Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

October 11, 2012

Alice Buck, Harold Rafton: Two lives, one mission

By Doug Mitchell Andover Historical Society
The Andover Townsman

---- — This is the second column in a two-part series.

Andover in the 1880s and 1890s was experiencing change of unprecedented proportions. A growing economic vitality and brisk business climate saw the invention of the telephone, the advent of the electric trolley that allowed travel and faster connections to nearby locations, and the change in the work environment that enabled more leisure-time activities. Social clubs and sports groups were being formed on a regular basis to meet the needs of this new opportunity for leisure entertainment.

The hustle and bustle of progress had its share of negative effects as well. What was once described as a very pleasing town to visit was soon being described as a despoiled and untidy town. The need for a local beautification effort was expressed.

The very nature of Main Street was changing with this new prosperity. The appearance of various means of transportation called for improvements in the surfaces on which people traveled. Mostly dirt and hard-packed streets were giving way to covered surfaces. The expanding need for “quality gravel” led local owners to offer to convert their forested property into a source of gravel for road building.

One particular property was known as Indian Ridge. This property’s unusual geological features along with its reputed health-invigorating qualities and its proximity to the center of the town’s population meant that it had a strong following in certain segments of this new leisure-seeking community. The response to the potential destruction of this magnificent glacial formation and wooded area was immediate and vigorous.

And Alice Buck was one of the earliest and most energetic townspeople to rise to the call for saving it.

The ten-year period following the end of World War II featured another stretch of economic rebuilding and budding prosperity. Andover did not appear to be enjoying all the fruits of this new energy. It was not until the mid-1950s that there was evidence of a new age of growth. Interstate highways were being built through the town, first by Interstate 93 linking Andover with Boston and the rapidly changing Route 128 technology highway. Andover was emerging as a popular town to locate one’s family while still enjoying the proximity to metropolitan Boston. The prestigious Phillips Academy was another draw.

Seemingly overnight, the town was facing unprecedented growth opportunities from both rapid residential construction and expanding rings of industrial employment zones and office parks. Large land holdings once devoted to farming were quickly coming on the market to meet the demand for the exploding residential population. Town officials were working diligently to codify zoning bylaws to meet the rapidly changing circumstances. A somewhat “sleepy academic town” was becoming a bedroom community of choice for a greater Boston workforce that chose to live away from the place of their employment.

Locally there were voices being raised to participate fully in this economic development awakening. One local business executive wrote a rather impassioned plea in a letter to the newspaper editor supporting these changes. Harold Rafton read that letter and had quite a different reaction. His immediate response was to write an equally impassioned letter to that editor speaking out for preserving some of that which made the town of Andover unique and highly desirable – the green space that everyone took for granted.

Alice Buck and Harold Rafton shared a common conviction and saw this through with uncommon passion. Each in their own time shared the conviction that a special feature of our town was worth preserving. It was only the means that differed. Buck saw Indian Ridge as a health-enabling and geologically-significant formation that cried out for saving from destruction. Rafton saw the “march of residential development” as a permanent loss in the open space that itself made Andover such an attractive place to live.

Buck mounted an aggressive campaign of small fundraisers to enable the purchase of the land and to keep the issue squarely in the public eye. When town meeting failed to act to save this land, she redoubled her efforts and applied public pressure to produce the desired result.

Rafton took even sterner measures. Laws needed to be changed to permit the holding of land in perpetuity by non-profit organizations. The idea of conservation was present, but through his efforts it became a passion. Owners of land needed to be persuaded to transfer marginally-developable land and money needed to be authorized to purchase such land. The advent of the local conservation commission occurred during this period. The sheer size of land acquisition from Harold Rafton’s passion is enormous.

This is the story of two townspeople who pursued their private interests and associations until such time as events stirred them to a course of action that would truly change the face of Andover forever. Many have been inspired by their actions to follow in their footsteps and continue this passion for open space preservation throughout the town.

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The author acknowledges Juliette Haines Mofford and Susan Lenoe for their previous publications and presentations, bringing the stories of Buck and Rafton to new generations of Andover citizens.