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.
Yet, the gravel paths, the stone bridge, Rogers Brook, numerous bushes, and the trees that survived the hurricanes of 1938 and 1954 lent the Park a decent appearance, even though most citizens used the Park only with their eyes as they drove by. But even some of that view diminished with the death of the brook. It aggravated neighbors by flooding too many times; so, in 1968, draconian Andover executed and buried the brook, which caused the stone bridge to become an amusing, but pretty, bridge to nowhere.
After my childhood, even the Park’s reputation was hurt. In the 1970s and early ’80s, hoodlums with big mouths and loud cars parked at twilight along Whittier Street near the bandstand. (Back then, Whittier went through to Bartlett (historically spelled with two Ts on the end). The punks got high, traded illegal substances, and were loathsome. Finally, a young man was dragged to his death beneath a car, and this dispersed the meetings for good.
In 1984, the story becomes more pleasant. As part of the project that renovated the Town Hall and created the new town offices, the Park was turned into a beautiful place.
Making it even better, nine years ago, veterans’ memorials began to be added. It’s a wonderful place for them, for the Park offers both peaceful times to reflect on our Andover heroes as well as a place for children and adults to play and be entertained.
The goal of the future should be for the Park to continue to bring the whole community together, for that is the spirit for which public parks are made and maintained.
Bill Dalton is a longtime columnist for The Townsman. His email is BillDalton@AndoverTownie.com.