His plan was to construct an attractive 50-acre garden cemetery complete with a chapel in a rural patch of then woodsy Andover. Visitors would be able to pray and remember loved ones peacefully because his master plan called for the cemetery chapel to be quietly set back from the main road.
One hundred years ago this year, William M. Wood, the president of the American Woolen Company, paid for and built what may be one of the most tranquil spots in town: the secluded chapel at West Parish cemetery, reachable off Route 133.
Andover has grown tremendously with more people and roads and development since Wood imagined the place. But, the chapel at West Parish remains close to those reflective, refuge roots.
"He (Wood) wanted a historical chapel, one that would last for years to come. So, everything we do regarding the chapel has us thinking, 'What will this be like in 100 years?'" said Lynne Capozzi, chairwoman of the seven-member volunteer board that takes care of the chapel and cemetery with grounds superintendent Mark Atwood.
"The chapel is so special, so beautifully constructed," added Preservation Commission Chairwoman Karen Herman. "The Tiffany windows, the reflective pond..."
Herman lists the chapel as one of her favorite preserved spots in town. In fact, her niece was married there.
"It's uncommon for a community to have such a treasure," Herman added.
But more than 10 years ago, the treasure had fallen into disrepair. Donations from a Friends group and a grant from the Massachusetts Historic Commission totaling about $500,000 saved the chapel. Led by longtime volunteer Gwen Hedrick, it was gloriously restored in 1998. Now, the chapel is considered the crown jewel of the West Parish Center National Historic District. Herman said the church is the oldest in town.
At least 12 couples get married at the chapel each year, while wedding vows have also been renewed there.
The acoustics are legendary as the inside stone and high ceilings offer a good setting for musical performers.
"They come once and they always want to come back," Capozzi said.
A band rented the chapel for three days this week for recording purposes.
There's no loud, big birthday bash planned for the chapel's 100th birthday celebration. Rather, the birthday mood is simply elegant with a jazz band appearing at a Sept. 20 birthday event. The event will be free and open to the public.
Sounds like that's just the way William Wood, best known for creating the planned village of Shawsheen for his company's managers, would have wanted it. He is, of course, buried at the cemetery.
Built in 1909 by William M. Wood, President, American Woolen Company
Surrounding cemetery was established 200 years earlier
Designed by architect and Andover native George C. Shattuck
Made of native stone from a small quarry on nearby Cutler Road
Two angels are carved above the entrance, each holding a book and a scroll
"I will swallow up death +++" is inscribed inside on wall panels
20 pews, seats 120
Windows were made by Tiffany Studios in New York
12 to 20 marriages are performed there each year
Open to all denominations
Source: Board of Directors, the Chapel at West Parish