On Tuesday afternoon, Aug. 15, 1923, an automobile accident changed the history of Andover. Killed was William M. Wood Jr., the 30-year-old son and heir apparent of his namesake father’s empire.
William M. Wood Sr. was one of the richest men in the world and the dominant voice in the textile industry. His empire included Shawsheen Village, a community he built.
Wood Jr. was driving his Rolls Royce sedan and killed with him in the front seat was his good friend, World War I hero Major Alexander Gardner of North Andover. Both men’s wives were summering in Kennebunkport. In the back seat was another friend, who was thrown from the car, suffering only fractured ribs.
According to eyewitnesses, Wood’s car was driven at a high rate of speed, and he may have been racing a Stutz Motor Car, known for speed and performance. Both vehicles were headed towards Andover on the Reading-Andover Road (Route 28) and were less than a half-mile outside of Reading’s center.
The two automobiles were side by side with one passing the other. Wood’s car clipped a smaller car going in the same direction, knocking it off the road. Losing control of the Rolls Royce, Wood struck an oncoming vehicle and caromed into a telegraph pole, splintering it. Major Gardner was crushed between the Rolls and the telegraph pole and Wood was crushed against his steering wheel. Both died almost at once. All other people in the accident survived with injuries not too serious.
The roof of Wood’s car was torn off, which allowed the backseat passenger to be thrown clear. The doors were ripped off, and the wheels, lights, and mudguards were reduced to a pile of junk. The crash was heard several hundred yards away in all directions and a large crowd gathered.