This was the site of the Foster Farm in the 17th century. A house was first constructed here between 1647 and 1681. The farm was owned in the early 19th century by Dr. John Manning, a prominent Ipswich citizen, and his son Dr. Thomas Manning. The present house was constructed about 1800, and from 1870 until the 20th century the building was owned by the Mitchell family, farmers, who gave their name to the road.
The term “tramp” came into popular use in the 19th Century and referred to transients, migrant workers, or just people who lived a wandering homeless lifestyle. Their numbers increased dramatically after the industrial recession of the early 1870s. Ipswich had a major railroad passing through it, and saw its share of tramps. Gavin Keenan wrote,
“An obscure photocopied document that I have, entitled “Did You know these facts about Ipswich,” speaks to this issue.. In addition to the Police Station and Town Hall basement, “thousands” of tramps were housed in a barn owned by Mr. John B. Mitchell on Mitchel Road. A true humanitarian, Mr. Mitchell is said to have never turned anyone away, allowing them to sleep in the hay, provided they did not smoke. “Of the many thousands, not one was known to let him down.” (Great self control, I’d say!) A tramp told the author of this document (perhaps the late Howard Bowen) that “Mitchell’s Barn was known among tramps from coast to coast. Even in California.”
The town also used a room at the Ipswich jail on Green Street for the purpose of housing transients overnight. Mattresses, blankets, heat, and a few items of food were provided, and the men were often expected to perform some form of labor in exchange for “room and board.” The jail was taken down to build the high school which is now the Ipswich Town Hall.
The number of tramps in need of assistance grew to over a thousand each year, exceeding the town’s resources. The town made increasingly stringent demands of the tramps, which brought about an almost complete cessation of migrants passing through town for a couple of decades. When the Great Depression came, many people lost their jobs and homes, and hobos once again became common.
IPSWICH TRAMP REPORT, 1899
“At the police station long needed improvements have been made. For years the tramps have made it a practice to sleep on the floor of the guard room, and the unfortunate prisoner who occupied a cell, was sure to find plenty of “live stock” in his clothing. The entrance to the guard room has always been poorly arranged, and a dangerous one for an officer to handle an unruly prisoner in. As it is now, a new entrance has been made, doing away with the necessity of going through the dark cellar, and the tramps are not allowed in the cell room. A new hot water heating plant warms both the tramp room and guard room and does it well. Other needed improvements have been made about the hall at a small expense.
–Respectfully submitted, Geo. A, Schofield, John A. Brown, Chas. E. Goodhue, Selectmen, Ipswich, Feb. 20. 1899.”
IPSWICH TRAMP REPORT, 1900
“For the year ending December 31, 1889: Whole number of tramps cared for at the police station, 1018 as seen in the following report: January 186, February 103, March 184, April 157, May 53, June 13, July 11, August 6, September 39, October 50, November 116, December 100, Total 1018.
The number of tramps have decreased about one-half this year, this we account for partly by working them in the morning when there is anything to do, and by searching them when being put up, as quite a number or them have money to buy food and lodging which they are made to do, and by so doing they are not dependent on the town.”
–Respectfully submitted, Frank B. Page, Chief of Police, Ipswich, Mass., Jan. 1, 1900.”
IPSWICH TRAMP REPORT 1905
“I desire to call your attention to the fact that since the month of May last, there does not appear in the report submitted to you, any care of tramps at your police station. Commencing with the month of June, tramps applying for aid were told that assistance would be furnished to them, but were also told that they would be brought before the court in the morning on the charge of vagrancy; that if it was then shown that they were traveling about from place to place, having no employment, and seeking none, they must take their chances of being sentenced as a vagrant.
Only in rare instances did any of them applying for aid wish their past record inquired into, and there was only one instance where an examination of their records warranted any assistance being rendered, and this was where an old soldier, who had just lost his employment and chance of earning a livelihood, and at the time he asked for aid was looking for employment. In this case he was given a lodging and breakfast at the Franklin House. These “traveling gentlemen” are now taboo Ipswich, so that now it is a rare thing to have any application made to us, by them, for any assistance.
–Respectfully submitted, Albert S. Garland, Chief of Police. Ipswich, Mass., Jan. 31, 1906″