Editor’s Note: This week, The Townsman welcomes back longtime columnist Bill Dalton to its pages. Dalton, who started writing for The Townsman in 2003, has been on hiatus the past several months while he co-authored “Legendary Locals of Andover” with his wife, Katharine. The book will be released Nov. 18.
The Planning Board is mulling the Park, so it’s a good time to talk about Park history. My column’s avid readers — both of them — might see familiar material below, and that’s because I’ve written about the Park a thousand times. However, I’ve cleverly disguised the facts so you mightn’t notice.
Floods upon which we kids would boat, a beat-up bandstand to play tag, a brook used for “I dare you,” a World War I cannon we climbed, underground tunnels with giant rats, a stone bridge under which frogs went to die (it smelled like that), the scary Dead Man’s Bushes (a guy died there in 1950), open areas for pick-up baseball and football, giant trees to climb and hang upside down, and a big place for excellent capture-the-flag after dark: all these things made the Park a wondrous place for kids who grew up in the mid-century decades.
Yet, adults didn’t use the Park before World War II except for Sunday afternoons when the Andover Brass Band played. I grew up next to the Park, and from as early as I can remember (about 1948) until the town fixed the Park in the mid-1980s, the Park was hardly used by anyone but kids. Even the annual Clown Town was aimed in our direction.
The Park’s bandstand was constructed for $500 in 1913, nine years after the Park was built. It was made of the same common fieldstone — no doubt from a local wall — as the 1906 stone bridge. Compared to most bandstands, ornate and built in Victorian times, our post-Victorian bandstand is plain vanilla, made more architecturally boring by our pragmatic, early 20th-century citizens, who built it to double as a toolshed. By 1948, vandals had smashed the bandstand’s stairs, dug fieldstone from the façade, and caused the place where the band once played to smell like the men’s room in a rough bar.