Readers answer the question: How has Ipswich changed?

Ipswich Depot

I posted the following question to the I Love Ipswich and I Grew Up in Ipswich Facebook groups. The answers are pouring in. Additional comments can be posted at the end of this page.


I would be interested in how the town has changed over the years for driving, walking, cycling, shopping, and old-fashioned neighborliness.


The Ipswich Fire Department with horse-drawn fire engine

Michele Nelson I rode horses a lot when I lived in Ipswich. I wonder how many of the trails I rode on in Ipswich and Hamilton are still open to horses. I moved away and now I ride bicycles. I wonder how the riding is in Ipswich on the road and on trails. Are the roads narrow with no bike lanes and lots of traffic? Can you ride mtn bikes in Bradley Palmer SP and Willowdale SF?

Market Street. Goodhue’s Hardware is on the left, and the “new” Woolworth’s location is on the right. 

Robert Macklin Back 25 years ago you could walk down Market street and the downtown section and people would know you buy name, and say hello and have a conversation with each other. Today they don’t even now the next door neighbors. They should get there faces out of the electronic tracking devices and phones and get to have a live face to face conversation with a human being. Lets not forget the Hardware store on Market St.

Sally Bolles Clancy 50 yrs ago (I know I’m dating myself). We walked everywhere morning , noon, and night. We were safe, our parents didn’t worry. In the 80s I picked up my daughter, things had changed.

Paul Hatgil A small town with all the amenities.

Inside Hills Department Store

Charlotte Lindgren The biggest change in Ipswich has been for the better in that there are no longer districts strictly divided by ethnicity and social strata. When the mills were active many spoke little English so clustered together by the language spoken and in housing run by the mills. There were big private estates and many small farms. Clam shacks lined the river.

The Strand Theater

The Strand Theater on Market St.

Each group was a little world of its own. Let me mention one loss to Ipswich. There has never been a real replacement for Hills Store on Market Street. Though it began as a men’s shop it soon became a family store where everyone bought their shoes, back to school outfits, winter clothes, sweaters, and dresses. The clerks were all Ipswich natives who not only knew your name, but usually the size you needed. The fire that destroyed the building ended a part of Ipswich life. Don’t forget Goodhue’s!

Goodhue’s Grocery which was later the South Side Store across from the South Green. 

David Wallace This town has gone through so many changes I could write a book about it…or even more then one book…But for openers the curfew bell no longer tolls and the fire whistle no longer blows..the major change I see though is in the teen lifestyle. Here are the top ten things we lost in downtown area

  • The Strand Theatre
  • Hill’s Men Store
  • The Bowling Alley
  • The Agawam Diner
  • Quint’s Drug Store
  • The Memorial Building
  • Lou and Fran’s
  • Ipswich News
  • Depot Spa and Nick’s Pool Room
  • Janice’s Ice Cream Parlor
Goodhue's store on Central Street

Goodhue’s hardware store when it was on Central Street at the beginning of the 20th Century.  Goodhue’s was later located on Market Street

The Agawam Diner when it was across from the Depot

Sally Kiesling I remember shopping for our back-to-school clothes and shoes at the Style Center. Christine, Kitty, Dick, and (one other)were always so helpful. They even had one of those old x-ray machines that you put your feet under to make sure the shoes fit properly. First National and the A & P were down town so people were able to walk to the grocery stores. Woolworth’s 5 & 10 was always a fun spot. And Quint’s Drug Store had a wonderful soda fountain for special treats.

Quint’s Corner

Heather Ferguson You take your life in your hands walking around town and trying to cross streets. This morning was another morning that I was walking one of my dogs, was 1/2 way across a crosswalk by the Whipple House (a car heading north on 1A let us cross) and I had to pull up and stop because someone blew through the other side of the crosswalk. His window was down but he just kept going and did not make eye contact. However, I have a feeling that it is not just a “town issue” but a societal issue in general. Slow down people! Happens almost every morning that someone blows by a cross walk when I am trying to cross with one (or more) dogs.

