First Congregational Church. When the Winthrop group of thirteen settlers came to Ipswich, “upon ascending the hill above the river they found an outcropping ledge of goodly extent, forming a sort of natural platform, and upon this rock they built their church.” This is the sixth church on this spot. The previous historic Gothic Revival church was dedicated on January 1, 1838. It  was hit by lightning in 1965, burned and had to be torn down.

This green has always been the religious and governmental heart of Ipswich. A meeting house was built here by 1636. The original church was surrounded by a high wall to protect them from the ever-present danger of Indian attacks. Nearby were the stocks and whipping post.

The gilded weathercock at the First Church in Ipswich has graced the steeple of every church at that location since the middle of the 18th Century. It looks small from a distance but is said to weigh 40 pounds.

In 1908 the trustees of First Church asked celebrated Ipswich artist Arthur Wesley Dow to recommend a color for the church, the historic gothic building in the photos below. To their shock he suggested a red that was almost purple, but they went with it. Until it was repainted white in the 1940’s the church on the hill was called “the Red Church”.

At the suggestion of famous Ipswich artist Arthur Wesley Dow, the First Church was painted a shade of red that was almost purple.

The steeple on the old church was so tall that the rooster was 150 feet of the ground. Harold Bowen wrote that an old-timer named Raymond Dodge had helped paint the church. He accepted a $5 wager from Angus Savory who operated a drug store in the Odd Fellows building across the road to climb up and sit on the rooster’s back. His weight drove the rooster tight on its pivot and it took several months before a good wind storm loosened it so that it could rotate again.

Chuck Cooper tells us that at one point in time his grandfather, Charles Rand, who was a plumber in Ipswich, repaired the weathercock. He used a blow torch to re-solder the pennies which are the “eyes” of the rooster.

Lightning hit the steeple of the previous First Church building in 1965, and the church was replaced by the present brick building.

On June 18, 1965, lightning hit the steeple on the old Gothic church and the building was destroyed by fire. This steeple had also been hit by lightning in 1915. When the steeple was repaired the rooster was at first not reattached. Ipswich photographer George Dexter created a postcard of the rooster and sold enough to pay for its re-installment. The note on the card read,

“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.

First Church was destroyed beyond repair by the 1965 fire. Photo provided by Linda George Grimes
First Church was destroyed beyond repair by the 1965 fire. Photo provided by Linda George Grimes
This rooster weather vane displayed at the Peabody Essex Museum was created by Thomas Drowne in 1771 and is nearly identical to the one on the First Church steeple.
Read two stories by Harold Bowen about the rooster atop First Church in Ipswich
The former building of the First Church in Ipswich, 1846 – 1965
First Church 1749 – 1846. A section of the frame of this church was used to build the Jewett house on Water Street near the corner with Green Street.
Christmas Card
Painting of the old First Church
Painting of the old First Church by Franklin Butler Mitchell




One thought on “First Congregational Church, 1 Meeting House Green

  1. I would like to know if this is the church attended by Judson Moss Bemis and Alice Cogswell Bemis attended?

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