Andover Townsman, Andover, MA


February 21, 2013

Dalton column: Launching of William Ballard

In July 1916, Andover was treated to an event the likes of which has not been seen before or since on the Shawsheen River: the launching of a 30-passenger, 25-foot-long powerboat that had a beam of eight feet and a draft of only 4 inches, meaning it could operate in very shallow water.

There were two accounts of this event in the Andover Townsman, one written by a member of both the Ballard and Abbot families, who called the river by its more ancient spelling “Shawshin.” She signed her account of the event with letters C.H.A., and she was the preeminent Andover historian and genealogist of her day, Miss Charlotte Helen Abbot. Her description, which is more poetry than prose, described how the bits and pieces of the boat were carried to the river from a shop owned by Allan F. Abbot, one of her relatives.

So let’s go back to what C.H.A. wrote: “The energy without profanity of the stern faces, the skill combined with horses and man that launched cart and boat all at once, then sorted out the pieces... was vastly entertaining to a limited, feeble, anti-suffragetist.” The writer described the beauty of the first trip on the boat, saying it offered the “...finest view of Abbot’s Bridge, the sky, the trees, the daisies, the cheering, waving, freight train employees... the small doggie that was under everybody’s feet without getting crushed...the canoes along the edging of the river, the lasses on the wharf who cheered, all went into a movie that remains.”

The idea that there was a movie of the event is fascinating, although without preservation the almost-100-year-old film must be beyond repair. The famously strong-willed and stately Charlotte Helen Abbot was one of the prime movers of the Andover Historical Society, which was still an infant when the movie was made. And yet, one wonders where the movie is and whether anyone thought to preserve it. Surely, Charlotte Helen Abbot, who was a one-person historical society before the Andover Historical Society existed, would have known its whereabouts and may have demanded the movie be owned by the Society.

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