The Middle Circumferential Highway, a beltway to Ipswich!


An optional route for the proposed Middle Circumferential Highway is indicated by the dotted line that goes through Ipswich in this 1968 map from MassDPW

In its 1968 comprehensive report “Recommended Highway and Transit Plan” the Massachusetts Department of Public Works (MassDPW) proposed a new beltway around the Boston area that would be situated between MA 128 and I-495. The Middle Circumferential Highway would have been a 66-mile loop six-lane expressway with 1990 as the goal for completion of its construction.

The report stated that “The only apparent hope of relieving Route 128 is a continuous circumferential highway close to Route 128 that is capable of providing a reasonable alternate route.”

Earlier plans for I-95 that routed it through Boston had encountered strong community resistance, so the DPW adopted a strategy of carving expressways through farms and open space in the outlying suburbs.  The map above shows two options in our area for the Middle Circumferential Highway.  Dashed lines indicate a route which would have begun at MA 3 in Norwell and ended at I-95 in Boxford. Although state highway officials refused to discuss details, it was widely believed that a section of the highway would closely follow existing Route 62 from Concord through Middleton.

The dotted lines in the above map indicate the longer preferred route which would have continued the highway along the Ipswich-Hamilton town line, ended at Rt. 128 in Gloucester, and would have seriously impacted protected wildlife areas at the Ipswich River Sanctuary, Bradley Palmer State Park, Appleton Farms, the Pingry estate and  Manchester-Essex Woods.

Proposed route of the Central beltway.
The proposed Middle Circumferential Highway included the option to continue to MA-128 in Gloucester. Rough sketches suggest that the highway would have crossed  Rt. 1 in Topsfield, bisected the Ipswich River Sanctuary and Bradley Palmer State Park, cut through Winthrop properties, crossed Highland Avenue and continued through Appleton Farms and the Pingry Estate, then crossed Rt. 1A between Ipswich and Hamilton, continued through the Manchester-Essex Woods, and ended at Rt. 127 along the shoreline between Magnolia and Gloucester.

Although the proposed middle beltway appeared on the Mass DPW long-range highway construction program as late as 1975, plans were abandoned due to growing resistance in the communities that would have been affected. Or was it that they saw how Ipswich easily dispatched with purveyors of a nuclear power plant that was to have been built on Town Farm Road?


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Parting Paths

The intersection of Rt. 133 and 1A (Where Essex Road branches off from Bay Road/County Road) was for many years called "Parting Paths". This stone marked the intersection, but neither the location of the stone or the identity of the woman in the photo is known.

The intersection of Rt. 133 and  Rt. 1A is where Essex Road branches off from Bay Road/County Road and was for many years known as”Parting Paths”. This stone marked the intersection. (The identity of the woman in the photo is unknown.)

Gary Gibson let us know that the stone is still there. The "Parting Path" granite marker is located in the traffic island at the intersection of Route 133 and Route 1A.

Gary Gibson let us know that the “Parting Paths” granite marker is still standing, located in the traffic island at the intersection of Route 133 and Route 1A.

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The Dark Day, May 19, 1780

Artist’s depiction of mid-morning conditions during the Dark Day of May 19, 1780 (from Devens, 1876)

On the afternoon of May 18, 1780 the sky was a strange yellowish color and the clouds seemed dark and heavy. The next morning the sun came up deep red and barely visible through a haze, until by noon there was “midnight darkness” and people could not see. Candles were lighted, cattle lowed, and fowls went to roost. Men returned from their labor in the fields. The darkness stretched south from the Canadian border, covering most of Vermont, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts.

Cory Simons took this sunset photo on July 25, 2014 as smoke from wildfires in western Canada drifted over New England

Cory Simonds took this sunrise photo in July 2014 as smoke from wildfires in western Canada drifted over New England

At 2:00 pm in Ipswich roosters crowed and frogs peeped as if darkness had fallen. A witness reported that a strong sooty smell prevailed in the atmosphere, and a dark sooty rain began to fall, full of burnt leaves and ash.The first half of the night was hideously dark, and no ray of light from moon or star could penetrate the darkness until after midnight when a blood-red moon emerged. By the next morning, dark ash lay along the banks of the Merrimac River in Newburyport, four or five inches thick. Continue reading

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The Ipswich Community Development Plan: Walking and Cycling

The following is from the Ipswich Community Development Plan adopted by the selectmen in 2003 which addresses the requirements and design characteristics for sidewalks throughout the town.

8.3.3 Bicycle and Pedestrian Access While the capacity of the street system and public transit modes are important, so too are the needs of bicyclists, joggers and pedestrians. As the public’s interest in health and physical fitness grows, the needs of this growing segment of the population should also be considered. In addition, biking and walking are viable modes of commuting for many Ipswich residents, either alone or in combination with the commuter rail. Most areas of the Town are regarded as walkable, even those areas lacking sidewalks. There are sidewalks on most streets in the town center, although some are in a state of deterioration. (In 2001 and 2002, Town Meeting voted to allocate more than $500,000 to repair and replace sidewalks. The Town hopes to make the repair/replacement of sidewalks an annual undertaking.)

