Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

February 13, 2014

Recognizing the value of history

The Andover Townsman

---- — It’s tragic anytime a piece of the past is lost. Such is the case with the Poor Wagon Shop that was consumed by fire Monday night.

The blaze wiped out not only a reminder of the town’s pre-industrial era, but a monument to the abolitionist movement that occupied this corner of the state.

True, the circa 1867 building on the Wood Estate had seen better days. It had been unoccupied for years. Set so far back from North Main Street, many even say they had no idea it existed.

Rosalyn Wood, the last remaining member of the family that built the sprawling estate in Shawsheen Village, said herself it would have likely been torn down in time.

Despite its deteriorating condition — and the fact that the structure had been altered and moved over the course of its nearly 150 years — the wagon shop remained one of the few pre-industrial revolution buildings still standing in Andover.

History does not require lasting artifacts to exist, but they do help to tell the story. And if the walls of the Poor Wagon Shop could have talked, we would have likely been captivated by what they would have said.

They would have recounted tales of hundreds of slaves who would have knocked at the door in the dark of night in hopes of stowing away on a locally built wagon that would carry them to eventual freedom. They would have relived the good ol’ days when life was simpler and moments were shared not via Facebook, Twitter or Snapchat, but by sitting around the blacksmith shop.

Later, we would have been regaled by some of the town folks who befriended the Wood family in the early 20th century after the shop was transformed into a performance venue. Those who were lucky enough to score an invitation to one of the concerts or shows would tell of a stage that had given rise in the former workshop and how the clang of metal had been replaced by the strains of music.

We would have bore witness to the topical discussions of the time during one of the League of Women Voters’ galas on the property or snuck a peek at the American Woolen Company managers who Wood treated to an outing on his estate.

Andover can be thankful that much of the original Wood estate will be forever preserved, with more than 50 of the 60-plus acres having been bequeathed to the Trustees of Reservations with a restriction that it never be developed.

Whether we knew it existed or not, the Poor Wagon Shop played an integral part in Andover’s past. Structures like the wagon shop and properties like the Wood estate provide a sense of place for a community and its people. They allow for an appreciation of those who came before and shaped the fabric of what was to come.

In that same vein, this week we introduce what we intend to be a recurring feature in The Townsman honoring townspeople who leave a lasting imprint on their community. Simply called In Tribute, it’s our way of honoring their legacies.

We begin the new series with Albert Richard “Al” Retelle, a noted conservationist, arborist and birder who gave to Andover in countless ways. As the patriarch behind his local family business, Retelle Tree Corp., he led by example, not only for his own children and grandchildren, but for the countless young people he taught to ski and the many he introduced to birding and the great outdoors. Walk any of the Andover Village Improvement Society properties and you can bet Retelle traveled the same path countless times before.

It is the people and places who come before who nurture a community for the next generation. And Andover has much to be thankful for when it comes to the lasting influence of both the Poor Wagon Shop and Al Retelle.