“Bills on the Bridge”

Sharon Burke West Your parents knew what and where you were before you got home cause everyone knew who you belonged to.

Tim Clancy A few others David; Atlas lunch. Bill’s on the Bridge, Cioleks(sp), Goodhues. Some nice new ones; Zumis, the Pub, to name a few.

The Atlas Restaurant, corner of Market and South Main Streets

Kathleen Donaher Spinale What has never changed about this town is how the people come together in times of tragedy and disaster. One needs to only look at how people were looking out for others during the storm a week ago Saturday, but other examples would include the support families have received when they’ve tragically lost loved ones, or when a group bands together to support one of our own who needs help during a medical or other crisis. It’s always been that way, and we can only hope it will always be that way.

Gavin Keenan Gordon, taking your question in sequence, my impressions of the changes in town over the course of my life have been these: Like everywhere else there is increased traffic with more cars on the road than in years past, but conversely, we have far less serious vehicle accidents involving personal injury. This is probably due to the improved safety design of cars, as well as a marked decrease in driving under the influence of alcohol / drugs. Back 30+ years ago, the Fire Department needed to deploy the Jaws of Life at least six or seven times a year to extract an accident victim from a twisted wreck. Now, this is a very rare occasion.

Walking was probably not as common an activity, at least for exercise purposes, as it is today. The people who walked then did so because they didn’t have cars. A few folks used a bike as the sole means of transportation. Considering that most bikes then were single speed or 3 speed “English Bikes” biking was strenuous and difficult. And hitchhiking -“thumbing” as we called it then, was another means of transportation.

First National Store, Market Street, 1967

When I was a young kid, most shopping was done locally. Between the A&P, First National, neighborhood stores and a busy downtown, families could find most things that they needed right here. A big trip would be to North Beverly to Zayere’s or Robert Hall clothing stores. A safari would be to the outdoor shopping center in Peabody – now the North Shore Mall. I agree with Kathleen, neighborliness comes out best during hard times. People were probably more informed of their neighbors business back in the day than now, but maybe a little more privacy is a good thing, not sure. One thing that was different then is that neighborhood parents were more watchful over the kids in the hood, and would let a transgressors parents know when he / she was out of line. I think this has sadly slipped away.

Memorial Day parade on East Street, mid-1950’s

Celeste Penney Jim Sotiropoulos I have lived in Florida 13 years and I couldn’t tell you one neighbor’s last name and only a couple of first names. It seems the neighborhood I grew up in, everybody knew everyone and if you didn’t like what your mother was cooking you could go to a few others’ houses and eat. Times have changed. My children had the same bus driver as i did, my neighbor and life-long friend the late Helen Bowen.


Kim Marchand  I think Moms have to be out in the workforce, as opposed to years ago. There used to be horses and riders everywhere, along the roadside. Now you only see the signs.

Michael Tyler Boutchie No more Iggy in her red Ford Fiesta, “Tic Toc,” the “Legend,” the “Sleepwalker,” Chester the “Molester” or the guy with the army getup with beard that would walk 133 and sleep in the woods.

Linda George Grimes Also “Dumppicker Annie.” We were forbidden to ever thumb a ride, but my mother always picked up Crazy Gene and gave him a lift because he lived on our street.

Chuck Kollars There were stories about going ice skating on the top of Spring Street, and about somebody always being there with a warm fire and a cup of hot chocolate.

Chuck Abbott  I love Ipswich and it was a great place to grow up. We always had a good group of guys and gals. Lot of first run movies at the strand. Watching the NFL games at the Memorial Bldg. The Greek store was a fun place to go for me. I had so many jobs in those early years. We delivered Zervas milk in Glouster. During the war years we were all the same, doing the best we could and never complaning very much. Ipswich was always a very proud town of it’s history and their veterans; I marched along in many parades. I also marched when I was in uniform. We all hung out at Cranes beach.

