Ipswich, MA: A Town Made Famous by the Humble Clam
Crane Beach, Famous Clams, Long History
By Marley Henderson
The north coastal town of Ipswich, Massachusetts offers much more beyond its famous clams.
It is home to beaches, forests, great food and a lot of history. Once a small quaint town now Ipswich is a vibrant tourism hub to travelers from all around the world. As a local whose family has been here for generations, I know the ins and outs of the town and have seen it change tremendously over the last decade.
Explore the History
“America’s best preserved puritan town,” was founded by John Winthrop the Younger in 1634, son of John Winthrop, one of the founders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. This has left Ipswich as one of the most historic towns in America with many 16th and 17th century homes still occupied in their original locations.
Visitors can embark on a walking tour of the history of Ipswich developed by the Ipswich Historical Commission. The tour offers a basic two-mile option or a four-mile option that covers most of the town from. A great way to see Ipswich’s history and see some of the oldest standing homes and buildings in America.
The Whipple house is one of the finest examples of “first period” American architecture (1625-1725). The oldest part of the house dates to 1677 when the military officer and entrepreneur Captain John Whipple constructed a townhouse near the center of Ipswich.
It has the original frame, large fireplaces, summer beams, wide board floors, and gun-stock posts. The Ipswich Historical Society saved the house from destruction, restored it, and then moved it over the Choate Bridge to its current location in 1927. Tours of the Whipple House are available.
Across the way you will see The Heard house; a Federal-era structure built in 1795 by wealthy John Heard. Before the Revolutionary War, he had invested in the rum factory along the river bank where they unloaded barrels of West Indies molasses.
His son Augustine Heard owned clipper ships and competed with captains from Salem and Boston in the China trade. Augustine Heard started the Ipswich Manufacturing Company in 1828 with Joseph Farley, building a new dam and the Old Stone Mill.
The Heard house was purchased in 1936 by the Ipswich Historical Society and houses the Ipswich Museum.
Whether you’re traveling by yourself, with friends or family you can have a fun-filled, busy weekend in the historical town.
Legendary Crane Beach
Crane Beach is a 1,234-acre conservation and recreation property owned by the Trustees of Reservations that offers four miles of beachfront views. In 2018, the beach was named “Best Massachusetts Beach” by 10Best. You can enjoy hikes through the dunes and pass protected bird species and a maritime pine pitch forest.
Crane’s is open year round to visitors who can pay a fee at the entrance for a day of fun on the sand. In the fall and winter season, visitors can be accompanied by their dogs or horses.
The Crane Estate
The Crane Estate is an unforgettable hill-top mansion built by industrialist Richard T Crane Jr., known for his business in the toilet industry. Castle Hill overlooks the 2,100-acre property of trees, rolling hills, and Crane Beach.
This location is perfect for events, weddings or enjoying Thursday night concerts in the summer. You can hike the property trails, see the multiple estate buildings and book a tour of the 59-room mansion.
Wolf Hollow is a non-profit wolf sanctuary and educational facility, giving visitors the unique opportunity to see its gray wolf pack interact from a very close range.
See the staff’s interaction up close with the wolves through trained behavioral cues. Enjoy a one-hour educational presentation with your family to support and learn about the threatened North American gray wolf species; you may even get to hear a howl or two from the family!
With an intriguing family history, the Marini family owns land throughout Ipswich, providing fresh produce at their fully-stocked farm stand. Throughout the seasons the farm offers many family-friendly events including, hayrides, a corn maze, wreath making, strawberry picking and more!
They also offer a greenhouse filled with an amazing array of flowers and herbs, as well as a bakery full of fresh baked goods.
Strawberry Hill and Greenwood Farm
These preserved lands are great for a scenic stroll, run, bike ride, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing. Although short, level trails, they are perfect for seeing some of the best views of Ipswich’s Great Salt Marsh.
