Andover Stories: The Andover Guild – Andover’s First Community Center | Opinion

One hundred years ago in October a show and fair was held at the Old Town Hall to benefit the ‘Andover Guild’. The Guild was one of many clubs, societies and organizations that occupied the people of Andover before television and radio and brought them into contact with other townspeople. A look through nearly every townsman in Andover from the early 1900s through mid-century refers to the Guild. Some in town still remember the Saturday night balls or the bowling alley in the basement.

It is now long gone, but its role as one of the first ‘community centres’ in Andover offers a fascinating story.

The winter of 1894 was one of the greatest financial problems for many Andover families. City officials couldn’t provide the money to help put food on the table. Churches and charities were of some help, but it was a time of national depression. There were no national or state resources to be had. There was also no coordination to get the few resources available to those who needed them.

Andover’s first “Community Center” was necessarily born out of a need to take care of its inhabitants. To this end, a meeting was held at the recently opened November Club on Locke Street. Miss Mary B. Mills spoke of the need for community leaders to support this effort. Phillips priests, pastors and professors have been invited to spread the word around the city to drum up support for this venture.

A “Board of Associated Charities” was constituted in 1896, its primary purpose being to aid “needy cases and relieve” the inhabitants of the town. The Council chose wisely in asking Mrs. Walter B. Allen to lead this effort. Her long experience as the town’s farm matron made her the ideal choice, as she knew the needy in the community and quickly organized volunteers.

Soon other activities began under the auspices of what was to become the Guild. Children from Indian Ridge and Ballardvale schools participated in a “Stamps Saving Society” which aimed to encourage savings. As the charity work widened into other Guild-sponsored activities “it seemed highly desirable to give it a name from which the offensive word charity could be dropped, and after much deliberation it was finally decided to adopt the name Andover Guild”.

With a new name came the need to find a house and land that could truly serve as a community center. William S. Jenkins found cheap land on Brook Street – but still needed to raise funds to construct a building. Well-known and well-heeled women of the city, Mrs. Byers and Mrs. Coburn, generously provided these funds. Jenkins then drew up plans and supervised the construction of the Guild.

When the building opened in December 1896, courses in sewing, cooking and millinery for girls and manual training for boys were offered. There were Mother’s sewing circles, evening classes of all kinds for workers, and Sunday afternoons meetings and gatherings for social purposes. A bowling alley was installed in 1908 at a cost of $460.

During World War I, the Guild served as a gathering place for bandage rolling and other Red Cross sponsored activities.

Over the years, the Guild has continued to offer a host of activities for the city’s youth, such as theatre, bowling and Saturday night dances for teenagers. Swimming lessons, initially for boys, were held at the Phillips Academy pool. Although the Guild no longer exists, I heard that the $460 bowling alley still exists in the basement of this building!

Jill E. Washington