The First Church burned down in the 1960’s

Kathy Kelleher You are right, we have lost a lot of wonderful things that we all loved growing up. As Sally mentioned, I loved the Style Center & have great memories of going there to get my first pair of summer Keds sneakers… However, we are talking mostly of 40 or 50 years ago… Yes they were great but people pass away, stores close, and new ones move in. We have such gems as Zumi’s, 5 Corners, Choate Bridge, Salt Kitchen, Green Grocer, Zofia’s & Ithaki’s. Oh, & how can I forget Marty’s Donuts! As someone who grew up in Ipswich but spent much of my adult life not living here, now that I’m back, I love it! Many of my friends still live here and I really appreciate all of the incredible & NEW activities that go on in town for all ages… I’m thrilled with our town… And I think that most of the changes are positive. Yes, things are very different than we I grew up here but that is true in every town in America…. Sad but true, but just because some of us have such fond memories of the “way it was” does not mean that we are not open to new & wonderful new friends & new memories.

Posted in All, Living here | 5 Comments

1765-77: Ipswich Town Meeting never forgave John Calef

The mural at the Ipswich Post Office records the historic Ipswich revolt against taxation without representation in 1687

The people of Ipswich have a long tradition of heated debate at Town Meeting. In 1687 Samuel Appleton and other town leaders called an emergency town meeting to debate new taxes imposed by the Crown. They were imprisoned for their refusal to appoint a tax collector, an act for which Ipswich is known as the “Birthplace of American Independence.” Before and during the War of 1812 town meetings opposed the war and the shipping embargo, and even debated proposals to break away from the Union. In the 1970’s Ipswich citizens squashed plans to put build a nuclear power plant on Town Farm Road and in 1999 they prevented construction of drive-through restaurants once and for all (or so we hope). The most contentious meeting I have attended in my ten years in Ipswich was the 2011 sale of Little Neck, which ended a 350 year old land trust. Serious stuff.

Knowlton - Calef House, 5-7 Poplar St., Ipswich Ma

The Dr. John Calef house on Poplar Street was built built between 1671 and 1688 by Deacon Thomas Knowlton who purchased the land on which it originally stood on South Main Street. In the 1700′s the house was owned by Loyalist Dr. John Caleff, representative to the General Court in Boston. John Heard purchased the house from Calef in 1777 and moved it to its present location in order to build his elaborate Federalist home which now houses the Ipswich Museum. The John Calef house was altered in the middle of the 18th century, acquiring its present Georgian styling, and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.  For ignoring instructions from Ipswich Town Meeting, Dr. Calef eventually had to leave the country!

A town meeting in 1765 may well take the honor of being the most heated. Dr. John Calef was the representative from Ipswich to the General Court in Boston. He had served the colony as a surgeon during the “Old French War” but had loyalist leanings and opposed the growing hostility against the British Government. The tension came to a boil with passage of the “Stamp Act” in March, 1765, which required that legal documents and official papers should be written on stamped paper and that stamps should be affixed to printed books and newspapers.

Town Meeting assembled in Ipswich on October 21, 1765 and condemned the Stamp Act as “taxation without representation” as their predecessors had almost a century before. The meeting issued instructions to Dr. John Calef, our Representative in General Court: “That as our subordination to our Mother Country has its foundation entirely in our Charter, you are strenuously though decently to maintain that any measure not consistent with those charters & that deprives of any right in them is neither consistent with such subordination nor implied in it.”

Reading the Stamp Act in Boston

Reading the Stamp Act in Boston

Dr. Calef went against their wishes repeatedly in Boston. He was among only seven members of the Massachusetts Assembly who voted to retract the “Massachusetts Circular Letter” which was adopted in response to the 1767 Townshend Acts. Calef was soon replaced as Representative by General Michael Farley, but Ipswich citizens’ lingering anger at Calef increased as war with England approached.

