The date was December, 1991. Driving north on Route 495, glancing over toward Andover’s Shawsheen area, a sight like no other glowed in the distance: a lighted Christmas tree rising majestically from Brickstone Square. I had to go see it up close.
I worked my way through the streets, turned into the parking lot, and parked my car. I can only describe the feeling as pure magic as I stood on the ground and looked up at nearly 100 feet of lights and ornaments.
For residents who never experienced this breathtaking sight, and for those who might want to re-live it, here is that Christmas tree’s story and how it grew into an annual tradition for 15 years.
The tree display began modestly and without too much fanfare in 1990, a collaboration of Marty Spagat of Brickstone Properties and company landscaper Mark Donohoe. That first year presented a 53-foot, 60-year-old Douglas fir that was bought from an area nursery, taking four workers about 150 hours to light and decorate.
The following year the search for the perfect tree took on an environmental twist, with Mr. Donohoe scoping out not only “the biggest tree” but one that was “a danger to its property.” Flying in an airplane a tree was spotted in Hampton Falls and the owner, Sue Ennabe, who otherwise would have had to pay to cut it down, was happy to have her tree become “the largest cut Christmas tree in the state.”
Fifteen thousand lights later, Mrs. Ennabe came to Andover to see “her” tree with her granddaughter, exclaiming “I don’t think there’s ever been a tree this beautiful.” Mr. Spagat agreed, calling the tree “mesmerizing,” saying “it’s like watching fire.”
By 1992, the Brickstone tree had “grown” into “the nation’s tallest.” The 93-foot Norway Spruce was 45 feet in diameter and weighed 15 tons, set up by an 80-ton crane. It was taller than the tree at Boston’s Prudential (45 feet), Walt Disney World (65 feet), the White House (75 feet), and even New York’s Rockefeller Center (85 feet).
The celebration had also grown.
That year Tom Bergeron, WBZ television personality, served as Master of Ceremonies and flipped the switch to turn on the 15,000 strung lights that illuminated 200 silver bulbs and 600 red bells and bows.
Co-sponsored by Brickstone tenant Marshall’s, Santa arrived and carols were sung. Toys were collected for the U.S. Marine Corps’ “Toys for Tots.”
As the popularity grew, the Brickstone tree went on everyone’s Christmas “must see” list. Added at the base of the tree were giant illuminated presents and an 11-foot sleigh. A 24-foot wreath adorned the Brickstone building.
Added to the festivities was Santa’s Village, with a petting zoo, carousel and a ride-on train for the kids. Hot chocolate and cookies were served. Chainsaw artist Hal MacIntosh carved wooden Christmas figures from the trunk of the previous year’s tree.
Couples even got engaged under the tree!
The tallest Brickstone Christmas tree topped out at 100 feet, 50 feet in diameter, and 30,000 lights. York Street residents probably planned their comings and goings around the steady stream of cars!
Sadly, by 1994, with a new management company and with renewed environmental and financial concerns, plans changed. At Brickstone Square, a 40-foot tree was bought and planted. The branches weren’t strong enough to hold ornaments, and hesitating to cause Andover to lose their Christmas tree bragging rights, Mr. Spagat arranged for a 95-foot tree to be brought to Minuteman Park, visible along Interstate 93.
But somehow it wasn’t the same as standing under the Brickstone tree.
If I could have one wish this Christmas, I wish that the Christmas tree tradition could be brought back to Brickstone! Please, Santa!! I’ll be good – I promise!!!
Word Count: 623
Images: Nation’s Largest Tree at Brickstone in Shawsheen (courtesy Andover Historical
#1 – Tree Lighting was an Annual Event; #2 – the Tree during the day.
(NOTE: Over the years, the newspaper photographer has taken many images of the tree
that have appeared in The Townsman. Perhaps you have some on file you prefer??????)