Andover Townsman, Andover, MA


February 13, 2014

From wagon shop to millionaire's playhouse

In July 2010, Don Robb wrote this column about the history of Poor Wagon Shop for The Andover Townsman in anticipation of the 100th anniversary of the Andover Historical Society in 2011:

It started as a simple blacksmith shop, became a highly successful wagon factory, served as a stop on the Underground Railroad and was eventually turned into a millionaire’s playhouse.

It’s known as the Poor Wagon Shop, and also as the Casino. Built in 1867, it still stands today on the grounds of Arden, the Wood family estate on North Main Street.

The building began its long history in an area then called Frye Village, where Routes 28 and 133 meet today. In 1833, William Poor, a descendant of one of Andover’s founding families, opened a blacksmith shop in the village on the street named for his family.

Soon Poor and his brother, Jonathan, added a facility for manufacturing wagons. Located in the heart of Frye Village, the wagon shop became a gathering place for locals, who met there to gossip and to discuss the politics of the day.

William Poor and his son, Joseph, were ardent abolitionists who took an active part in the fight against slavery. In false-bottomed wagons made in their shop, escaping slaves could safely be concealed for transport under a load of produce or hay.

Under cover of darkness, slaves who had been hidden in any of the several Underground Railroad safe houses around Andover would make their way to the Poor wagon shop. Hearing a knock on his door in the night, Joseph Poor would get up, go outside; saddle up his mare, Nellie; hitch up a wagon, and lead his illegal “cargo” north into New Hampshire, one step closer to freedom. His family recalled that he was usually home in time for breakfast.

Some estimates suggest that several hundred slaves passed through Andover, a good portion of them via the Poor Wagon Shop in Frye Village.

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