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.