Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

February 28, 2013

Dalton column: Billy Wood and the Husseys Pond salmon experiment

Bill Dalton
The Andover Townsman

---- — When F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “The rich are different than you and me,” Ernest Hemingway famously responded, “Yes, they have more money.”

In May 1916, the very rich William Madison Wood had begun to purchase all of Frye Village on his way to creating “Shawsheen,” a planned community for his company’s middle and upper management. One of these early purchases included Husseys Pond, Husseys Brook and a large piece of the shores of Shawsheen River. It was still three years before the actual construction of Shawsheen Village would begin, and Wood was always a man with a plan. So what could he do with Husseys Pond?

Before we begin that discussion, this is a good opportunity to discuss how rich Mr. Wood was. He wasn’t just rich in the conventional sense; he was extremely rich. His salary alone in 1918 was the equivalent of $17 million today. In 1924, he controlled 60 mills and employed 40,000 people. His wealth was so extensive that it was beyond the imagination of most people. He owned three mansions, but “Arden,” in Andover was his home. From there, he watched Shawsheen Village develop. Arden was only 200 or 300 yards from the headquarters of American Woolen Co., which he built on Balmoral Street (now a residential condominium building), and about 500 yards from the new factories.

And what kind of man was he? He was a good man, I believe, a real-life Horatio Alger story: he’d grown from owning nothing to being one of the richest men in the country. Although he was often blamed for the Bread and Roses Strike because he was the largest of the industrialists involved, he is less frequently given credit for the strike’s end, which he brought about in spite of the opposition of the communist-controlled International Workers of the World (IWW), many of whom hung around after the strike’s end to cause intermittent trouble. By the time he retired in 1924, he was beloved by many who worked for him and was called “Billy” to his face.

So, let’s get back to Husseys Pond in 1916. According to a May 1916, Andover Townsman story, the Massachusetts Fish and Game Commission, after several failed attempts to reintroduce salmon into the area, thought they had solved the problem. Working with Mr. Wood, they built a “hatching plant” in the upper section of Husseys. Fifty large pools were constructed, and in those pools were placed a total of 400,000 Royal Chinook salmon eggs brought all the way from Oregon. This plan was different from the failed plans because the salmon would not be released right after hatching; rather, they’d be fed liver for six months until they were four to five inches long. A small shack was built for the man who would oversee the project and prepare the salmon food.

When the time came to release the salmon in the Fall, they’d swim with the current down the Shawsheen River to the Merrimack, then follow the flow of the Merrimack 25 miles to the ocean. Four years later, they were supposed to find their was back to Husseys to spawn. Older town residents, who remembered that salmon were once common in the Merrimack, hoped for success; however, some of those folks remembered that a group in North Andover had tried a similar experiment in 1868 and it had failed when all the salmon were netted out of the water by lower Merrimack fishermen before they got anywhere close to North Andover. The Fish and Game Commission thought they had an answer to this problem since, they said, they controlled all of the Merrimack and would control the netting.

Well, I wish I had a specific ending to this story, but it’s clear that the experiment failed. In the process of building Shawsheen in the early 1920s Husseys Pond was lined with cement and turned into a big swimming pool with lifeguards, and in winters it was used for skating. Years later, it became home for a kids’ fishing derby in the spring. I remember someone mentioning that they remembered a shack being on the shore of the pond, and he wondered if I knew why it was there. I didn’t know then, but I do now.

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