In 2007, before he died, Albert H. Reed gave me a wonderful description of Andover when he was growing up. He was born in the "America House" in 1922 and his first bed was a dresser drawer. From the America House, Al's parents, Albert Sr. and Mildred C. (Abbott) Reed, moved family to Cuba Street across from the Indian Ridge School, then, in 1931, to Argilla Road, where they had six rooms and 11 children. Al's father was a sexton at Christ Church who made extra money by digging graves and checking the furnace during the winter. One of Albert's early memories was swinging up and down in the belfry as his father pulled the rope to ring the bell.
Al described the house on Argilla Road: "In the winter, two rooms were heated by wood burning stoves, three rooms by fireplaces. The upstairs bedroom was heated by having a 12-inch vent above a downstairs fireplace. We used a hand pump to get the water from a well in the yard and were brought up using the old outhouse. Saturday night, my mother would heat water on the stove in the kitchen, then get out the galvanized laundry tub, and we would sit in the middle of the kitchen floor to bath. When we all had our baths, our kitchen was just like a skating rate. We could not wait for the weather to be warm enough so we could go down to the Shawsheen River to a place we called the 'Clay Hole' to take our baths." [The Clay Hole, also called the "Clay Pit," is less than 200 yards Southwest of the Central Street "Horn Bridge."]
Al's favorite story about the Clay Hole involves his leading a group of boys running as fast as they could to see who could get to the water first, and as they were running they were shedding clothes so they were naked by the time they got to the river bank. Al said, "As I was making my jump into the river, I looked down, and there were six girls using our sacred spot. They were also in the nude, and I almost killed myself trying to stop and get back to the river bank. The girls were students of Abbot Academy. We were good kids, and we backed off quite a bit to let the girls get dressed while we did the same."
A number of Mr. Reed's relatives still live in Andover, and he thinks a few people still may remember his grandfather, Freeman Abbott, who lived at the corner of Lovejoy and Dascomb roads. He owned land on both sides of Dascomb Road at least halfway to Lowell Street. He loaded a horse-drawn wagon with produce and drove to the market in Boston before dawn. All the way home he slept in the wagon, because the horses knew the way home. The same horses and a wooden plow cleared the area roads of snow in the winter, and when Al was 14 or so he'd drive a horse and plow to clear the sidewalks in Ballardvale.
Not far from the Reeds' home, Colombo Yogurt was born. Al said, "At the joining of Argilla and Blood roads lived the Colombo family, who made all types of Armenian cheeses and yogurt. Rose and her husband, Sarkis (Sam), were the first people in our country to make yogurt commercially." Colombo is short for Colombosian. The family moved to Andover in the 1920s and started the business in 1929. It was sold to General Mills in the early 1990s.
Independence Days in the 1930s were busy. Al said, "The celebration in Ballardvale started at midnight the night before with a big bonfire at the corner of Woburn and Andover streets. By the time we got home it was three or four in the morning. By 10 in the morning we would get back to the 'Vale for a big parade and all kinds of contests such as seeing who could gobble down a blueberry pie with his hands tied behind his back. Then we went to the Shawsheen River for more contests such as two-person canoe matches. There would be two canoes involved in each contest. The man in the back had to paddle. The person in front had a very long pole with a bundle of rags on it. He had to stand up and knock over the person in the other canoe. Another contest was to cover a pig with lard and put it in the river and see who could catch it. Most times the pig won."
During much of Al Reed's youth he looked for ways to make money. It was the Depression and jobs, even small jobs, were hard to find. He said, "I was 8 when my grandfather Freeman Abbott told me it was time I should be hand-milking cows. One of my grandfather's sayings was, 'If unemployed, take any job you can get, because a half loaf of bread is better than no bread at all.'" Albert described another job he took as a boy: "I cut ice and was paid 10 cents an hour. My first job was riding a horse pulling ice up a ramp to fill the icehouse. After a couple of years I cut the ice into blocks, which was stored in the icehouse for sale to homes. We cut the ice on the flat of the Shawsheen River, an area to the side of the river's flow, located south of the Clay Pit." The Great Depression and World War II halted Mr. Reed's education, and he regretted never finishing high school. In 1938 he joined the Civilian Conservation Corps, and was paid $30 a month. He sent $22 home to help his parents. In 1941, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy for six years.
Mr. Reed closed his emails with this story: "One of my best memories was while I was in the Navy. I was home on leave when Andover was celebrating its 300th anniversary [in 1946]. There was a large parade. Everyone, especially my brothers and sisters, wanted to see me in the parade. I took my place in line. There I was marching along Main Street. I looked at my mom and dad standing on the curb in front of Dalton's Pharmacy. She ran into the street with tears running from her eyes to give me a big hug. She was so proud of me, her son, as were all the folks in Andover. The town will be forever in my memories."
Bill Dalton writes a weekly column for the Andover Townsman. His email address in BillDalton@AndoverTownie.com. The above column draws from two columns written in 2007.