Andover StoriesDoug Mitchell
Andover Historical Society
---- — History is replete with people performing extraordinary acts that change the course of the future. Rarely does one town have two people who, in the course of their ordinary lives, make such an extraordinary impact on their town as to change its history. Alice Buck and Harold Rafton were two such people. Amazingly their efforts as early environmentalists were similar in effect and separated by nearly 60 years. Each one’s actions were initiated in response to dramatic changes taking place in their community.
Alice Buck was born in 1842 in New York City where her father, Edward Buck, was a successful lawyer. Mr. Buck, with his wife, daughter and son, moved to Andover when Alice was 1. Her father had been elected a trustee of Abbot Female Seminary and had taken a new position with a law firm in Boston, Mass. The family moved into their new home at 19 School St.et in Andover, directly across from the seminary entrance. Alice Buck received her early education at the “Fem Sem,” but attended a finishing school run by Mrs. B. B. Edwards located on Main Street.
As a consequence of her educational freedom, she developed an interest in botany at a young age. With her father and her brother, she pursued an “outdoorsy” lifestyle with frequent carriage rides to hilltops, and walks in nearby woodlands. Alice Buck never married, and she developed an interest in aiding others, particularly male students of Phillips Academy and female students of Abbot Academy. As the popul
ation of mill workers grew in town, she assisted in education efforts for this largely immigrant population in Andover.
Alice Buck was an early supporter of the efforts at village improvement. When the idea of a women’s club was suggested, she took a lead role in organizing committees. From her mother’s keen interest in literature, she developed an abiding interest in reading and discourse. She chaired committees that featured readings of great classical works. She was an ordinary woman pursuing her varied interests and social connections in a somewhat typical life in the late 1800s. In her 55th year, that would all change.
Harold Rafton was born in 1890 in Roxbury, Mass. and spent his early years in that town. He described himself as a “sickly youngster” who was unable to engage in many of the activities of his peers. He was an academically-gifted individual who was admitted to Harvard at age 15. His chosen field was physics, but the school needed students in its chemistry program, so Harold switched to that field. Following graduation, he spent a few years in various pursuits. With the advent of World War I, he began his service as a first lieutenant in the Chemical Warfare Service.
Rafton professed to have an interest in ornithology and became a regular early morning “birder.” In the 1920s, he began his long-time business career in the paper industry and became active in waste product recycling. While working and living in Lawrence, Mass., he organized a new company and located this business in an industrial building on Haverhill Street in Andover.
In 1928, he and his wife, Helen, moved to a house in the Shawsheen Heights area of Andover. During his professional career, he was granted patents in techniques for coating paper which enabled his business to grow significantly. With business success came the opportunity to move to a new house on a new street – Alden Road. Harold and Helen Rafton raised a daughter and assisted in the usual parent-teacher activities. Outside of the local connections, Harold was also a founder and early president of the Humanist Fellowship of Boston, active in the Harvard Club and several technical societies. Nothing in his life would suggest that he was to become the “conscience of the town” of Andover. That would all change in his 65th year. Alice Buck and Harold Rafton never knew each other. Buck died in 1907 while Rafton was still in college. Though they were separated by decades, they each made a lasting contribution to the town of Andover. Alice remains largely an unsung hero, save for a commemorative tablet on a rock. Harold was bestowed lasting recognition by having a tract of open space named in his honor. He was also the recipient of numerous honors.
Next Week: Our story of Alice Buck and Harold Rafton will continue, as we write of their efforts as early environmentalists.