Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

November 1, 2012

What it was like to live here 100 years ago

Bill Dalton
The Andover Townsman

---- — What was it like to live in Andover 100 years ago? I’ve looked over the Andover Townsman from early November 1911, when my mother was born, to the end of 1912, and I think I have a pretty good idea of what it was like.

My father, who was born two weeks before the 20th Century, had a good memory of his childhood, and I spoke often with him of his early years. A hundred years ago he was 12, and he told me that there were lots of fights between boys on and off the school grounds, but there were unwritten rules about fighting fair. There was no kicking or hitting anyone who was down, you could only use your fists, and all fights were one on one, never uneven. These chivalric rules applied to sports as well. He often said that he never liked to see anyone injured on the other team, because he always wanted to win or lose with the best boys on the field.

Townspeople helped other townspeople, and my father’s family were beneficiaries, even though new to Andover. After his father was killed in a train accident in 1909, his mother moved to Andover with her four young children, and townspeople welcomed and helped the newcomers. Mr. and Mrs. Rhodes of 68 Chestnut St. took them under their wings. There was no government support in those days except that the town had an alms house where older people who were destitute and without close relatives might live out their remaining days.

Soon my grandmother owned a bakery called the Metropolitan, and I suspect the Rhodeses might have helped, especially since Mr. Rhodes sold ice cream, ice, and many necessary items to run a bakery.

Editor John N. Cole must also have taken a liking to my grandmother and her children because he regularly mentioned them in his front page news vignettes. For example, “A large number of children and grown-ups stopped before the display window of the Metropolitan and viewed the barley sugar creations in the window.”

Within a few years, my father’s family moved into a house next to the Rhodeses, and my father and his siblings thought of Mr. Rhodes as a father to them.

It didn’t take long for my grandmother to reciprocate the generosity of Mr. and Mrs. Rhodes by buying goods from him when he became the main supplier of the bakery. When I look through my grandmother’s ledger, there was hardly a day that went by that he didn’t supply the bakery with fresh goods, and my grandmother did the same for Mr. Cole by placing advertising in the Townsman. It was no wonder that my father lived by the credo that you do business with those who do business with you.

It was a presidential election year in 1912, and labor unrest throughout the Northeast was centered in Lawrence, leading to the Bread and Roses Strike, which was a national news story. One such story, carried by the Townsman, said, “Warlike preparations were being carried out in Lawrence. Sharpshooters were at the Atlantic Mill, stationed at windows of the plant, because a large quantity of dynamite is said to have been purchased for the strikers.” John N. Cole, editor of the Townsman, condemned the Lawrence strikers and especially the I.W.W., known as the “Wobblies,” who were, at the least, socialists and, at the most, communists and subversives.

The Lawrence labor troubles had many sympathetic followers in Andover. An example was shown in a Townsman story that said “50 Italians at Tyer Rubber stopped work for an hour,” as a show of support for the Lawrence strikers. On the other hand, a maximum 54 hour-a-week law went into effect for the employment of women and minors.

In Andover, a factory belonging to Tyer Rubber began construction of a bigger plant on Railroad Street on the former site of Niotis Club field. The automobile tire business was expanding rapidly, and it was predicted that the company’s growth would continue. If this isn’t evidence enough that the automobile was coming into its own, there was an advertisement by a man from Boston who was selling his 15 horses – “all in good shape” - because he was replacing them with automobile trucks.

However, Andover was still mostly rural with farmland dominating the landscape. An advertisement said, “Found – a sheep. Owner can have same by proving property and paying charges on same. Apply to John Entwistle, West Andover.” A story noted that John Traynor, a Frye Village fish dealer, was well known around town, and anyone who had ever heard his cry “fish” would never forget it.

