Sometimes, ‘Time’ is a cruel mistress, harsh and unmerciful – the march of the clock can wear down the finest monument. If anyplace has suffered much, it has been Sewall’s Place at 124 High Street. During the 18th century, the land was owned by the Sewall family. Charles Hodge, relative of the family, honored them by assigning the name to the home. He only partially owned the land when he purchased in 1806 and it was several years before he actually adopted the Federal style when constructing it. More than likely, it was built earlier than 1814 but he enlarged it until it became the size it is today.
The Hodge family owned it all the way to 1847. Hodge was a merchant and very active in Newburyport’s political affairs. He was one of the signers of the petition to set off the “Water side” portion of Newbury as a separate town. In 1773, before he purchased the land and moved here, he was appointed to a committee to cooperate with the committee of correspondence in Boston during the trying times prior to the outbreak of the Revolutionary War. After he moved, since he was well respected; in 1823 the hay scales for the town were transferred to a convenient location near the corner of High and Pond Streets at the Southeast end of the mall. At that time, Charles Hodge, residing close by, was appointed to take charge of the scales.
Afterward, Le Prilette Ingraham owned it from 1847-1863. Ingraham was a machinist with a machine shop on Fair Street. Keep in mind how important this man was at the outset of the Industrial revolution. Machines were just beginning to be used. His prowess guaranteed the mills were operating smoothly. The house was then sold to Ellen C. Kane (formerly Staniels) and others 1863-1878. Then, it was purchased by Eliza A. (Mrs. Samuel Bartlett) Pike from 1878-1900 and Willard J. Hale 1900-1903 and then Elisha R. Brown 1903-1907. Then, for most of the twentieth century, it was owned by Therese (Mrs. Carl) Fehmer since 1907. It was then purchased and owned by Todd Woodworth who converted the structure to the Woodworth Funeral Home in 1961. He merged with Paul Rogers Family Funeral Homes in 1986 and became Elliott, Woodworth & Rogers and moved the facility to 35 Green Street. He retired in 2003.
In 1988, Mr. Woodworth became quite famous when he began guided tours through Oak Hill Cemetery in Newburyport, which he called “Tip Toe through the Tombstones with Todd.” Because so much information was missing on many a tombstone, he ended up doing so much research that he was dubbed the unofficial historian of Newburyport.
But what made him famous was his sense of humor. He would allow smokers to light up in his office during funeral services and then hand them business cards printed with a picture of a horse-drawn hearse and the words, “Todd C. Woodworth/Funeral Director/Thank you for Smoking,” According to his daughter, Ghlee Woodworth, “He was a soft-spoken guy with a dry sense of humor”.
In addition to his position, he served some 20 city government positions such as on the Zoning Board and also served several terms as Councilor at Large. Called the ‘Muscular Mortician’ he would often be seen walking all over town and was known to run five miles every day. Before he started the funeral home, he had been a wrestler in high school and served in the Coast Guard during the war.
Due to cancer, he died in October of 2006. As a lasting tribute to one of Newburyport’s more famous individuals, his daughter has continued the tours and has recently published the first volume of a two-volume book called, Tiptoe through the Tombstones.
The house itself was then owned by the well-respected doctor, David Ingalls and the deed was handled by Yvonne L. Ingalls’ Trust and the building became business offices. Regrettably, two terrible things happened. A horrible fire swept through Sewall Place gutting the interior of the building. At the same time, sexual Impropriety was leveled against the good doctor by several women from Lawrence and though a vigorous defense was made, Mr. Ingalls lost his practice. Consequently, even though the building was successfully rebuilt, it was sold to the Wilson Holdings company in 2007.
A successful business is now operating at the site, Wilson Language Training (www.wilsonlanguage.com).
It is a tribute to the fine masonry installed in the early part of the 19th century that this building is still standing. Any other Federalist mansion after suffering so much damage would have been a distant memory. As for the owners of the building, a virtual parade of interesting characters has made this structure worth saving as a monument to those who have passed through it.
A. Hale, Old Newburyport Houses, Boston, 1912.
Assessor’s Records, 1980, 2010
J.M. Howells, The Architectural Heritage of the Merrimack, New York, I941.
J. J. Currier, History of Newburyport, 1764-1905, Vol I, II, Reprint, Newburyport, 1977.
“Todd C. Woodworth, 85; funeral director gave tours of Newburyport cemetery” by By Sarah Kneezle, Correspondent, Boston Globe, November 18, 2006.
1851 Plan of Newburyport, MA, H. Mclntire
1872 Map of the City of Newburyport, Mass. D.G. Beers and Co.
1851, 1871 City Directories