As the 2013 Open Doors of Ipswich Tour gives visitors access to 10 beautiful, private homes, it will also provide them with a journey through history.
“We have houses representing every century since our country started being a country,” said Kathy Bruce, an organizer of the event, which benefits the visitors center at the Hall Haskell House.
All of the homes are different from last year’s tour, which renewed the Open Doors of Ipswich tradition after a hiatus of three years.
A tour like this is possible in Ipswich because it has more first-period homes — which were built before 1725 — than any other town in the country.
There are two of those on the tour, along with a home from 1727, another from 1818, and four that were built between 1903 and 1973.
Two more are contemporary, dating from 2002 and 2005.
“The newer ones are stunners in their own right,” Bruce said. “One is very distinctive for its design. (The owner is) a local architect and designed all kinds of cool details, not least of which is a massive limestone fireplace.”
The other contemporary home, on outer Linebrook Road, was also designed by its owners.
“The wood was taken off the lot, cut down as trees and used in their flooring,” Bruce said. “I think of them as a homestead-type place. They have chickens, do a lot of gardening, and put up food by canning and freezing.”
While the owners’ lifestyle is at home in the country, their house is not without comforts.
“They have a massive chef’s kitchen with an eight-burner stove,” Bruce said. “It’s got a lot of very neat features. A lot of the work they did is documented on a big table, with architectural drawings and photos.”
At the other extreme is the Caleb Kimball House on High Street, which is also known as “the house with orange shutters,” and where stepping inside is like traveling through time.
“If you went in that house you would feel, this is exactly how it felt 300 years ago,” Bruce said. “They’ve preserved things very much. It has that feeling of dark wood, big, heavy fireplace.”
But most of the houses have incorporated new technologies, while still maintaining a connection to history.
“In most cases, they do have to update their systems. A lot of the time, they aren’t well insulated, and need electrical work done, heating and plumbing,” Bruce said.
But the tasteful balance such homes display, between old forms and new functions, is what makes them so interesting to visit.
“One of these homes had bumped out the back and expanded the kitchen,” Bruce said. “They put all glass on the back wall, so it’s very light, all day long. There’s a marble bathroom off the kitchen and den that are very modern in feel.
“Then, you go into rooms they didn’t update, that feel like you’re in the early 1900s.”
In addition to ranging across time, the tour also covers a lot of ground and includes properties located all over Ipswich.
Bruce estimated it should take between two and three hours to see all 10 houses if a visitor drives between addresses and spends between 10 and 20 minutes inside each home, where access will be limited to the first floors.
Some people may want to dwell for a moment on the settings of these homes, which are often beautifully landscaped.
“One of the homes has spectacular gardens designed by a landscape architect named Arthur Shurtleff in the 1900s,” Bruce said.
Shurtleff worked with Frederick Law Olmsted — who designed Central Park in New York and the Emerald Necklace in Boston — and is often described as the father of American landscape architecture.
“Another home has extensive stonework, and the homeowner is a mason,” Bruce said. “There are walls around the yard, and he even has an in-earth oven.”
One thing Bruce guarantees on this tour, whether visitors go to one house or all 10, are surprises.
“The house in front never tells the story,” she said. “It can tell a story, often lovely, but outside it’s modest, it doesn’t scream anything at you. Then, you go inside, and you can’t believe it.
“It’s cool, distinguished, interestingly decorated, or the kitchen is to die for. And the features — you can’t believe you saw that, that they did that.”
If you go What: 2013 Open Doors of Ipswich House Tour When: Saturday, Oct. 12, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Where: Ipswich Visitors Center, 36 S. Main St., Route 1A, Ipswich. Information: Tickets $25 (children under 12 free) until Oct. 11 at www.OpenDoorsofIspwich.org, or at Ipswich Visitors Center, day of tour only, from 9 a.m. to noon.