My Andover Town Meeting


By Sandy Stiassni

Sandy Stiassni July 2012 by Lou Delgado

Sandy Stiassni writes from California.

remember Andover Town Meeting well, from my long-ago childhood. Now 58 years old, I last attended Town Meeting in March 1961.

My grandparents Ernst and Margaret Stiassni owned Hill Top Farm in Andover. Located on a rugged land assembly of rolling hills, pastures and valleys, it had been discovered by Ernst’s older brother Rudolf in the 1930s. Traveling New England, he’d fallen in love with its spectacular views, which must have achingly reminded him of his native Moravia.

Perhaps he sensed this bucolic, peaceful place, far away from his homeland’s gathering political, ethnic storms, might make a nice home. With not much more thought, Rudolf next went down to Andover’s Town Hall and forthwith acquired title to several thousand acres. Hill Top Farm became our family’s first refuge in the New World.

Over the years, as Rudolf’s agricultural interests waned, his brother’s grew; Hill Top Farm became a tip-top dairy operation under Ernst’s steady, disciplined hand. A disastrous fire in the 1950s destroyed the main barn, which was rebuilt. An elegant manor house, constructed by a wealthy Wall Street financier, was refurbished. And this little corner of Vermont became center for immigrant Stiassni family, which by 1961 numbered around 15.

Ernst and Margaret divided their time between Manhattan and Andover. Memorial Day to Columbus Day was their habitual Vermont time. But as a large property owner in this civic subdivision of Chester, Ernst never missed a March Town Meeting.

I’m unsure why I was summoned as sole companion on this March visit. Four- and one-half years old, my conversation was still sub-par, skill to read road trip maps or dole-out snacks mediocre, ability to pump gas or change a flat tire non-existent. I suspect Ernst may have seen troubling signs within me of his brother’s penchant for breathtaking panoramas. A little indoctrination, he may have thought, on the virtues of thrift, hard work and attention to detail might turn me from such flights of poetic fancy.

I don’t remember these man-to-man talks, but I vividly recall my first — and only — Andover Town Meeting. Held where the present-day meeting probably still takes place, it was a newly built structure, with a solid red brick exterior and neatly plastered alabaster interior. All 250 Andover residents appeared to be present; farmers, repairmen, gas station attendants, mechanics, school bus drivers, loggers, saw millers, their wives and children.

Women busied themselves with laying out mouth-watering foods: Roasted chicken, beef and ham, vegetables of every possible variety, home-baked breads, cakes, cookies and maple sugar treats of an almost infinite variety were served. Let’s not forget, all the fresh milk in the world to drink was included. Just a young boy, I’d been succored on the best Viennese cuisine, and knew a good meal from a bad one, and this was stupendous.

I can remember Grandmother Margaret’s lovely impressionist floral and landscape paintings that hung in Meeting Hall; a few residents told me how proud they were of them. Several now grace my walls in Southern California, poignant reminders of our family’s affection for Andover’s radiant beauty.

Prior to meeting, I observed what I now know to be informal back-porch politics; in small huddles, agendas were checked, candidates vetted, votes gently wheedled. Children played their own held consensus-generating referendums of Candy Land and skittles.

It’s hard to know what my grandfather thought of these goings-on. With courtly European manners, Ernst clearly stood out from his homespun neighbors; he was one of them, but not of them. He may have reflected upon his former Czechoslovakian life; how vitally important it was to openly convene as citizens, how quickly things can change, how lucky he was to have had another chance to live life freely and productively.

Memory of the actual Town Meeting has melted into a blur of long held memories of that day; quorum, reading of last year’s meeting, budget, financial reports, proposals for new levies, and election of new select members. What I distinctly remember, and have carried forward, is the vital prominence these proceedings gave to each community member. A mere tyke, I felt I was an intrinsic part of the process.

In five decades between Saturday’s Town Meeting and the one I attended, much in Andover has changed. I’m sure my grandfather, who once ran a large textile industrial enterprise, would marvel over current efforts to promote alternative energy sources, and also like Andover’s continued dedication to the quality of its residents’ lives, in allocations for Whiting Library, fire and ambulance service, parks and recreation.

But what was witnessed through observant eyes of a young boy hasn’t changed: In Andover’s annual Town Meeting, there’s a continuing strong message about the sacrosanct nature of everything; every dime, each strand of bailing wire, all to-be-repaired stone walls knocked down after a hard winter’s plowing, matters.

Sandy Stiassni spent childhood summers in Chester on his grandparents’ farm. These days, in Irvine , CA , the largest master-planned community in the country, he collects rent, unstops clogged toilets, does grassroots advocacy and makes prophesies about a better world, soon to come. Sandy is a founding member of Transition Irvine, part of the global Transition Town movement, to help local citizens prepare for a Post-Peak Oil world full of uncertainty. He can be reached at

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