September 26, 1774:  Ipswich Town Meeting gave instructions to its representatives, ” We agree with the advice given by a Congress of this country that a Provincial Congress be formed and meet together to consult on what is to be done by this people as a body and we would have you unite with such a Congress.” A few days later, almost nine years after Dr. John Calef betrayed the town, a great crowd of citizens gathered about his residence near the South Green and demanded a formal confession of his wrongful votes. In other parts of New England, Loyalists were chased out of town, tarred and feathered, or strung up on poles, but we’re civilized here in Ipswich, and Calef got off easy.

An angry Boston mob attacks Lieutenant Governor Andrew Oliver for being a Loyalist.

An angry Boston mob attacked Lieutenant Governor Andrew Oliver for being a Loyalist.

The Essex Gazette recorded Dr. Calef’s written statement to the hostile assembly: “Inasmuch as a great Number of Persons are about the House of the Subscriber, who say that they have heard I am an Enemy to my Country, etc. and have sent a large Committee to me to examine me respecting my principles, in compliance with their request I declare, First I hope and believe I fear God, honor the King, and love my Country. Secondly, I believe the Constitution of civil Government held forth in the Charter of Massachusetts Bay Province to be the best in the whole world, and that the Rights and Privileges thereof ought to be highly esteemed, greatly valued and seriously contended for, and that the late Acts of Parliament made against this province are unconstitutional and unjust and that I will use all lawful means to get the same recovered; and that I never have and never will act by an omission under the new Constitution of Government, and if I have ever said or done anything to enforce said Act I am heartily sorry for it; and as I gave my vote in the General Assembly on the 30th of June 1768, contrary to the minds of the people, I beg their forgiveness and that the good people of the Province would restore me to their esteem and friendship again.”


Illustration shows colonists preparing to tar and feather a loyalist seated on the ground as another loyalist hangs from from a gallows with a rope around his waist . (Library of Congress)

The company of people who were gathered in front of John Calef’s home voted to accept the apology, but Ipswich never forgave him and his reputation was destroyed.

On June 10, 1776 Ipswich Town Meeting voted that “the representatives shall be instructed if the Continental Congress should for the safety of the Colonies declare them independent of Great Britain the inhabitants here will solemnly pledge their lives and fortunes to support them in the measure.” The war was on.

In 1777 Dr. Calef made his escape. He sold his house to John Heard and went to work as a surgeon for the British troops at Fort George. After the war he settled in St. Andrews, New Brunswick and practiced medicine until his death.  He is considered to be a hero there. John Heard built his mansion, now the Ipswich Museum, and moved Dr. Calef’s house to Poplar Street where it still stands today.

Ignoring the verdict of Town Meeting has its perils, but Ipswich Town Moderator Tom Murphy reminds me that in modern times a Town Meeting is NOT authorized to instruct elected officials what to do, partly as a result of Adams’s constitution of 1780, but more so due to the evolution of the common law over the years. He suggests the following wording from Norway Plains Co. v. Boston and Maine Railroad, 1 Gray 263, 267 (1854) (Shaw, C.J.) as a good description of that process:

“It is one of the great merits and advantages of the common law, that, instead of a series of detailed practical rules, established by positive provisions, and adapted to the precise circumstances of particular cases, which would become obsolete and fail, when the practice and course of business, to which they apply, should cease or change, the common law consists of a few broad and comprehensive principles, founded on reason, natural justice, and enlighten public policy, modified and adapted to the circumstances of all the particular cases which fall within it. These general principles of equity and policy are rendered precise, specific, and adapted to practical use, by usage, which is the proof of their general fitness and common convenience, but still more by judicial exposition; so that, when in a course of judicial proceedings, by tribunals of the highest authority, the general rule has been modified, limited and applied, according to particular cases, such judicial exposition, when well settled and acquiesced in, becomes itself a precedent, and forms a rule of law for future cases, under like circumstances.”

