Most of Andover turned out on June 6, 1835, and wildly cheered the arrival of the first train to come to town.
Three years earlier, Andover resident Hobart Clarke had decided Andover would benefit from having a railroad after watching one near his brother’s home in Utica, N.Y.
Arguably, the first engine-powered train was one owned by the Mohawk & Hudson Company’s line running from Albany to Schenectady, N.Y., in 1826. This railway was probably the one that Clarke watched in 1832, although steam-powered trains were an invention whose time had come and soon were popping up like giant puffing bugs scuttling over the landscape. The original engine-powered trains were built for runs of a few miles, and although there may have been planners theorizing about long-run railway lines, the early train runs became longer and longer because people like Hobart Clarke pictured them benefitting towns like Andover and connecting them to other railways with short runs.
When Clarke returned to Andover, he put together a group of potential investors in 1833, and they held a public meeting at Locke Tavern in a building still standing on the corner of Main and Locke streets.
It was voted to petition the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for the right to build a railway line to Wilmington, where a line was already being built from Wilmington to meet the Boston & Lowell Railroad. The Commonwealth granted the petition later in 1833. The original investors formed a company shortly after. They were Clarke, Abraham Marland, Amos Abbot, John Smith, and Amos Pettingill, all of whom served as directors of the company. One thousand shares of stock were issued at $100 each, and there may have been other smaller investors.
Work was finished in 1836, and the railroad company and line was pragmatically called the Andover & Wilmington Railroad.
Although no one alive today ever saw the original tracks in place, they started at the train station (also occupied by Walsh’s Tin Co.) that later became the Colonial Theater, then the Andover Playhouse, then an adjunct to the Old Town Hall, and finally part of the parking lot for the Memorial Hall Library.
The original depot was located diagonally across the street from the old post office, which made the delivery of mail and packages convenient. From the depot, the tracks took a direct route that made sense in those days, and we must remember there were many fewer houses. They ran from the depot to behind where the Baptist Church is, then diagonally along Central Street to the front of the Rose Cottage at the corner of Chestnut and Central streets (where Lafayette once slept), to behind where St. Augustine School is now, then under School Street, where a bridge was built to support the street, across Phillips Street, along the south side of Abbot Street, through Spring Grove Cemetery, “across the plains of Ballardvale” (as Bessie Goldsmith mentions in her booklet cited below) to a station in Ballardvale, and finally into Wilmington.
Nathanial Whittier, the original superintendent of the railway, constructed and ran the workshops that employed 75 men near the Essex Street depot to service the trains. His house was near the corner of Whittier and Summer streets, and Whittier Street is named for him. M.C. Andrews, a young man of 19, was the first conductor and the only passenger on the first train that was greeted by cheers.
In my early teens, I first saw a part of the old track bed. The Warner family of Ballardvale showed me a long stretch of rail bed and it amazed me as it was so far from any other tracks in Andover, but more than that, it made me wonder about a lot of things that must have happened in Old Andover. Today, if I had a time machine, the arrival of the first train in Andover is one of those events I’d visit.
(The above facts are taken from an “Andover Townsman” article written by Kay Noyes on April 19, 1956; “The Townswoman’s Andover,” Bessie Goldsmith, Andover Historical Society, 1964; and a fact or two discovered by me.)
Bill Dalton writes a weekly column for the Andover Townsman. His email address is BillDalton@AndoverTownie.com.