The Ebenezer Stanwood house at 8 North Main Street is listed with the Ipswich Historical Commission as built in 1747. The house is being renovated with a new addition added to the rear. The front of the building is of Second Period (Georgian) construction and will be saved and restored. Some period details remain, including original doors, hardware, molding, mantels & floors. Two condos units are planned for the front of the house and three in the new rear addition

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The Ebenezer Stanwood house in the early 20th Century

The house is named for early owner Ebenezer Stanwood who was a peruke-maker (the wigs worn by 17th century gentlemen). The building was at one time a pharmacy. In the 17th Century this was the location of a well-known tavern operated by John Sparks but it is unknown if elements of that structure were incorporated into this building.

First floor ceiling beams
First floor ceiling beams

Matt Cummings writes about this house: “It has long been known as the ca. 1747 Ebenezer Stanwood House but local historian Sue Nelson found that at least one precursor structure approximately dated 1639 existed on the site and that the Sparks Tavern also operated there between 1671 and 1691. Could it be that the Sparks Tavern, where John Sparks was licensed to sell “beer at a penny a quart”, still survives in the present building?”

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The Ebenezer Stanwood house, circa 1980, from the Massachusetts Historical Commission site.

In Ipswich in the Massachusetts Bay Colony Thomas Franklin Waters wrote about the inns that John Sparks ran, and how the land came to be owned by Ebenezer Stanwood. Sparks originally tried to operate an inn across North Main Street just below the current public library in a house belonging to Thomas Bishop. The following text has been condensed and arranged for clarity:

Corner joinery in the Stanwood house
Corner wind brace joinery in the Stanwood house is similar to that found in Dedham’s Fairbanks house, which is the oldest surving English timber-frame structure in the New World.

“The old Court Records reveal many secrets of the olden time. The Court held its sessions probably in John Sparks’ inn. Frequent items of payment ‘to the house’ occur, and the Court order in 1680, that the officers of the Court were not to be paid until ‘the debts due to the ordinaries for the entertainment of the Court be discharged’ seems to point to this conclusion.”

“Sparks had served as an apprentice with Obadiah Woods, a ‘biskett baker’ on East Street and had kept an ordinary (inn) leased of Thomas Bishop near where the Public Library stands. He had received his first license for a year in Sept. 1671 to sell “beere at a penny a quart, provided he entertain no Town inhabitants in the night, nor suffer to bring wine or liquor to be drunk in his house”.

When Bishop died, he left a dwelling house, two barns, wash-house etc. and about six acres of land. His will specified that, after his wife’s decease, his son Samuel should enjoy his dwelling, with that wherein John Sparks dwelt. It was a house for two families and Sparks apparently kept an inn. But he was ‘warned out’ and bought the land across the Street. (note: this house). In 1671 Samuel Bishop and his mother Margaret had their license to sell liquors renewed, while a special petition of the citizens procured for John Sparks for the first time his license to sell.” …”Here he kept a famous hostelry for twenty years. Judge Sewall on his circuits tasted its good cheer, and many a man of renown tarried about its well-spread board. Officers and soldiers were quartered here in time of danger from Indian attacks.”

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Mortises in the summer beam of the ceiling in the oldest part of the Stanwood house suggest it was re-used from an earlier structure

“On the 8th of August, 1689 Capt. Simon Willard with a company of soldiers arrived, and remained here until the 2nd of September. They were quartered upon the inns of Abraham Perkins and John Sparks, and in the following February, the worthy tavern keepers petitioned the General Court, that as they were ”entertained with good wholesome diet as beefe, pork and mutton, well dressed to ye satisfaction of both officers and soldiers who gave us many thanks for their kind entertainment when they went from us. The innkeepers petitioned that they were entitled to more than three pence a meal, which was proposed,’having set as low a price as we could possibly do, to wit six pence a meal for dinners and suppers beside the great expense of fyerwood candle and other smaller matters we mention not.’ “

Gunstock posts in the corners of the Ebenezer Stanwood house
Gunstock posts in the corners of the Ebenezer Stanwood house

“Sparks sold his property here to Col. John Wainwright, March 1, 1691, described as a messuage (dwelling house) or tenement, bake-house and barn. Thirteen years later, March 12, 1704-5, John Roper sold Col. Wainwright, ‘a dwelling house … formerly in possession of Mr. John Sparks, now in possession of Mary, widow of John.’ It seems that the widow Mary Sparks remained in occupancy of his house after the sale, ‘which she is to possess during her natural life, with a garden plot as it is now fenced in, and is situated at the southeast corner of said tenement.’ Ebenezer Smith owned this lot thirty seven years and when he sold he deeded half a dwelling house, land, etc. with line running through the front door, with privilege of a cart-way on the northeast end, and a spring in the cellar, to Ebenezer Stanwood, peruke maker. Evidently he (Stanwood) built the house now occupied”

Thomas Franklin Waters concluded that “The John Sparks dwelling… disappeared when Ebenezer Stanwood built the present dwelling.”

Sue Nelson did a study of this house and concluded:”While it is clear that at least one precursor structure of about 1639 existed on the site, and that the Sparks Tavern also operated there between 1671 and 1691, it is not clear if any material from these earlier incarnations survives in the present building. At the very latest, sometime between 1709 and 1747 when Ebenezer Stanwood acquired a portion of a house from Ebenezer Smith, a structure with First Period framing and decoration was erected on the site.”
Read Sue Nelson’s study of the history of this house