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Digging Up My Ancestors in Ipswich and Rowley

When I got up in the morning, the air was almost as hot and steamy as it had been the previous night when I hopped in the back of my truck and went to bed.  I took a quick, cold shower (no jokes, please), which was refreshing, then ate a simple breakfast, packed up my truck and left the Harold Parker campground around 9 a.m.  From there I drove a few miles to Ipswich, Massachusetts.  Ipswich is a small coastal town about an hour north of Boston and, believe it or not, a place that I'd been wanting to visit for many years.


Above:  Downtown Ipswich, Massachusetts.  I've wanted to visit Ipswich ever since I learned that my ancestors lived here in the early 1600s.  They were among the first white settlers in America.

If you've been following my website, you know that one reason I'm taking this trip around America is to trace my genealogical roots.  I wanted to visit Ipswich because I had learned that ancestors on my dad's side, with names like Bradstreet, Chaplin, and Hastings, were among the first white settlers in America.  They had emigrated from England to Ipswich in the 1630s, only a few years after the ship Mayflower, carrying the first English settlers bound for New England, had landed at what is today Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1620.


I discovered these stories about my ancestors while I was still in Portland by using the Mormon's genealogy website, www.FamilySearch.org.  While I was doing this research months and years earlier in Portland, my Ipswich ancestors were just names that I saw on my computer screen and didn't really mean anything to me.  I came to Ipswich because I was hoping to learn more about these folks.  I wanted to know who they were, what they did, and where they had lived, to add meaning and substance to my roots so I could feel a closer connection with them.  I figured that I was probably the first person in my immediate family tree to visit Ipswich in over 100 years.


Above:  Proudly sitting at the site in Ipswich where my ancestor, Humphrey Bradstreet, landed in 1634 after sailing from England on the ship "Elizabeth."

My first stop in Ipswich was at the public library.  I wasn't sure if I'd find any information here about my ancestors but if nothing turned up, I was ready to hop onto Interstate 90 that afternoon (the "Mass Pike" I mentioned earlier) and drive the six hours to my brother's house in upstate New York, my next planned stop. 


But with the help of a friendly reference librarian named Paula, I found several old books on early Ipswich history and spent the entire afternoon in the archives room, digging up all sorts of information and interesting stories about my ancestors.  They included a fellow named Humphrey Bradstreet who, as I learned, was a Puritan aristocrat.  Humphrey was one of the first settlers of Ipswich and was from, not surprisingly, the town of Ipswich in eastern England.  I also learned about a fellow named Hugh Chaplin, who was a weaver from northern England.  Lots of weavers emigrated to colonial America in the 1600s, as I learned, due to an economic downturn in the weaving industry then.  Both Humphrey and Hugh, as I learned, came from England to Ipswich in the 1630s.  I was fascinated to read about these people and many other ancestors, and I tried to imagine what life must have been like here in colonial Massachusetts back in those days.  I can't even imagine how difficult their lives must have been.


After spending several hours in the nice-and-chilly Archives Room, I thanked Paula, left the library, and walked down to the Ipswich marina.  I found there, from my research, what I believe is the exact spot where these and other ancestors of mine from England had landed in the New World as they sought a better life and religious freedom (not to mention Happy Meals).


Sitting there at the Ipswich marina and envisioning my nine-times-great-grandfather Humphrey Bradstreet stepping off the ship "Elizabeth" at this spot in 1634 was stirring.  After a few minutes of reflection, I walked down and dipped my hand into the water, as I had done the previous day at Walden Pond, to try and reconnect a bit with the past.



Above left:  Camping at the very hot and sticky Harold Parker State Park after leaving Walden Pond.  This is a typical evening scene:  downloading photos while eating Stagg chili and Nacho Doritos.  O.K., I'm not a connoisseur.

Above right:  The next day, I spent four hours in the Ipswich library's archive room and learned a lot about my ancestors.  Many thanks to Paula, the Reference Librarian.



Above left:  This is the lot in Ipswich that my ancestor Humphrey Bradstreet bought in 1635 (the house was built a few years later).  As I learned, these folks were strict Puritans and came to America because, among other things, they didn't think people should be allowed to dance.  Gee, maybe that's why I hate to dance.

Above right:  Visiting Rowley, just north of Ipswich, where I traced more ancestors.  Settled in the 1630s, Rowley and Ipswich are two of the oldest cities in America.

Say What?

I drove back to Harold Parker State Park late that afternoon and camped there for another evening.  It "cooled" down that night, if you can call it that, to about 85 degrees.  To make matters worse, it was really, really sticky, so I slept in a pool of sweat the entire evening.  It was definitely the most unpleasant night of my trip so far, and even worse than my experience of camping on the bayou in southern Louisiana.  But hey, the campsite here cost only $12 compared to the $110 I would've had to spend for an air-conditioned room at Motel 6.  Plus, the cold shower the next morning felt great (again, no jokes please).


