As residents of a town in the heart of New England, Andoverites are accustomed to battling the elements. Huge snowstorms, high winds, and heavy rainfall create weather events that residents do not easily forget.
Situated near the Merrimack and the Shawsheen Rivers, it is no surprise that spring often brings terrible flooding to Andover. In 1936, the town experienced the worst flood in its history. The combination of an early spring thaw and torrential downpours caused both the Lawrence dam and the Shawsheen River to overflow, crippling transportation, communication, lighting, and heating in the Merrimack Valley. Rescue workers and cooperating townspeople evacuated 109 homes in Andover using rowboats because no other transportation was possible.
Andover witnessed a similar flood in 1996, though not of the same magnitude as the 1936 flood. A record ten inches of rainfall caused the Shawsheen River to spill over its banks and to flood the sewers. The water damaged power lines, knocking out utilities for over 400 Andover residents.
The Great New England Hurricane of 1938 lives in infamy. It was the first major storm to hit the region since 1869, and it came largely without warning. Weather trackers expected the eye of the storm to land on the coast in Florida; however, the unpredictable storm arrived on Long Island, New York, and rampaged up the Connecticut River to Massachusetts. By the time the storm had passed, it had killed over 500 people, 99 in Massachusetts, damaged more than 57,000 homes, and inflicted property losses estimated at $306 million.
The 1938 hurricane was an unprecedented event in the Merrimack Valley. With winds that peaked at 150 miles per hour, the storm threw the region into chaos and fear. Power lines were down, radios stations temporarily went off the air, and people were trapped in their homes. The town fire alarm, rung manually, called emergency workers to the scene. Within twenty-four hours, a communication system through The Eagle Tribune and the WLAW radio station allowed family members and friends to contact their loved ones in the Merrimack region. Andover lost many old trees in the storm, and workers spent days cutting apart the fallen trunks to free the streets for cars to pass.
On Feb. 4, 1898, a snowstorm that brought two feet of snow became the measuring stick for all future snowstorms that hit Andover. Intense winds pushed snow into twelve-foot drifts, leaving much of the town buried. The storm cut off transportation and communication in and out of Andover, leaving only the horse-drawn sleds to transport workers to dig away the drifts. Even with volunteer efforts, the storm cost the town an unprecedented $3,000.
Almost eighty later, the biggest blizzard in recent memory wreaked havoc on New England. Over thirty inches of snowfall combined with hurricane-force winds paralyzed the region and knocked out power and heating for hundreds of residents, causing Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis to declare a State of Emergency. Schools and major corporations such as Raytheon and Western Electric shut down for a week, and transportation was limited to skis, sleds, and snow shoes. During the storm, emergency and public works crews worked tirelessly to keep Andover's roads open and to clear away the snow mounds that reached almost twenty feet high. "The Great Storm of '78" cost the town $275,000 in damages and went down in local history as the blizzard of the century.
In spite of what storms have come in the past, or what Andover may encounter in the future, history proves that in times of crisis residents pull together and take care of each other in a true community effort that all can appreciate.
"Andover Stories" is a weekly column about interesting local people and events, told in anticipation of the Andover Historical Society's 100 anniversary in 2011.