That creaking you hear? That’s Ipswich. More antique houses here than just about anywhere in the country. In other places, when houses got old, people tore them down and built new ones. Not in Ipswich. I guess tearing something down and replacing it with something else might require a huge Town Meeting debate, and nobody could stand the thought. Not that! Anything but that! Let’s just pound in a few more nails and hold this old place together for another year.
Of course, to those of us who have come here from newer parts of the country — which, come to think of it, would include just about everywhere — antique houses are a major charm factor. A house with a classic white Ipswich Historical Society plaque on the front is desirable. When I began house-hunting, I couldn’t understand why anyone would want something built after Calvin Coolidge — not if you could get a Martin Van Buren! Better yet, in Ipswich you can buy a house that’s been lived in since long before anybody had ever even heard of a “president,” and the British were still the good guys.
Certainly there are other types of houses here. For example, normal modern houses. These are not for people who cling to the past like I do. These people are normal.
And then there are AINOs — Antique In Name Only. Houses that still have their original “bones,” but go through the door and wham! It’s the 21st century. Where the woman of the house once sat softly singing hymns in her lace bonnet and baking bread in a brick fireplace, now there’s a Wii.
But there is another type of Ipswich house. My house. Antique inside and out. Heroically preserved by the previous owner, but still, let’s face it: really, really old. Someone took a barn from before George Washington and, just after the War of 1812, added a standard colonial to one end of it. The front of the house leans a bit to the west; the back leans to the east. Or is it the other way around? No two windows hang exactly the same distance from the ceiling. Don’t drop anything on the wide pine floors of the kitchen, or whatever you dropped will roll to Boxford.
We made the mistake of inviting an antique-house expert to tour the place. In the dirt-floor basement — which could pass for a dungeon in a low-budget movie — he gestured toward the odd assortment of support beams: some wooden, some metal, some actually straight. “This,” he announced, “is 200 years of lazy husbands.”
But I adore this house. It’s not a “First Period,” also known as “Colonial” — and it isn’t certifiably a “Second Period,” or “Georgian” — I guess our house is merely a “Third Period,” or “Federal.” But this is still better, in my opinion, than, say, a “Fourteenth Period,” which is “Tedford’s.” I also prefer it to “Fifteenth Period,” also known as “Condo.”
I know I’m something of a fanatic. We have retained the squeaking stairs and the jittery banisters and the floorboards that groan when you step on them. We’ve only updated what we felt we had to — a metal stove in one of the fireplaces, new bricks where old ones were crumbling — but I allowed it reluctantly, and I still feel badly about it.
The ghost of the man who built my house came up from the cemetery down the street and visited me one late night not long ago. He floated around awhile, checking out what we’d done to the place.
“This place is creepy,” he shuddered.