Saturday was a glorious day in Andover for a site tour in Shawsheen Village. Hosted by former New England chapter president and current board member Eric Daum on behalf of ICA&CA in partnership with the New England chapter of the Congress of the New Urbanism, the tour followed up on an introductory lecture last fall at the College Club. Eric is leading an effort to identify infill projects to transform Shawsheen Village into a more dense, more walkable community between downtown Andover and the city of Lawrence just to its north.
The tour was attended by chapter board members Michael Tyrrell, Aaron Helfand and David Brussat, chapter members Fred Atherton, Michael Maloof, and joined by chapter members and CNU members Ivan Bereznicki and his wife Marianna. At the tour’s conclusion we saw a riveting presentation on the history and architecture of Shawsheen Village, and its architectural precedents, by historic preservation consultant Rosemary Battles Foy. Eric plans to bring us all together May 9 for a charette at Albert, Righter & Tittmann Architects’ office to add some meat to the bones of our thoughts, generated during Saturday’s tour, about how to improve Shawsheen.
Many tour members saw for the first time the gracious bones left over from Shawsheen’s short sojourn as a mill village assembled and operated by the American Woolen Co. – the world’s largest manufacturer of woolen textiles – under the benevolent but somewhat control-freakish dictatorship of William Wood. Wood married the boss’s daughter, took over the company, moved its headquarters from New York to Andover, purchased the land around the central square of Shawsheen, razed most of its existing structures, built a new headquarters, a factory and other company structures (including separate dormitories for single males and females), planted vast greenswards, parks and playing fields, rerouted the Shawsheen River (paving the new channel bottom), and built two neighborhoods of housing – not for mill workers as most mill owners do, but for middle and upper managers. The workers traveled daily by trolley from Lawrence. Upper managers walked to work from Brick Shawsheen, with its sumptuous red brick houses, and middle management walked to work from White Shawsheen, more modest homes of white clapboard with forest green shutters. No house having had garage or driveway (most do today), and no cars being permitted to park on the residential streets, family vehicles were stored at the very elegant company garage (which survives) and delivered by valets to the houses of executives needing to use their cars for company or private business.
Guided by Eric, who has lived in White Shawsheen for 14 years, we walked around in slackjawed admiration of the beautiful neo-Georgian buildings of American Woolen in the vicinity of the square. At its center sits a magnificent post office, built in in 1922 and designed for the company by the Boston firm of Adden & Parker. Eric’s opportunistic diligence as a friendly fellow secured us an impromptu peek into the company headquarters building, now a fancy condominium complex. As odd as Shawsheen’s status as a mill village for management is, the survival to this day, largely intact if not always perfectly maintained, of most of William Wood’s buildings.
The usual suburban infill degrades stretches of this once cohesive managers’ paradise, but some of the crudscape and empty parcels can, it is hoped, be redeveloped so as to revive the village’s overall character. The vast devotion of land to open space around the square may be, oddly enough, the greatest challenge to this effort, as the extensive green space makes it difficult to conceive of Shawsheen as a typical, comfortably dense and walkable New Urbanist community.
Difficult but not impossible, as the group hopes it will find when (along with others who wish to join in) it meets next month to brainstorm the matter, sketching out the possibilities of a resurrected Shawsheen Village that might enable the shade of William Wood to stop (as we must imagine) spinning in his grave.