Posted in All, Famous residents, History | 1 Comment

Lewis Kilborn, the last resident of Grape Island

Grape Island is between Plum Island and Great Neck

Grape Island is on the west side of  Plum Island, facing Great Neck

For nearly two centuries, Grape Island was a small, but thriving community of fishermen, farmers, and clam diggers. In the early 1930s, the Massachusetts Audubon Society purchased 1,500 acres on Plum Island and established a bird sanctuary. In 1941 under the Migratory Bird Conservation Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, 3,000 acres including Grape Island were purchased by the U.S. government and added to this sanctuary to establish the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, which includes all of the land on Plum Island granted to Ipswich and Rowley in 1649.

The last resident of Grape Island was Lewis Kilborn who lived his entire life on the island. His determination to live without running water, electricity or neighbors made him something of a celebrity. The following is adapted from a story by Susan Howard Boice in Volume 3 of her series, “Historic Ipswich” and from an article by Beverly Perna about the last cottage on Plum Island.

This is a photo of Lew as he stands in front of his house at Grape Island

This is a photo of Lewis Kilborn as he stands in front of his house at Grape Island.

Lew Kilborn was one of Ipswich’s legends. Some called him, “The Hermit of Grape Island.” He was born in 1902 on Lime Street in Newburyport. His parents, John and Jane Kilborn,
brought Lew and his two sisters to Grape Island when he was a week old. It was to become his life-long home.

He was educated in the Grape Island School, which was a one-room schoolhouse, with classes held during the summer months. The residents who lived on the island would hire a teacher, which the town paid for. She would teach during the summer months before she would start her classes on the mainland. Cora Jewett, who at the time lived on East  Street, was the last to teach at Grape Island. Kilborn went as far as the sixth grade. He
then began to learn the fishing and clamming trades. He eventually became a ship captain. At one time, he had fishing boats and lobster trawls, which one would see tied up on the shores of Grape Island.

Cottages on Grape Island

Cottages on Grape Island

He worked hard for years, fishing and lobstering, from the Isle of Shoals to Boston, catching herring, cod and mackerel. He was also engaged in clamming, not knowing what a day off was until his retirement. Kilborn kept busy even after his retirement: chopping his own wood, digging clams for food, keeping his eight-room house in repair, boiling water which he gathered from a cistern for drinking purposes.

Occasionally, one would find him walking out to chat with some of the local clammers who would be digging in the area. He was very kind and gentle, and also very good with children. He was very well-read and was on top of all the happenings in the world.
Even though the photo shows Lew with a beard, this wasn’t his general appearance. If he knew anyone was coming, he would be clean-shaven.

Grape Island at the beginning of the 20th Century

Grape Island early in the 20th Century

In later years, he cared for his ailing father who eventually died in 1946 at the age of 88. When his dad was sick and Lew could no longer leave the island to go to the mainland for food, the local clam commission and friends started bringing food from a list that Lew would give whenever someone dropped by. He never lived off the island, for, according
to him, there was no need to. He referred to the mainland as “crowded.” “Some people get lonely in a city” was his remark to Steve O’Connell, who at the time worked for the
local newspaper.

Many people, both family and friends, tried to persuade him to move off and on through the years, but he wouldn’t hear of it. As he stated to one reporter, “Where could one go to live for $160.00 a month?” This was the amount of his retirement pension and Social Security, which he used to keep up his house and buy food. Friends brought him groceries and coal, and would stop to chat while Lew would reminisce with great pleasure.

There were many houses on Grape Island in the first half of the 20th Century

There were many houses on Grape Island in the first half of the 20th Century

In the 1930’s and 1940’s Grape Island was a bustling summer resort with hotels, restaurants, mariners and hundreds of people holding all-night parties. There were scores of sailing, fishing and cruising boats moored around the island. Tourists would stay in one of the hotels at either end of the island. One burned down in 1933 and the other went broke and was later torn down.

