaster in 1890 but relinquished the position in 1894 and joined tens of thousands in northwestern Canada looking to strike it rich during the Klondike Gold Rush.

Around the turn of the 20th Century the Ipswich Post Office was located in the Jones Block, a row of small buildings that wrapped up the hill from the Choate Bridge to the Ipswich Female Seminary (now the location of the Christian Science Church)

Around the turn of the 20th Century the Ipswich Post Office was located in the Jones Block, a row of small buildings that wrapped up the hill from the Choate Bridge to the Ipswich Female Seminary (now the location of the Christian Science Church)

Luther Wait returned to town, probably empty-handed, and resumed his appointment as postmaster from 1902 – 1914. By that time, the Post Office had moved to Central Street, where it stayed until the current Post Office building was built on Market Street in 1939.

The current Ipswich Post Office was built in 1939 with U.S. Treasury funds.

The current Ipswich Post Office was built in 1939 with U.S. Treasury funds.

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