Temperance, which would lead to Prohibition in 1920, was a nationwide issue constantly in the news. Locally, the Townsman front page often included such items as Frank Cotter being arrested for drunkenness and “sent to Bridgewater the next day”; a mechanic at the Tyer factory “was arrested for drunkenness as he was found asleep on the lawn in the center of town. No charges were brought.” A bigger news story was about a riot of 25 to 30 drunken Abbott Village men returning to Andover on the last Saturday night trolley from Lawrence. They were rowdy and insulting to many people around them and several attacked Andover police officer Napier, who had his nose broken. Temperance was even mentioned in advertisements with the Commonwealth Hotel, opposite the State House, noting it was “Strictly a Temperance Hotel.”

Another transcending issue was woman’s suffrage, and although the Nineteenth Amendment giving women the vote wasn’t passed until 1919, the Townsman noted that women in Sweden gained suffrage in 1912.

Although the electric light and telephones were becoming more common, most homes in Andover were still without them. The Merrimack Insurance Co., located in the bank building, advertised, “to prevent fires use brackets to keep curtains from gas flames and use globes over the flames as protection from fire.” Telephones were catching on a bit more quickly than electric lights, and the value of business telephones was advertised by New England Telephone and Telegraph Company: “Every Bell telephone is a long distance station.”

Radios were nonexistent and the TV was decades away, although important news was spread by telegrams and telephones. Moving pictures (silent films with a live piano providing some sound) were beginning to get noticed, and one news story mentioned the ingenious methods used to provide “startling effects” in movies.

So what did people do for recreation? Whist, bowling, football, soccer, baseball, and Phillips Academy and Punchard sports were covered heavily in the Andover Townsman. Phillips Academy particularly received a lot of coverage, probably because the editor and publisher of the Townsman, John N. Cole, owned the Andover Press, which received work from PA, and he also owned the Andover Bookstore, from which Phillips Academy purchased its textbooks.

To bolster its football teams, large prep schools in those days competed to get the best high school athletes by giving them full scholarships to attend their school as post graduates. My uncle and namesake was one of those athletes. In 1911, Phillips Andover gave a post graduate scholarship to Eddie Mahan, one of the greatest football players in the country. The Andover-Exeter game that year had 8,500 people in attendance at Exeter Academy. Trains took many people from Andover to the game, and they weren’t disappointed as Mahan ran all over the field and Andover won. However, upon returning to town many people lined Main Street to watch the celebration of Phillips boys march by, but they never did because the school told them not to parade down Main Street. This caused a great deal of consternation by townspeople, some of whom, including the above mentioned Mr. Rhodes, wrote letters to the Townsman. Eddie Mahan would become an All-American football player at Harvard for three years as well as being captain in his senior year. Harvard and other Ivy League Schools were national football powers.

Andover was becoming more aware of its historic past, and Dr. Charles E. Abbott talked about “old time customs” to the newly formed Andover Historical Society, which he founded.

The General William F. Bartlett post 99 moved to the Musgrove building, and the General William F. Bartlett Relief Corps held a Halloween party. (General Bartlett, one of Massachusetts’ most revered Civil War heroes, commanded many Andover men and died shortly after the war from wounds suffered from it. Bartlett Street was named for him, although, over time, the last T was inexplicably dropped from the street’s name, a matter the selectmen have had an opportunity to correct but have not.)

Medicinal matters were unregulated and many medicines, which didn’t require prescriptions, contained codeine or enough alcohol to allow the patients to think they were feeling better. A new procedure for reversing infantile paralysis (polio) involved drilling a hole in the patient’s skull and injecting urotropin, which was formed by ammonia and formaldehyde, into the brain. This procedure was soon abandoned.

Apparently freckle-faced girls were unpopular for some odd reason, because druggist W. A. Allen advertised Wilson’s Freckle Cream for freckled girls.

Small wars in Europe were in the news and parts of that continent were a pressure cooker about to blow its top, and when it finally blew it blew big in the form of World War I, starting in 1914. It would last more than five years and include the United States and many Andover townspeople in its last two years. To make things worse, the 1918-1919 Spanish Flu pandemic killed 50 million people world-wide, including some from Andover.

A hundred years ago, Andover and much of the world was on the cusp of great changes, many of them for the worst.

Bill Dalton writes a weekly column for the Andover Townsman. His email address is