The steamship Carlotta sailed daily from the Ipswich Town Wharf to Grape Island and Plum Island

The steamship Carlotta sailed daily from the Ipswich Town Wharf to Grape Island and Plum Island

In the early 1940’s the federal government designated Plum Island and Grape Island as wildlife refuges and sought to evict everyone living on it.  As part of the federal government’s eminent domain takeover of the southern end of Plum Island, cottage owners were given the option of fair-market payment for their properties or leasing their plots until the owner died, but succeeding generations were barred from residing there, and no new residents were allowed access to the island. The Kilborns also had a second home on the island, which commanded a view across the channel toward Ipswich. The government gave them a choice of houses. Lew was unmarried and his two sisters decided to spend their lives elsewhere, so the family chose the old family home as you can see in the picture. The other house was torn down.

Kilborn stayed on in the old six-room house after his father died in 1946. That also marked the end of a generation on Grape Island. Lew watched as his friends and neighbors moved away or died. The very next day would find bulldozers smashing down the vacant homes.
By 1969, the last of his neighbors, an elderly couple, moved away…. and their house was torn down like the beach houses before. That must have been a sad day for Lew.

The Grape Island wharf

The Grape Island wharf

After many years of living on the island alone, Lew had a system with his friends. His nephew Jack Dolan, the late former state representative, brought him groceries. If an emergency occurred, he would raise a white flag over his house. Later, many would go down to the Yacht Club over looking the river and beep their horns four times and turn on their lights. Lew then would proceed to find his boat if he had one, and come to the Yacht Club to see his friends and pick up his supplies, for he would have given a list to people the last time he saw them.


Lewis Kilborn, the last resident of Grape Island

The last few months before his death, his arthritis was bothering him, so he could no longer dig clams, fish, or tend to his garden as he formerly had. Lew Kilborn died in 1984, at the age of 81 just where he wanted to, on Grape Island.

Susan Howard Boice ends her story, “Today, there is no indication that there was ever an active community on the island. As one looks across from Great Neck, Grape Island looks quite barren. The endless waves pound against deserted beaches. The last house has been destroyed. No chimney sends up smoke. No flag flies to summon help. No twinkle of light from a kerosene lamp indicates human presence.”

Goodwin’s Camp, the Last Cottage on Plum Island


Goodwin’s Camp on Stage Island

Beverly Perna wrote a couple of years ago that the last privately owned cottage on the Ipswich end of Plum Island is endangered,  turned over to the Fish and Wildlife Service. “Goodwin’s Camp was built  by Nathaniel Dole in the 1890s when Stage Island was a hubbub of activity with hotels filled with pleasure seekers brought over on steamers.” At that time it was called “The Anchorage. Boaters and Great Neck residents are most familiar with the camp with its flag pole and red shutters.” The house  has stood as the lone survivor and last testament to bustling seasonal Plum Island activity in bygone years and has been the subject of many photos and paintings. Dorice Goodwin, owner of “Goodwin’s Camp” passed away, and family members were given a window of time to clear the cottage of belongings.

Posted in All, Susan Howard Boice | 2 Comments

It’s official! Ipswich Town Historian


Gordon Harris

The Ipswich Historical Commission is revitalized and in good hands with John Fiske as chairman, and we have an energetic group of members and alternates. I continue with the Commission’s website and as the vice-chair.

This blog is where I dig deeper into the town’s history, and I received an exciting letter from the Ipswich Town Manager yesterday appointing me to the (unpaid) position of Town Historian. I’ve been in Ipswich for only ten years, but the job of an historian, including an amateur one such as myself, is to uncover and preserve history, not to create it. Ipswich is a most unusual and fascinating town with a very rich history.

Much of what is posted on this site and the Historical Commission site comes from the following sources (just to name a few)….

I also receive photos and wonderful information about the town’s more recent history through three Facebook groups:

Continue reading

Posted in All, Gordon Harris | 8 Comments