Andover Stories Gail Ralston, Andover Historical Society
The Andover Townsman
---- — Second in a two-part series.
Pre-automobile downtown was the hub of Andover life. While in most cases the fortunes of downtown merchants did not match those of the mill owners, their influence certainly did.
Business success stories were highlighted during the town’s 250th anniversary in 1896. Andover’s growth, alone, was cause for celebration. In 1672, it was estimated that the town’s expenses were less than $60; in 1895, they were $70,000. From 41 settlers in 1672, the town had grown to 6,200 citizens. In the Andover Townsman’s 1896 business supplement, there was the acknowledgment that Andover had been “slow and conservative in matters of local improvement.” That was, until 1880, when the town saw “electric lights, improved sidewalks, a system of water supply, and planning for sewerage.”
All of these improvements were key to supporting the downtown merchants, many of whom served on town boards and committees and whose presence in 1896 set the stage for the vitality of today’s downtown. Individual businesses were varied, providing for the many needs of the local population.
According to the Townsman, “while the comfort and welfare of a respectable and thriving town requires the services of many merchants, none are more welcome or desired than those who administer to our physical well-being.” The newspaper was referring, of course, to those merchants who maintained the local groceries and food markets. Not coincidently, there were more food stores than any other.
T.A. Holt & Company was considered the pioneer in the grocery business. Begun as Higgins & Abbott in 1838, its location in the basement of the Baptist Church on Essex Street was its first and only location. T.A. Holt had been a clerk for 11 years for the original firm before the company took on his name in 1875, expanding more than ten times over according to Mr. Holt.
Other well-known grocers included Smith & Manning, J.H. Campion, the Valpey Brothers, John Wakefield and Thomas J. Farmer.
The Smith & Manning firm was located on Essex Street and was established in 1865. Messrs. Smith & Manning came from a line of owners following Nathaniel Swift, the original founder in 1845. Mr. Campion was known for his “Corner Grocery” in Carter’s Block at the corner of Main and Central Streets. Established in 1886, by 1896 one noted product was the firm’s “highest grade of butter coming directly from the creameries.” The Valpey Brothers were in Elm Square, Wakefield at the corner of Main and Park, and Farmer, the fish dealer, on Barnard Street.
Close behind the grocers were the clothing merchants. Names familiar in 1896 were P.J. Hannon, J.E. Sears, Burns & Crowley, Ben Brown and J. William Dean. The most notable, perhaps, was J.W. Barnard. Barnard took his small shoe business in the old bank building to a modern two-story wooden building on Barnard Street (then Barnard’s Court). “J.W. Barnard & Sons” was formed in 1894, and boasted 200 employees manufacturing hand-sewed goods from “goat, dongola, kid, and patent leather. These products included “men’s, boys’ and youth’s slippers, ladies’ toilet slippers, and lace and gored buskins.”
Covering food and clothing, we now turn to “shelter.” These needs were met through hardware stores (W.J. Driscoll and H. McLawlin), builders such as Moses Gleason, furniture sellers such as Henry P. Noyes, and plumbers such as George Saunders and Erwin C. Pike. Barnett Rogers could sell you a house, and Frank Gleason could keep you warm with wood and coal.
Banking was necessary and a big business in Andover. The Andover National Bank (Samuel Farrar and Moses Foster) was chartered in 1826, and The Andover Institution for Savings in 1834. Foster had served the bank for 39 years and “managed its affairs carefully and wisely. The Savings Bank “showed a splendid growth year after year.” The Merrimack Mutual Fire Insurance Company, organized in 1828, experienced “uninterrupted success, due largely both in the selection of risks and care of interests.” Serving as treasurer from 1835 to 1875, Samuel Gray could take much of the credit for this record.
Beyond enterprises supporting the basic needs of the town were businesses such as the Andover Press and Omar P. Chase, the newspaper guy. H.F. Chase sold bicycles, Thomas P. Harriman was one of the town’s blacksmiths, and J.E. Whiting could sell you a watch. If you were sick, you might visit the establishment of the Allen Brothers or Arthur Bliss, who also served for many years as a town selectman. If you wanted a package delivered you might go to Benjamin B. Tuttle; if you wanted to deliver it yourself, you might purchase a wagon from Joseph Poor in Frye Village.
And last, but not least, was the town undertaker, Frank H. Messer.
In 1896, much like today, if your business was successful, most likely it included the following qualities: people not afraid to expand on an already-well-running business, people not afraid to change to a better location, people keeping a careful eye on expenses and investments; people being loyal to their employees and, most importantly, people nurturing the confidence of the public. These titans of business in 1896, whether downtown or in the mills, clearly persevered and made a great town even better.