After my shower, I continued my ancestral search in the nearby town of Rowley which, along with Ipswich, is one of the oldest settlements in America.  With the help of a pleasant town clerk there named Susan Hazen, I discovered several gravestones of my ancestors from the 1600s and 1700s in the Rowley cemetery.  Seeing the old gravestones was a real thrill and I even got goose bumps and that, as you may know if you've been reading my website, only happens when I watch the last scene of "Titanic."  All of this research made me hungry, so around 3 p.m. I drove back to Ipswich to get something to eat.


Above:  The Clam Box restaurant in Ipswich.  Don't ask for a fork here.

Now, one of the things I find interesting about New Englanders is their unusual accent.  I had chuckled to myself many times this past week while talking to New Englanders, trying to understand what they were saying.  Although New Englanders have been around for over 300 years, in all that time they still haven't learned how to pronounce the letter "R."  They don't drive "cars" here.  Nope, they drive "caaahs" which are sometimes "paawked faa away."   These, of course, shouldn't be confused with the "coahs" they drive down in New Yawk and New Joisey.


The idiosyncrasy with "R's" hit me that afternoon after I'd spent most of the morning doing family research in Rowley.  I stopped at the lively, funky and historic Clam Box restaurant a few miles away, just outside of Ipswich, where I ordered a box of fried Ipswich clams for a late lunch.  The Clam Box, as I discovered, is a great place to load up with all kinds of delicious deep-fried seafood that will clog your arteries in no time flat.  The food here is great and I highly recommend it.  But as I picked up my large order of clams, I asked an attractive young waitress there named Tina for a plastic fork and almost laughed out loud when she asked me, "You wanna fock?"  I thought to myself, "Well no, I just want a fork."


After my humorous encounter at the Clam Box, I could've used one of those cold showers.  But alas, it was finally time, on this long trip around America, to start heading west after I'd spent the previous two months driving east.  Therefore, after spending a couple of days in Rowley and Ipswich while researching my ancestors, I got in my caaah and hit the road with my Ipswich clams in hand and with a smile on my face still chuckling over my simple request for a utensil.



Above left:  As I drove into Rowley, I wondered if I'd find anything about two of my ancestral families, the Platts and Bradstreets.  Then my jaw dropped when I saw this sign for the "Platts - Bradstreet House."  This house, which is now a museum, was built in 1677. 

Above right:  Here's the barely-readable gravestone of Moses Bradstreet, my 7-times-great-grandfather who died in 1690.  I believe this is the oldest gravestone in the very old Rowley cemetery.  Finding Moses' gravestone has been the biggest highlight of my trip so far.




Above left:  I spent a couple of hours walking through the Rowley Cemetery looking for gravestones of my ancestors.  I found a lot of familiar names here and we had a family reunion, of sorts (though I was the only one talking).

Above right:  The oldest house in Rowley, and one of the oldest in America, is this one built by my ancestor, Joseph Chaplin, in the 1660s.  The bushes came later.



Left:  Inside the Clam Box restaurant. 

Searching for your ancestors builds up an appetite, so I got a box of delicious Ipswich fried clams for lunch in Ipswich, no less. 

I also bought one of their t-shirts.  The focks were free.

Western Massachusetts:  Basketball, Volleyball, and a Real Athol

Fully sated with ancestral stories, I drove out of Ipswich that afternoon and turned west for the first time on my trip around America.  I was heading towards upstate New York to visit my brother Don and his family and planned to get there the next evening.  After leaving Ipswich, I camped in a state park in central Massachusetts.  The clouds moved in and it was, thankfully, much cooler than it had been during the past few days.  It even sprinkled a bit as I made my dinner.  I didn't mind, though, because it was much more pleasant than the hot, soupy weather I'd been dealing with the last several days.


The next morning I continued meandering west through Massachusetts and drove through the towns of now get this Athol and Belchertown.  I wondered about their funny names but adhered strictly to a "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.  Between all the "focks," Athols, and people apparently belching, I figured that Massachusetts was a pretty funny place.  



Here's Boston's James Taylor singing Millworker, a poignant tune about a woman who works in a Massachusetts factory in the 1800s.


I headed south from Athol and late in the morning reached Holyoke, an old mill town with a population of about 50,000.  Holyoke, Massachusetts was settled around 1850 at a bend in the Connecticut River on the "Fall Line" (i.e., a waterfall in the river that prevented traveling further upstream by boat).  A large dam was built here to divert the water of the Connecticut River through a series of parallel, stepped canals that were built throughout the city, amidst the houses and businesses.  Each drop in water level, from one canal to the next, was harnessed to power the numerous textile and paper mills that were built here.  It was quite an engineering marvel, I thought.


Holyoke today, though, like so many former mill towns in New England, struggles with unemployment and poverty.  The town is filled with empty brick buildings and is trying to attract new industries.  Despite those challenges, I found Holyoke quite interesting and spent a couple hours there.


