Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

February 21, 2013

Andover Stories: Town of Joiners, part I

Andover Stories Gail Ralston, Andover Historical Society
The Andover Townsman

---- — This is the first of a two-part story.

French political thinker and historian Alexis de Tocqueville traveled to America in 1835, publishing his observations in the text “Democracy in America.” Key to this volume was the way in which Americans recognized the distinctiveness of their voluntary tradition. Tocqueville argued that a society’s propensity for individualism could have either positive or negative consequences.

In America, efforts in this regard became the country’s strength: “Through associating, the coming together of people for mutual purpose, both public and private, Americans are able to overcome selfish desires, thus making both a self-conscious and active political society and a vibrant civil society functioning independently from the state.”

German sociologist Max Weber in 1911 described the United States as “the association-land par excellence.” In 1944, Arthur M. Schlesinger coined the phrase “a nation of joiners” to refer to the phenomenon.

Andover is certainly no exception to this trend. And nowhere have ties been stronger or more influential than within the grand halls of its fraternal organizations. A study of lodges in town shows that members are drawn together by three things: their belief in a Supreme Being, their bond of brotherhood and their policies of charitable acts. Other organizations come together by sharing a similar culture, like interests or similar occupations. All groups, however, are joined by their commitment to service in their home community.

Andover’s town directory of 1893 lists the following active lodges: St. Mathew’s Lodge of Ancient Free & Accepted Masons, the Grand Army of the Republic, W.F. Bartlett Relief Corps, Royal Arcanum, the Indian Ridge Council, the Andover Grange (Patrons of Husbandry), Andover Wheelman, and the Ancient Order of United Workmen.

By 1897 additional organizations surfaced: the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, Sons of Veterans, and the United Order of Pilgrim Fathers. The Knights of Columbus was organized in 1905. Following these were the Carpenter’s Union, the Knights of Pythias (1913), and the Independent Order of Good Templars. Coming late to the game were the Lions Club in 1930 and the Andover Lodge of Elks, formed in 1961.

Several lodges were also formed to preserve the culture of its homeland. Clan MacDonald and Clan Johnston celebrated their Scottish heritage; the Ancient Order of Hibernians celebrated the Irish; American Hellenic Progressive Association celebrated Greek culture, and the Sons of Italy brought together Italian-Americans. Ballardvale had a German Club as early as 1885.

Not to be left out, early on the women of town formed an important part of these groups. The Women’s Relief Corps was an auxiliary of the Grand Army. The Rebekahs was a sister organization to the Odd Fellows, forming in 1904. The Pythian Sisters organized in 1914 and the Eastern Star, sisterhood of the Masons, was founded in 1922. Clan Johnston sponsored a Ladies’ Auxiliary.

Halls and meeting spaces for these groups were scattered throughout downtown and the area. The Masons gathered on the third floor of the old bank building for most of the 1800s. Other lodges met in spaces in downtown businesses, including the Musgrove Building. Here, at various times, were the VFW and Royal Arcanum. The Buchan & McNally Building, 24-30 Park St., hosted at one time the Knights of Columbus and the United Workmen. The GAR Hall was on Essex Street, and the Grange Hall, originally built near the entrance to West Parish Cemetery, eventually settled on Shawsheen Road in the space behind West Parish Church.

In 1923, six fraternal organizations purchased the three-story Morrison Block on Park Street, renovating it and naming it the Andover Fraternal Building. These lodges were the Odd Fellows, Clan Johnston, Knights of Pythias, Indian Ridge Rebekah Lodge, the Clan Auxiliary and the Pythian Sisters.

The remodeled space included a “large lodge room, banquet hall, regalia room, card room, model kitchen and toilets.” This structure was torn down in 1965 to make way for the new business block at 40 Park St.

With the number of citizens actively involved in these organizations, it’s no wonder their influence spilled over into the running of the town. Many of the town fathers were members of several groups, but none more so than Selectman Frank Hardy. At various times, Mr. Hardy showed membership in the Odd Fellows, the Indian Ridge Rebekah Lodge, the Royal Arcanum, the Andover Grange and the Andover Masons.

It was this last group – the Masons – that reflected strong ties to the business community and, by extension, strong influence over town politics. Of the 85 selectmen since 1855, over 30 percent have held memberships in Masonic Lodges. The Square and Compass Club, originally located at the corner of High and Elm streets, was a social club for Master Masons. Long-time Town Moderator Jim Doherty shared a once popularly-held belief: “Decisions on town government were made Saturday night at the Square & Compass Club, finalized at South Church the next morning, and executed at the selectmen’s meeting Monday night.”

Next Week: The Farmers, the Veterans and Other Histories