Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

November 22, 2012

Dalton column: Town's best historian

Bill Dalton
The Andover Townsman

---- — In 1912, the Andover Townsman ran a short piece about a young man, Claude M. Fuess, who, based on one book written in the latter stage of his life, would become Andover’s best historian. His doctoral thesis was published by the Columbia University Press, and Phillips Academy had a copy for its library because Dr. Fuess, already well-known in Andover, had been teaching at PA since 1908. He called Andover his adopted home, yet had ancestors who were part of its ancient history.

He was a modest man and most considerate. When he was late writing his history of Andover, which was supposed to be done for the town’s tercentennial in 1946, he said, “...circumstances of the author’s life [and] other commitments and some disasters...” interfered with its completion; but he still took pains explaining that the delay was inexcusable. The book came out in 1959 and was worth the wait (”Andover, a Symbol of New England,” The Atheneum Press, Portland, Maine, sponsored by the Andover and North Andover Historical Societies). Dr. Fuess died four years after its publication, and there are hints in his introduction that he was unwell while writing the book.

Dr. Fuess was an accomplished, prolific writer, and his oeuvre includes biographies of Calvin Coolidge and Daniel Webster as well as several books about Amherst College. He worked on, but did not complete, a biography of Alfred Stearns, a former headmaster of PA and president of Amherst College. Stearns died in 1939 and his family discontinued the biography.

Fuess was born in Waterville, N.Y., in 1885, and received both his master’s (1906) and doctorate (1912) from Columbia University. He taught English at Phillips from 1908 until 1933, the year he became headmaster, and served in that job until 1957, when John Kemper took over the responsibilities. Dr. Fuess became headmaster emeritus, a job that likely allowed him the time needed to finish the town’s history.

I never met Dr. Fuess, (his name is pronounced “Feese”), and, although my Dad and John Kemper were good friends, Fuess and my Dad hardly knew each other, so I can offer no grand insights into the man; however, as a person who reads Andover histories as much as I do, it is always a pleasure to open Fuess’ book. I can’t bubble quite so effervescently for Sarah Loring Bailey’s book, although it is a work of such infinite detail that it has to be praised for that alone. Her book, to me, is a fine reference rather than an interesting history (Historical Sketches of Andover, Massachusetts, Houghton, Mifflin & Co, 1880).

To Bailey’s credit, her book started off with the modest title - “Historical Sketches of Andover, Massachusetts - but, like many writers, she expanded her script, and that may have ended up being to our advantage, especially when it comes to the scholarly details of early Andover. However, we should always remember that Bailey was a North Andover resident, albeit with relatives all around, and, of course, Andover and North Andover had finally completed their separation in 1856, only 24 years before Bailey’s publication.

Claude Fuess, an experienced writer, was able to organize his book in a manner that made it most readable. One only has to look at his table of contents to understand this. Among the first 10 are chapter titles such as: The Great Andover Witch Hunt; The Great Andover Schism; Frontier War with the Indians; and Andover’s Anne Bradstreet, Puritan Poet.

You’ll have to go to the library or historical society to locate a copy, but, if you are interested in Andover history, you should find one.

I would be remiss not mentioning another broad-scoped, fine Andover history book, written also by an accomplished writer, Juliet Haines Mofford. Her book’s title - “Andover, Massachusetts, Historical Selections from Four Centuries,” (Merrimack Valley Preservation Press, 2004) is similar to Sarah Loring Bailey’s title, but Mofford’s book, like Fuess’s, is also more interesting than Bailey’s if you include the pleasure of reading as a critical criterion. Further to Mofford’s credits can be added her book, “AVIS, a History in Conservation” (Andover Village Improvement Society, 1980), a delightful resource for those of us interested in the preservation and conservation of Andover’s beauty. Andover has been fortunate to have so many fine history books, including those by Joan Silva Patrakis, Eleanor Motley Richardson, and Colonel Edward Harris, to give only a partial list.

Bill Dalton writes a weekly column for the Andover Townsman. His email address is BillDalton@AndoverTownie.com.