Above:  Holyoke, Massachusetts was developed on a bend in the Connecticut River.  Note the dam in the upper right corner and the series of diversion canals in the lower left corner, each of which provided power to mills throughout the city.  Pretty amazing, huh?

Amazingly enough, not one but two popular sports were invented in this area during the late 1800s.  First, James Naismith invented basketball in nearby Springfield, then a few years later, his friend, William Morgan, invented the sport of volleyball right here in Holyoke.  Volleyball is my favorite sport and I was looking forward to seeing the Volleyball Hall of Fame, which I knew was in downtown Holyoke.  But when I got there, I was disappointed to learn that it was closed that day. 


I walked over to a nearby museum and met a friendly and outgoing caretaker named Charlie.  We talked for a while, then I mentioned that I'd been looking forward to seeing the Volleyball Hall of Fame but it was closed.  Sensing my dismay, Charlie replied, "I'll tell you what.  I'll go over and open it for you if you want to go inside."


Sure enough, Charlie walked over and opened up the Hall of Fame for me.  Then he said, "I'm going back to the museum.  Just let me know when you're done."  So thanks to Charlie, I got to walk around Holyoke's brand-new Volleyball Hall of Fame for a half-hour and had the whole building to myself.  One of the exhibits, by the way, tested your ability to jump.  I tried it out but... let's just say that it didn't go well.  What's that they say about white guys not being able to jump?


Above:  Inside the Volleyball Hall of Fame in Holyoke where I, once again, proved that white men can't jump.

After a half-hour, I picked out a "Volleyball Hall of Fame" t-shirt in the empty gift shop, then I walked back to the museum and gave Charlie money for the shirt.  I wanted to take a picture of this kind caretaker but my camera batteries had just died.  So instead, I'll just give a big THANKS to my new friend in Holyoke.


After I thanked Charlie and left the museum, I drove a few miles south to Springfield, Massachusetts (pop. 150,000).  Like Holyoke, Springfield is an aging manufacturing city that's seen better days, and is filled with lots of old, empty brick buildings.  I had to decide whether to visit the Basketball Hall of Fame, one of the main tourist attractions in Springfield, or the Springfield Armory because, needing to be in Syracuse that evening, I didn't have enough time to see both.  I chose the armory. 


The Springfield Armory produced many of the weapons that were used to defend America, from the Revolutionary War through the mid-1900s.  It was, for instance, the home of the famed Springfield Rifle, which was used extensively by the Union Army during the Civil War.  Later versions of the rifle, including the M1, were used during both World Wars.  After producing weapons for nearly 200 years, the armory shut down in 1968 and the grounds were converted into, interestingly, a Community College.  Part of the armory, though, is now a National Park historic site and is a great place to visit if you like guns.  I've never owned a gun (and never will), but nonetheless, I thought the armory was fascinating.  The informative displays here, set amidst endless rows of flintlocks, barrels, gun stocks, and rifle butts describe the historic evolution of armaments over the past three centuries.  I could've spent several hours at the armory, but (or I should say, "butt") it was time to hit the road.


I left Springfield late in the afternoon and got back on the Mass Pike, then drove through the beautiful Berkshire Mountains of western Massachusetts, then west up the Mohawk River Valley of upstate New York.  Around 9 p.m. I arrived at my brother's house in Manlius, New York, located on the outskirts of Syracuse.  Despite having a sore "butt," not to mention having to deal with an occasional Athol, it had been a great day.



Above left:  My favorite sport, volleyball, was invented in Holyoke during the 1890s.  William Morgan, director of the Holyoke YMCA, wanted to create a sport that was less strenuous than that new sport called "basketball" invented a few miles away in Springfield by his friend, James Naismith.  Morgan strung a tennis net across the wall and the rest is history.

Above right:   Thanks to Charlie, I got to see the Volleyball Hall of Fame.



Left:  One of many abandoned mills in Holyoke.





Above left:  After leaving Holyoke, I drove a few miles down to Springfield.  I didn't have time to visit the Basketball Hall of Fame but I did stop by the Springfield Armory.  This is probably the only National Park site that has a metal detector at its entrance not to keep guns out, but to keep the guns IN.

Above right:  Millions of armaments have been produced at the armory for every military conflict in American history from the Revolutionary War through Vietnam.  I saw enough locks, stocks, and barrels to last a lifetime.



Above left:  A tool manufacturing plant in Massachusetts where they make 'em the old-fashioned way.  There are lots of "backwater" industrial towns like this throughout New England, many of which are located on small waterfalls.  Back in the 1800s, the waterfalls were used, of course, to power the mills.  Today, they make nice photographs.

Above center:  A rude town in Massachusetts.

Above right:  I think I know why people go here.



Above left:  Back on the "Mass Pike" (i.e., the Massachusetts Turnpike).  This is rolling through the rolling hills of the Berkshire Mountains or as they probably call them, the "Berk Mounts."

Above right:  Driving on the New York Thruway (I'm in New York here, so full words are used instead of abbreviations).  Only three hours to Syracuse.



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