The history of Ipswich Newburyport and nearby Plum Island goes back centuries. The General Court apportioned the island to the three towns in 1649, recognizing its economic potential. The island’s salt marsh hay, sand, and wildlife were prized by the towns and summer settlements began to spring up, particularly in the Ipswich area. In the early 1930s, the Massachusetts Audubon Society purchased 1,500 acres on Plum Island and set up a bird sanctuary there. In 1941, the U.S. government purchased the remaining 3,000 acres and established the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge.
Ipswich is located in southern Massachusetts, across the Merrimack River. The southern tip of the island contains Plum Island Sound, which empties into the Ipswich River. The Atlantic Ocean lies to the east. Despite the fact that Plum Island is part of the Cape Ann region, this town still has a unique history. Its tidal estuaries were a refuge for polio patients.
The island is home to the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, a 4700 acre wildlife sanctuary that provides habitat to over 300 species of birds. Sandy Point State Reservation is located on the far southern tip of Plum Island across from Cranes Beach in Ipswich. Visitors are encouraged to tour the Hellcat Interpretive Trail, which highlights the island’s native wildlife. Visitors to the Refuge should note that the refuge closes during certain seasons to allow breeding of the endangered Piping Plover.
In the Northeastern part of the state, Plum Island is a barrier island. It is 11 miles long, and is named for the beach plum shrubs that grow wild in the dunes. This seaside town is a popular summer destination. In addition to the historic significance of the town, the island is also home to the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge and the Joppa Flats Education Center.
The Town of Newbury built a lighthouse on Plum Island in 1792, and later, the federal government replaced the old beacons with kerosene. The lighthouse still stands today, with the Friends of Plum Island Light, Inc. (PPLH). Local lighthouse keepers maintained the lighthouses until the Federal government took control over them. In 1807, Plum Island Turnpike and Bridge Corporation opened a road between Ipswich and Newburyport.
Toad Hall is a charming bookstore that donates 100% of its profits to environmental projects. It also features a unique selection of antique and reproduction furniture. A popular gift shop, Toad Hall also sells George Anderson prints. Its clothing store is a local tradition, providing residents with stylish clothes and rain gear. Toad Hall is a must-visit for any visitor to Ipswich.