Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

November 28, 2013

An artist's view of downtown Andover, circa 1909

Bill Dalton
The Andover Townsman

---- — My Aunt Frances was an artist all her student and adult life and described things with an artist’s eye.

In 1907, her recently widowed mother moved Frances and her three older brothers from Amesbury to Andover in order to buy the Metropolitan Bakery. It had a soda fountain and became a place where local children congregated.

Young Frances painted a mental picture of the downtown that she retained for over 50 years until writing it down. (She died in 1989.)

Here is her description of the town’s center shortly before the Barnard Building was built on the corner of Main and Park in 1910. I transcribed her writing with parenthesis added for clarity:

“Andover was a beautiful small town when we moved here. Main Street was lined with tall, imposing wineglass elm trees. Elm Square, with these giant gifts of nature everywhere, made a lovely approach, from Lawrence, to the business section of town. On the right was the town library, with a beautiful, wrought-iron fence and a watering trough for horses. However, the cobblestone street had been invaded by the trolley cars and their tracks.

Small shops with well-dressed windows greeted you. The street was lighted at night with the soft glow of carbon lights (gas light). I remember the streetlights more clearly during winter time, when the snow fell softly along Main Street accompanied by the musical sounds of the horses’ trot and the sleighs. Everything had a mellow quality about it. When it was clear out, you could look up and see the stars because the carbon lights glowed so gently.

Early mornings, the sun cast long shadows from the buildings on the left (east) side of Main Street. The business section ended with the Press Building where John N. Cole published the Andover Townsman (northeast corner of Main and Chestnut streets). My mother’s shop was located just about in the center of the business section (on the east side of Main Street).

Across the street were two, much-smaller shops. A wooden platform approached them. On the right was Miss Sarah Riley’s seamstress shop. There was a little bell over her door that tingled and announced your entry. The shop was inside and outside like something from Charles Dickens’ England. Miss Riley was a tiny woman, like my mother, only older and rather plump with gray hair combed high on her head. I used to love to watch her make buttons for the dresses she made. In those days, buttons were very beautiful and fashioned after the imagination of their maker.

(Note: I checked with Jim Batchelder, who is working on the history of Andover’s downtown. Jim was a protégé of my Aunt Frances, became an artist himself and eventually took over the job my aunt had held as the head of the Andover High School Art Department. Jim said, “This makes perfect sense to me. She always told us, “I want to teach you how to see,” and she could do it with her pen as well as her brush. The little shop she describes was the Fleur-de-Lis. It was where Michael Jays’ store later was. The new brick front was added on in the 1940s, which is where the wood platform would have been.”)

On the left of Miss Riley’s shop was Mr. Brown’s shop. His was the only shoe shop in town, and he sold fine quality shoes. Here the business section ended on that side. The large Swift House, barn and property extended to Chestnut Street and down Chestnut Street to the little Rose Cottage. A very high fence surrounded the estate. I remember so well the strange tan color of the house, barn and fence. At the corner of Chestnut and Main (where the Gulf station now exists), they owned a large open-fenced field where they put their beautiful horses. This was exactly opposite the Richardson House, where we were eventually to live. How my hungry heart longed for one of those beautiful horses, and I used to daydream and think that if only my father had lived that I, too, would have a field of horses.”

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Jim Batchelder is one of the individuals featured in the recently released “Legendary Locals of Andover,” written by Bill and Katharine Dalton. Bill’s column appears frequently in the Andover Townsman and his email address is

BillDalton@AndoverTownie.com.