At the end of the Strawberry Hill trail, Smith Island offers views of clam flats where you will often see local clammers digging. The land was originally used for saltwater farming after English settlers plowed the lands for agriculture and livestock.
Where to Eat
The Clam Box of Ipswich is one of the busiest street-corner restaurants in the summers.
In business for over 80 years now, the unique structured building has become a nationally recognized landmark. The food has been featured in many magazines and television shows in Yankee, Gourmet, US Airways, the Food Network and a local series the Chronicle.
Notoriously long lines stretch far beyond the doors, leaving travelers waiting hours to get their hands on some fried food.
If you ask any Ipswich resident where their favorite pizza is from, they will tell you about a hidden treasure tucked in the back alleys; Riverview Restaurant.
This family-style restaurant serves affordable thin-crust pizza from a delicious, simple menu. Swap out your fancy utensils for wax paper, plastic utensils accompanied by an old-school vibe. The 1950’s style restaurant has a warm and friendly atmosphere to enjoy a simple dinner.
Another great classic is the Choate Bridge Pub located directly next to the oldest stone-arched bridge in America, the Choate Bridge, built in 1764. The Pub offers a large array of food and drinks options, from fresh seafood, steaks, burgers, salads, and pizza.
The large U-shaped bar is perfect to order beers on tap and mingle with groups of locals and other international tourists. This is the perfect spot in Ipswich to enjoy a quick bite of pub-style food, great service, and friendly faces.
Zumi’s Espresso is the best coffee house in all of Ipswich to enjoy specialty drinks in a vibrant atmosphere. In the heart of downtown, the coffeehouse follows sustainable practices in sourcing products, part of the fair trade movement.
The menu consists of shade-grown and organic coffees, which protect our ecosystem by avoiding the use of many harmful pesticides and herbicides.
Zumi’s has not only supported the Ipswich community, but others around the world and encourage people to come and connect while enjoying live music, local art, and food.
New to Ipswich
The Brown Dog Food & Spirits is an upscale American Pub with a distinctly warm and cozy atmosphere.
The 53-seat restaurant makes one feel comfortable, highlighted by warm red and wood tones, a fireplace and leather love seats which is ideal for relaxing on a cold winter night.
The menu is classic American fare serving steaks, seafood and an eclectic array of sandwiches and appetizers, as well as daily specials.
Heart and Soul café is located in the center of Ipswich and was transformed into a ’70s themed venue. The hippy-vibes serve its customers with a warm and friendly experience and an extensive breakfast and lunch menu. You are almost guaranteed to see the owners fun, yellow Volkswagen bus parked across the street!
Little Wolf Coffee Roasters a small, modern roaster crafting in-house espresso, batch brews, teas, and other seasonal treats. With a small, intentional selection, each option is there to highlight the unique features of each in-house brew.
Where to Stay in Ipswich
The Inn at Castle Hill
Located on the unforgettable Crane Estate, the inn is the perfect place for endless views and historic Ipswich charm. The cottage was originally built as a farmhouse in the mid-1800’s by the Crane Family, and through generations, the building was renovated to its current state.
With endless views of the marsh and creeks, indulge in the history the property has left behind.
Ipswich Inn Bed & Breakfast
The historic “Robert Jordan” house is a beautiful display of an Italianate-style Victorian. The inn is situated on property that features terraced land, and growing mulberry bushes that served the silkworm/silk industry which flourished in Ipswich in the early 1800s.
The house and each of the eight rooms feature unique architectural designs including the Belvedere on the third-floor roof, the curved front stairway, original ceiling crown moldings, and the ice house at the rear of the main house. Enjoy daily breakfast on the first floor of the inn!
This unique bed and breakfast blends Japanese culture with New England charm in a historic Federalist building. With tasteful touches of Japanese decor, Kaede also offers a great array of comforting amenities. The hosts live within the house and provide visitors with daily breakfast, cooked to order.
Marley Henderson grew up in Ipswich, on the north shore of Massachusetts. She has a passion for travel and photography and enjoys the beach, boating and skiing.