Andover has a language of its own and it is spoken by residents of all ages. The language is comprised of “Andoverisms” — expressions created by residents to identify town properties, places and people.
Andoverisms are common names, or abbreviated or unofficial names. Depending on where people live or how long they have lived in town, they may have a wider knowledge of the vocabulary.
“The Library” is a classic example. Although its proper name is Memorial Hall Library — in honor of Andover’s Civil War soldiers and sailors — it is popularly known by its common name. Andover High School, frequently referred to as “the high school,” also falls into this category.
This penchant for identifying Andover places by their generic name has been prevalent with residents for generations.
At a special Town Meeting in 1933, voters of Andover appropriated funds for the construction of a junior high school, an auditorium, gymnasium and playstead.
The junior high school, now housing the Center at Punchard (senior center) and school administrative offices, was designated Clara A. Putnam Junior High School in honor of the principal who was instrumental in the building project. The auditorium and gymnasium were located together in an adjoining structure that was named the Andover Memorial Building. This facility was dedicated to the 584 Andover men and women who served in World War I.
Despite the buildings’ designations, those titles were never used. For decades, they were referred to as the junior high, the auditorium and the gymnasium.
Andover schools fall into a unique category because there are so many. Instead of being referred to as the middle school or the elementary school, the institutions are distinguished by their abbreviated formal names, for example, Wood Hill, West, Sanborn, etc.
Some public properties were never officially named. “The Park” at the corner of Chestnut and Bartlet streets has been known by that name for generations. After its purchase in 1899, it was referred to as the Common. At one point, it was called Central Park; however, the popular landmark has no official title.
Like the park, the playing field behind Doherty Middle School does not have a formal designation. Even before its purchase in 1911, it was called “the playstead,” a name that remained for decades. Its fields and bleachers hosted school athletic activities, football games and a town baseball league, attended by thousands of supporters. Clown Town and Fourth of July celebrations were held at this field.
In some neighborhoods, residents created their own Andoverisms. People living in the region surrounding Main Street still refer to the business center as downtown. Residents in the communities of Ballardvale, Shawsheen and West Andover identify their areas as uptown. A look at the landscape explains why — in order to reach the business center, the inhabitants of each district have to climb a steep hill.
A popular Andoverism from the past may be recalled by many residents. “The hill, the mill, the till” was a well-known expression from the mid-1800s that continued for more than a century. The phrase described the town geographically, socially and economically. The “hill” referred to Andover Hill’s academic institutions. The “mill” symbolized the factories along the Shawsheen River. The farms in West Andover, and scattered throughout town, were referenced as “the till.” Some believed “the till” described Andover’s business area.
“Townie” is a word that did not originate in Andover, but has become an Andoverism. People hold differing opinions about its definition. Some think a townie is someone who was born and raised in town. Others suggest the term refers to a person who has lived here several years.
Despite mixed interpretations, Andoverisms have been spoken for generations. As Andover’s population continues to grow and change, the familiar expressions will likely be carried on and new ones will be created.