Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

April 16, 2013

Teen center takes long and windy road

Rachel Christ
Andover Historical Society

---- — Growing up in Andover, as any teenager can tell you, Friday afternoons are spent hanging out in the library or standing around in the park. Especially in the winter when walking downtown puts you at risk of freezing your fingers and toes off, most any teenager is apt to complain that they wish there was somewhere to go and things to do on a Friday afternoon.

For anyone who has grown up in Andover, it is hard to remember a time when talk of a Teen Center was not in the air. Now a high school senior, I can still remember being in fifth grade and raising money in coins for my classroom’s collection for the youth center. Now as Andover Youth Services celebrates another highly successful annual telethon in hopes of finally raising the money for the town’s youth center, it is interesting to reflect on its historic evolution.

Andover’s first youth center was actually created more than 100 years ago in 1894 when three ladies of the town saw a drastic need arise. The country was in an economic hard time, and Andover was no different from anywhere else. Due to the financial hard times, the town created a movement known as The Society for Organized Charity to initially deal with relief work for the town as a whole. However, as the initial vital needs of the winter months passed, the town looked toward a more permanent solution. In order to address poverty in town, they created an organization that could train “the young people in habits of thrift and economy.” This organization eventually became The Guild, which focused on training the youths of Andover in the skills they would need in the present economy. It was said to “provide industrial training and instruction in practical matters, first for girls, and later, if funds permitted, for boys.”

By 1908, The Guild was responsible for a Boys and Girls Club that trained the children in what were considered practical skills for the time. Girls were instructed in nursing, cooking, sewing and embroidering, while the boys were taught mathematics, English, carpentry and printing. In that year, about 200 children from Andover participated in The Guild’s activities. As the town continued to grow and change, so did the Guild, however, and by 1939. it was also being used as a youth hostel. This youth hostel was fully outfitted with army cots and blankets. During this time, it cost $1 or $2 to get a youth hostel pass, which enabled hikers and bikers to ride around the country and stop at any of the 184 youth hostels spread out across the U.S.

Around the 1940s, the Guild again evolved and instead of the studious activities it had previously offered, recreational activities became the focus. The building was considered to be an athletic drop-in center, with children paying about a dime a week to participate. There was a basketball court and bowling alley and opportunities for sports, games and gymnastics, with dances and social gatherings on the weekends. It was a fun place for kids to go and was widely considered as belonging to the community. However, since most of the equipment was donated, the facility quickly became outdated and use dropped off in the mid-1960s.

For a time, The Guild became part of the Andover YMCA, but when the new YMCA was built, The Guild property again went unused.

In the early 1980s, the building was bought by the Andover Knights of Columbus and has been used by the organization ever since.

With the Guild building no longer an option, the youth of Andover once again found themselves with no headquarters. In 1968, a pseudo teen center began operating at the high school, but many students disliked the location since they already spent so much time at school and didn’t want to go back to the cafeteria on weekends to hang out.

So teens decided to take matters into their own hands. 1961, a new teen center was set to open in the grange next to West Parish Church. Local youths raised $500 to install bathrooms and the town promised to install heating. But due to the lack of an occupancy permit, they never got to use the people. Yet again, there was nowhere to go.

In 1970, the old fire house was being used as a teen drop-in center. However, that same year, the building was torn down despite the best efforts of students, who collected 2,300 signatures on petitions seeking to block the demolition.

To avoid a massive walk-out students had planned in protest of the demolition, town officials promised to find an alternate site for the drop-in center. Despite that vow, it seemed like a teen center would be forever out of reach for the hopeful youth of Andover.

Next week: Andover youths fight for a home.

Rachel Christ, a senior at Andover High School, is a volunteer at the Andover Historical Society.