The Ipswich Museum, originally called the Ipswich Historical Society, was organized in 1890 by the Reverend Thomas Franklin Waters, during what is known as the American Colonial Revival. Waters, a scholar of high regard and a friend of the well known preservationist George Francis Dow, gathered together a group of friends who, like him, wished to collect and preserve documents and artifacts related to Ipswich. As he noted in his 1896 address before the Society:
“… a town so rich in historic remains, and so famous in the early annals of the Commonwealth should have a local Historical society, to foster systematic and accurate antiquarian studies and promote a popular acquaintance with its brilliant history.”
In the early years, the Society met in the studio of Mr. Arthur W. Dow, the renowned Ipswich artist and educator. In 1897, Mr. Waters’ scholarly research on Ipswich’s colonial days and the town’s extraordinary number of “First Period” houses lead him to advocated the purchase of one of particularly important old house:
“One of our old houses, the very oldest in all probability, is fast falling into complete decay, the old Whipple house, as I must call it, now owned by Mr. James W. Bond. In its day it was a grand mansion, and some of its rooms are inspiring to-day even in their ruin. Is it not worth our while as a Society to purchase it if it be possible, and repair and restore it to some semblance of its old self?”
In Waters’ mind, the Whipple House was “a link that binds us to the remote Past and to a solemn and earnest manner of living, quite in contrast with much of our modern life.” While Ipswich could claim more First Period houses than any other community in America (meaning, those built between 1625 and 1725), “none can compare” to the Whipple House, according to Waters. In 1898, the Society dedicated the Whipple House as their new home. In 1927, the House was moved to its current location from its original site near the town center (at the corner of Market and Saltonstall Streets, near the Ipswich Hosiery Mills).
The current headquarters of the museum, the Heard House, was purchased from the Heard family in 1939. With the additional space, the Society was able to expand its program to showcase later centuries of Ipswich history including a collection of works by the nineteenth century “Ipswich Painters, “including Society founder Arthur Wesley Dow, as well as other collections dating to the early twentieth century.
In 2010, the Society was renamed the Ipswich Museum to reflect the growing number of programs, educational initiatives, and expanded efforts to celebrate the long and rich history of the town.