The pedestrian bridge at the Upper Falls connects South Main Street to EBSCO , Market Street and the Riverwalk Mural. Photo courtesy of Glenn harris

The pedestrian bridge at the Upper Falls connects South Main Street to EBSCO , Market Street and the Riverwalk Mural. Photo courtesy of Glenn Harris

Continue reading

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Saving the Rooster, 1915

Two stories from Tales of Olde Ipswich Vol. 1, by Harold D. Bowen:

Grounded in 1915 was the rooster which graced the steeple of the Old North Church. George Dexter took this photo of it and imprinted the verse onto it for a picture postcard. )

Photographer George Dexter created and circulated this postcard and thus raised money to return the Rooster to the steeple of First Church. The size of the Rooster can be determined by comparing its height to the handrail and its width to the door.

Old Man Lightning never strikes twice, they say. But whenever he has a dislike for anything, he will hit it any number of times to attain his goal, which is total destruction.
The Old North Church was an example of this. The steeple was struck many times, and in 1965 it was destroyed.

Back in 1915 the steeple was the target of lightning, which set fire to the steeple. It was at this fire that the new steamer of the Fire Department was used to battle the blaze and was hooked up to pump from the cistern in front of the Public Library. It threw a stream over the rooster that kept watch over the town from the steeple. The rooster was taken down and repairs were made to the steeple. There was some talk about whether the rooster would go back up because of the expense involved.

The rooster still stands guard on the current First Church at Meeting House Green

No rooster on the North Church spire? This aroused quite a few people who wanted to see it in its proper place. One of these persons was our old friend, George G. Dexter, who recorded with his camera nearly every important event. Dexter was determined to do something about the fate of the rooster. With his camera he went up to the Old North Chapel (which is still standing) where the rooster was stored and took a picture of him. Then he made up a set of picture postcards and sold them. Pictured on the postcards was the rooster, his metal feathers somewhat scarred from the flames. Imprinted on the card were these words:

“For many years I’ve served ye town
For many things I love it.
And though just now I feel cast down
I hope to rise above it.

George Dexter sold enough of these cards to pay for the cost of returning the rooster to the top of the repaired steeple.

—Harold D. Bowen

(Thomas Franklin Waters recorded that the steeple was struck by lightning on the afternoon of August 8, 1916) Continue reading

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The Old Tann Fatts

John Fiske lives in the Glazier-Sweet house on Water Street in Ipswich

This article is by John Fiske, a member of the Ipswich Historical Commission and owner of Fiske and Freeman Fine and Early Antiques on South Main Street.

We have a dear friend who has moved three or four times since we’ve known her. And each time, she and her husband have bought or built a new house. As she said to us once, “I can’t stand the thought of living in a house that someone else has lived in.” At the very least, that proves that friendship can survive extreme differences of taste.

I love the fact that our house is fast approaching its 300th birthday and that the lives of many local families are now silently embedded in it. It is more than a human habitation, it’s a sign of human continuity. But the family that touches me most closely never lived in this house at all. They lived on the same lot, but in a house that was torn down to make way for this one in about 1725. I suspect we share the same field stone cellar, but that, apart from the river, is all that we do have in common.

glazier_sweet_dowI just came across an old book by Alice Keenan, an enthusiastic local historian who was working about 70 years ago. And of course, I was delighted to find that it contained a photograph of our house taken in 1894. We already own an 1891 ink wash of the house by the celebrated Ipswich artist Arthur Wesley Dow (I’d come across it in a small local auction and was the only bidder. How often does that happen in these days of the Internet!) The photo and the painting of our house when it was not yet 200 years old – - each enriches the other and I love seeing our house as others saw it more than a century ago. Continue reading

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Measures’ Candy Shop

Measures’ Candy Shop was apparently a long-lasting institution in Ipswich. It was first located in a small building on North Main Street that was moved in order to construct the Colonial Building in 1904. The store moved down the hill to Central Street and was in the storefront that now houses Zabaglione Restaurant. It was owned and operated by Austin Measures who lived on Turkey Shore Road.

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You’re invited! Learn about the APD

Ipswich Historical Commission member John Fiske and Elizabeth Freeman live in the 1728 Glazier-Sweet house at 12 Water Street

Thanks to John Fiske of the Ipswich Historical Commission for the text of this post.

As we all know, Ipswich has 59 first period houses (more than any other town in the nation) together with numerous eighteenth and nineteenth-century houses of equal merit.

Architecturally speaking, Ipswich is a town of major historical significance. Without its historic houses, Ipswich would be a pleasant but undistinguished town, with little to draw visitors except Crane Beach. As a town, Ipswich is defined by its architectural heritage.


The view of Water Street in this old postcard shows Summer Street climbing on the right and has changed very little over time.

None of this historic architecture is protected against the future. To set this matter right, the Ipswich Historical Commission is proposing an Architectural Preservation District (APD). The proposal will be put to the town for a vote at the Town Meeting in October, 2014.

Proposed Architectural Preservation District (unofficial map)

Current proposed area of the Architectural Preservation District (unofficial). May change before being presented to Town Meeting. The current draft encompasses an area roughly defined as 223 acres beginning at South Green, continuing along the river to the Town Wharf, East and High Streets to the High Street Bridge, North Main Street and Meeting House Green.

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