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.first-church-inside

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.
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Christmas Card
Painting of the old First Church
Painting of the old First Church by Franklin Butler Mitchell


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2 thoughts on “First Congregational Church, 1 Meeting House Green

  1. My name is Sharon Thomas Hamann, born and raised in Ipswich, and now living in Las Vegas. I was one of many who stood in front of the Cogswell Apartments, watching this beautiful church burn, and it was burning in the pouring rain.
    The painting of the church, done by Franklin Butler Mitchell, was done by my great uncle, and grandfather of Bill Mitchell, Turkey Shore Road. The Mitchell’s were decades long residents of Ipswich, and Mitchell Rd. was named after them…….they had a farm that spanned from Mitchell Rd. to the Rowley town line before they started selling it off, parcel by parcel. Their in-town home was the now Porter Funeral Home. (My mother, Eleanor Mitchell Thomas was Franklin Mitchell’s neice.)
    One other bit of information: My uncle was a retired Army Lt. Col., who suffered from shell shock from WWI, and shook constantly until he put a paint brush in his hand, then all of the shaking ceased. He was an art teacher in the Quincy, MA school system, but spent summers in his summer camp on Eagle Hill, with his wife Mildred and their children. He also gave art lessons at Crane’s Castle every summer, and had painted many other scenes all over the North Shore, Rockport being one of his favorite places. His medium was always water colors, and that is one of the hardest mediums to paint with. I have a wonderful painting of houses in Rockport, but he also loved the water scenes around Rockport, painted them and gave them as gifts to other family members. He also painted a picture of the Ascension Memorial Episcopal Church in Ipswich, and it hangs either in the rectory, if still there, or the church itself, and the little girl figure in the painting is actually me. I was there while he was putting the finishing touches on the painting, when he asked me to pose in front of the church. Wonderful memories. Sharing them is fun.

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

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