(Text adapted from the History of Great Neck, published in 1984 by Doris Wilson)

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Aerial viewd of Little Neck and Great Neck

Before the settlement of Ipswich was begun in 1633 by John Winthrop, William Jeffrey, who had come over in 1623, had purchased from the Indians a title to the glacial drumlin which bears his name.

Thomas Franklin Waters wrote:

“The first Englishman, whose name has been preserved, was William Jeffreys. Jeffreys was never a resident, so far as is known. In 1623, he came over in Robert Gorges’ company and settled at Wessagussett, now Weymouth, and in 1630 was reckoned one of the principal men of that little hamlet. Prior to 1633, however, he must have been in this neighborhood, for Great Neck was called Jeffrey’s Neck from the beginning. As late as 1666 he claimed ownership, and the General Court voted him 500 acre elsewhere, ‘to be a final issue of all claims by virtue of any grant, heretofore made by any Indians, whatsoever.'”

By 1639 the whole tract was set apart as a common pasture by the new town, and in 1666 the General Court gave Jeffrey five hundred acres of land elsewhere. After the early eighteenth century, the Necks remained as the only common lands retained by the Commoners.

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Cattle were kept on treeless Great Neck in the summer and herded back through town for the winter

In 1660, there were about four hundred sheep on the Neck, and a shepherd was appointed by the town. Regulations for the cutting of trees existed, but by 1759 the forest growth had completely disappeared. The Neck was also where the fishing catch was unloaded, dried, salted, and stowed on sailing vessels to go to Europe. Wharves and fish houses were built along the waterfront, and “stages” for the drying of fish stood on the hill still known as Stage Hill. Ships from many countries anchored in the sheltered covey to take on cargo from this fishing station, which flourished for a century.

View of Great Neck from Pavilion Beach early in the 20th Century
View of Great Neck from Pavilion Beach early in the 20th Century
View of Great Neck from Little Neck, with Pavilion Beach in the middle
View of Great Neck from Little Neck, with Pavilion Beach in the middle

In 1710 the common lands of Ipswich were divided. Over four hundred persons drew rights in the area of Great Neck, with two-fifths going to descendants of the original settlers and three-fifths to more recent Commoners. In 1788 the Ipswich Commoners voted to grant all their interest to the Town of Ipswich under condition that the Town sell it to pay off the debt which had been assessed to each town to defray the expense of the Revolutionary War.

The same view as above, today from Pavillion beach
The same view as above, today from Pavilion beach

However, Great Neck was retained by the commoners and in 1837 they organized as “The Proprietors of Jeffries Neck Pasture.” Great Neck continued to be used as commercial pasture land for almost a century. Livestock from all parts of Essex County was sent there to graze from May to November. In 1891, the Corporation built Jeffreys Neck Road from the mainland across the marshes to Great Neck.

By 1903 Mr. Alexander B. Clark had bought out all the other proprietors and the Town of Ipswich brought suit against him (or technically “The Proprietors”). The Supreme Court upheld the town’s claim of ownership by virtue of the common lands which had been sold by the Commoners to the Town of Ipswich in 1788. The town and Alexander B. Clark reached an agreement under which certain lands were given to the Town of Ipswich and certain lands were granted to Clark. Pavilion Beach was part of the land given to the Town.

Helen’s Pavilion sat at Pavilion beach between Great Neck and Little Neck
This early 20th Century photo shows cottages on Great Neck before many streets were laid out. On the right is the tip of Little Neck, still uninhabited, and the coastline in the distance is Annisquam.
This early 20th century photo (before 1930) is taken from the top of Little Neck looking towards Ipswich river. The hotel on Little Neck is clearly seen at the bottom of the hill(center) and the old fire station to its right. Great Neck and its pastures are located on the top right and Little Neck Road can be seen on the shore which gave the town access to Pavilion Beach. (Thanks to Peter Mulholland for identifying the photo)

Clark made sites for summer cottages available on his land for lease, but retained all property rights. Cottages had to comply with regulations of size, design, and color laid down by “The Proprietors” and only tenants who met the standards of a “first-class Christian American community” were accepted. The yearly land rent per lot ranged from $25 to $35. Each tenant also paid the tax levied by the Town on his buildings and the plot of land.

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Cows grazing before Clark Pond was created
Clark Pond, photograph by John Sullivan

Great Neck passed into the ownership of Mr. Clark’s grandchildren, who continued leasing and later began selling building sites, and eventually the Neck filled with privately owned year-round homes. The Association of Great Neck, Inc. was formed in 1975 by Great Neck residents for the protection of its natural resources and to control development. In June 1983, Clark’s descendants acting as “The Proprietors of Great Neck Inc.” deeded Clark Pond, the adjoining beach and surrounding land for recreational use to The Association of Great Neck, Inc.

4 thoughts on “Great Neck, a photographic history

  1. I agree with Martha Sandberg. The Nat Simkins painting identified as a view from Pavillion Beach is most definitely River Road on Little Neck.

  2. I believe a painting by Nat Simkins is identified as a view from Pavilion Beach. I am sure it is a view from the Little Neck beach parking lot looking up River Rd. toward the point.

  3. Great Neck in Ipswich is a beautiful place to live, I grew up there in 1970s. I hope that more photographs will be added so that I will be able to remember those times better. My father bought our house on Clark road in 1970, for the going price of twelve thousand dollars, those were the days when people had summer houses on the Neck. Everett Philbrook

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