On the Sunnyside – A history of the town

by Alexander Rudge PhD
(C) Rudge, Ipswich Press, 1978

In Essex County, Massachusetts, in land and up the coast from Innsmouth with a commanding view of Cape Ann and Falcon Point to the East. The town of Ipswich, Massachusetts is geographically nearer, but restrictive local geography (notably the Manuxet River, which forms a loop around the settlement) and the absence of decent highways makes road transport only possible via Innsmouth. Access by sea is possible to the North via a small inlet in the South West of Plum Island Sound, which still shows evidence of the original fishing settlement from which Sunnyside owes its origins. A natural ford across the Manuxet historically linked this important fishing harbour with what was to become Ipswich, but there is no explanation as to why forest trails never developed into more traditional roadways, as one would have expected, although it is apparent that bridges and viaducts would have made such connections costly. This might also explain the lack of rail links to the village. Forestry on the banks of the river near Sunnyside are remarkably well preserved, with many sections being what arboriculturists describe as ‘primary’; essentially an unchanged and undisturbed botanical ecosystem.
Unlike its neighbours, Sunnyside is rather cramped in construction, space being constrained by the river bend and encroaching forest. It should be a quiet hamlet, but shows a dearth of vitality that a semi-rural setting should exhibit. The church steeple looms ominously to the northern, seaward horizon, and the communal clock has not worked for 60 years. The predominent architecture of aged gambrel roofs and peaked gables matches that of nearby Innsmouth, but is better preserved, due to less salty air. two notable Georgian exceptions are the village school and the combined Town Hall and Jailhouse, with square hipped roofs, cupolas, and excellent examples of rooftop “widow’s walks”, which dominate the central square.

On the northern shore only the ruins of wharves remain, along with a now derelict canning factory, to provide evidence of Sunnyside’s former major industry of preserved fish, which died out in the last century when the local salt mines gave out. It is hard to envisage what economic miracle could bring round this sad, quaint habitat, with many young families understandably leaving for the more affluent nearby conurbations.

Sunnyside was founded in 1646, noted for fishing and meat preserving before the Revolution, bit was only mildly prosperous in the early nineteenth century as a minor factory centre, due to the local supply of salt. The loss of salt production due to sabotage during the War of 1812 caused the town’s profitable trade to dwindle in a surprising parallel with its neighbour Innsmouth, which had provided ships and tackle. By 1828, only the White family fleet was still operating, but canning was relocated further down the coast, but even this remnant of “honest trade” was devastated in 1840 when Innsmouth demonstrated an unprecedented upsurge in its own burgeoning fishing industry; commanded over by the Marsh Family, of long good standing in that parish.

It could be speculated that had the White’s weathered the financial storm, when Innsmouth was devastated by plague in 1846, their fortunes could have rallied. Sadly, however, this ill wind arrived too late to save the village. The White Family are still present in the village, but are no longer affluent.

In the Prohibition Era, Sunnyside was regularly suspected of providing local bootleggers with AppleJack – freeze distilled cider-based hard liquor – but no significant arrests were ever made. it is likely that such illegal activity, rather than the prosperous orchards, might be responsible for the continued existence of the village.

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