Don’t miss out on this town’s progressive ideas and benchmark of Black history
The restored railway station at Potter Place is a good way to begin a visit to Andover. The railroad line connecting Concord to White River Junction opened in 1848, and the station was built in 1874 to accommodate the increasing number of tourists bound for New London and the lake resorts.
The Andover Historical Society maintains the station, filled with displays of railroad artifacts and equipment, and outside stands Caboose CV-4030, an equally well-restored caboose from the Central Vermont railroad. Across the road is the 1912 J.C. Emons General Store and Post Office, a museum displaying the town’s original post office, bank of mailboxes and store fixtures.
Other Historical Society exhibits speak of life in the 19th century when the railroad still operated. Antiques and vintage items are sold from the Freight Shed to benefit the society’s continuing work. Society volunteers offer a fountain of information about Potter Place and the family for which it was named.
A Black Heritage Trail plaque at the station gives the bare facts: Richard Potter was a celebrity ventriloquist and magician, a Black man who performed all over the country at a time when free Black people were being kidnapped and sold. He was, according to John Hodgson, author of “Richard Potter: America’s First Black Celebrity,” the most widely known entertainer of his time. (The book is sold at the small gift shop in the J.C. Emons General Store.)
In 1811, Potter built an impressive home in Andover — a town where he had performed and been welcomed. The neighborhood became known as Potter Place. He and his wife, Sally, are buried opposite the rail station. Behind their memorial stones is a depression that, on further investigation, reveals a beautiful sunken garden planted inside the cellar hole of the Potters’ house. A nearby state historical marker describes Potter as a “19th-century master of the Black arts.”
The station is a good place to access the Northern Rail Trail, which runs through Andover from Highland Lake to Potter Place. About halfway between Potter Place and the center of Andover, the shaded, smooth-surfaced trail crosses the Blackwater River on a trestle bridge that’s adjacent to the Keniston Covered Bridge. Andover’s second covered bridge, the Cilleyville Covered Bridge, is on Johnson Lane off Route 11.
The Andover Historical Society is a busy group, sponsoring an Old Time Fair on the first Sunday of each August. The event features a flea market, auction, craftspeople, games, antique cars and live entertainment. At the other end of town, on a hill above East Andover, the society maintains the 1837 Tucker Mountain Schoolhouse. Used until 1893, the school still has its original woodstove, desks and benches, which are bolted to the floor. The schoolhouse is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
In the mid-1800s, a group of residents organized to open an academy, which began on the second floor of a church. It thrived until financial difficulties and a smallpox epidemic closed it. The school moved to Wolfeboro, where it became the Wolfeboro Christian Institute — which brings us to John Proctor. The son of a village blacksmith who had made his fortune inventing the threaded wood screw, Proctor returned to Andover as an adult dedicated to building and restoring the town. He helped construct and upkeep town office buildings, homes and stone dams for mills, even erecting the 125-room Proctor House Hotel in the center of the village.
The elegant hotel — along with the town’s railroad, which had a second station in the town center not far from the hotel — put Andover firmly on the map as a destination for up-market tourists. Thus, Proctor turned his attention to restoring Andover’s academy. He paid off the shuttered school’s debts and brought it back from the dead, adding a new dormitory.
With many Proctor House Hotel patrons coming from Boston and Cambridge, Andover built strong connections to both Harvard and the Unitarian Society, whose ideas were popular in town. In 1879 when the Unitarian Church was looking to start a school without “theological dogmatizing and unnatural religious methods,” they acquired the restored school and opened it as Proctor Academy.
Although Proctor’s hotel burned a few years later, the school continued to attract progressives to Andover. One of these, Mary Nettie Chase, was an organizer and frequent speaker for the National American Woman Suffrage Association and president of its New Hampshire Auxiliary from 1901 to 1912. Prior to that, she taught at Proctor Academy, where a sign outside its stone chapel notes the school’s place on the National Votes for Women Trail.
Progressive ideals still prevail at Proctor Academy. The Brown Dining Commons, the “greenest” dining hall at any independent school in New England, features 40 geothermal wells, not to mention solar panels and rain gardens to collect run-off.
The school property is a certified tree farm, with some of the harvested trees used in the woodworking shop included in Proctor’s curriculum, noted for its experiential learning. Other harvested wood heats dorms in the winter. In the late winter, maple trees are tapped and syrup is produced in the school’s student-run sugar house.