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The land on which the Town of Ipswich was founded was originally inhabited by Indian tribes who called the area "Agawam." Little has been known about these people until recently. But now, studies have shown that tribes had been living along these coastal and riverine areas for thousands of years. One of the most important discoveries about Indian history was made in 1951 at our own Bull Brook site. Carbon dating proved that artifacts found at this site belonged to inhabitants of the Paleo-Indian period, about 9000 B.P. (Before Present). Other collections discovered at Great Neck and along the river banks have been analyzed as they belong to the later Archaic (8000-5000 B.P.) and the Woodland (2000 B.P.) Periods. Thus we have come to realize that we are only the latest in a long history of peoples who have lived in this special place.
The early residents of Ipswich were farmers, fishermen, shipbuilders, and traders. Lace making developed as a home industry, as did the making of stockings. The first stocking machine, which had been smuggled from England, arrived in Ipswich in 1822. For several years, small and fitfully successful textile industries came and went. Then, in 1868, the Ipswich Hosiery Mills was begun by Amos A. Lawrence in the old stone mill on the Ipswich River, utilizing its wealth of water power. By the turn of the century, the enterprise had become the largest stocking mill in the country.
In the days of the clipper ships, Ipswich shared, to some degree, in the great riches that came to the deeper-water ports of neighboring Newburyport and Salem. The famous Heard family made their home in Ipswich, though their ships sailed principally out of Boston.
Ipswich remained a small country town through the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This may be why Ipswich has such a large number of well-preserved seventeenth and eighteenth-century houses: they were cherished as the homes of ordinary townsfolk who could not afford to modernize them and make the kind of changes that might have spoiled their simple Colonial architecture.
As happened in many New England towns where industrial growth put new demands on communities, labor shortages brought small waves of immigrants to work in the mills. English, Irish, Nova Scotian, French Canadian, Polish, and Greek people found their way to Ipswich to work in the mills and then gradually in other occupations. Their descendants remain here today and, as a result, Ipswich has a rich mix of cultural heritage.
The growth and development of Ipswich as a larger town - never a suburb - came only after 1945 with the great outward expansion of population from Boston. The town government was reformed in 1950 with the acceptance of the Town Manager Charter. This charter was rescinded by the voters, regained, lost again, and the present Town Manager-Selectmen Charter was adopted by the voters in 1967. The town's efforts to control growth and improve the environmental quality of life began in 1957 when the zoning and sewage programs were accepted by voters. Since then, efforts have continued, with the updating of zoning, increasing the efficiency of the sewerage treatment plant, and building a water filtration plant to provide clean drinking water.