Left in Andover: Between Chester and home

By Susan Leader
©2020 Telegraph Publishing LLC

As a child in the 1950s, I developed my home town identity attending Peaseville School in Andover. The other kids and families who lived scattered among the surrounding hills were my world. Their names, faces and home places are forever etched in my brain like points on a GPS.

My children, on the other hand, having attended Chester-Andover Elementary School, feel a much stronger bond with Chester. This is what changes when a town closes its schools and becomes part of a hyphenated word.

Miriam and Herb Leader, Susan’s parents, ready to set out hitchhiking from Popplewood in 1979.

Whether negotiated by foot, horse and buggy, jalopy or luxury SUV, in good weather or bad, Andoverians have over and over earned bragging rights to our very own 5 to 8 miles over the Chester town line.

One summer afternoon in the late 1970s, my parents hitchhiked up the interstate from Massachusetts, arriving in Chester around dusk. But a last essential ride up to Andover never materialized. They spent the night on a dewy park bench, rewarding themselves in the morning with fresh sticky buns from Baba a Louis Bakery, then located on the Green. After some friendly ribbing from Ruthie, the gregarious proprietor, a passerby gave them a lift the rest of the way home.

Sticky, stiff and a bit crumpled, my mother sunk down on her front porch glider at Popplewood, ready to swear off hitchhiking for good.

Outdoor tables facing the village Green made Baba a Louis’s an attractive rendezvous for my family, drivers and hitchhikers alike. If my brother was up at the farm, my parents could usually bribe him with Baba a Louis apple squares to come pick them up in his Rambler.

Susan, seated right, and family rendezvous at the original Baba a Louis Bakery at outside tables on the Chester Green in 1979.

The Local History of Andover, Vt, 1866, part of Abby Maria Hemenway’s statewide ethnography, recorded the tribulations of John French, an original settler of Andover, searching for food to feed his wife Rebecca and their children in the 1770s:

“At one time, I and my wife and two children were almost in a starving condition, when I started for Chester in search of provisions.” Having rustled up a half bushel of corn and 4 quarts of beans, half of which were inedible due to frost bite, French headed back to Andover:

“When I was about seven or eight miles from home, I found another man that let me have 12 pounds of pork, which I took very gladly and added to my load, but when I had gotten within about 2 miles of home, I laid down as I thought to die, twice before reaching home, but each time after resting for awhile, remembering my hungry family … I arose up and struggled on until I reached my door. It was some time in the night; the children, who had not had breakfast, dinner or supper, had cried themselves to sleep … wife started a fire and baked a cake without sifting the meal. When the cake was baked, we awoke the children and gave them some for fear they might die before morning.” The French homestead was located south of present day Oehl’s Road off Route 11.

The owners of the former Baba a Louis Bakery today, from left, John McLure and Ruthie Zezza.

One-hundred and fifty years later, though blessed with a gasoline powered car, Eric Lundberg barely made it home to Andover from Chester one bitterly cold winter night. In the 1930s, this prominent antiquarian book dealer and publisher settled near the bottom of Finn Hill with his adventurous wife Vera.

A desirable lot of books having come up for sale in Springfield, Mass., Vera stayed home alone “AND SUFFERED INSTEAD” of incurring the extra expenses involved in tagging along on her husband’s business trip. He had decided to take the train because of the terrible weather.

In her good humored account of her time in Andover, this Manhattanite turned Vermont
“Uphiller” detailed how she became so terrified of starting a chimney fire, she let one of her stoves go out, and the temperature inside the house plunged to 5 degrees below zero. She found this preferable to dealing with her imagination, which had her believing the stove would surely “EXPLODE OR BURN THE HOUSE DOWN.”

Two David Howard gravestones at North Windham Cemetery.

Vera survived until “Eric got home that night about 1:30 a.m. with his own tale of horrors:”

“He left his car at Heinie’s in Chester and most of (if not all) the anti-freeze leaked out and it was congealing when he started for home. He thought he could thaw it out but the water kept boiling away and all the way from Chester here he kept jumping out and running down to the brook with a little tin can (at 10 below) and filling the radiator … seven trips in all to the brook. He took off his overcoat and put that on the head and finally got sufficiently thawed. He was plenty worried that he’d get stuck and have to abandon it. SO WE WERE VERY GLAD TO SEE EACH OTHER.”

Whether his overcoat was put on Eric’s head or the head of the car, and which one of them was sufficiently thawed, I cannot decipher from my copy of this harrowing account. I do not know if Vera Lundberg was familiar with Abby Maria Hemenway, but surely the latter would have appreciated this modern day woman with pioneer spirit.

Occasionally, the winds blew the opposite way. Abby, ever alert for big-town little-town social dynamics, preserved the following Andover-Chester story:

“David Howard was a hard-working, shrewd, money-making farmer. He once carried some quarters of veal to Chester street to sell. While disposing of his veal, a citizen of that village, who held rather high notions of the place, said to him, “Well, Chester is quite a Boston for you Andover people.”

Rebecca French, wife of John French, is buried in North Windham Cemetery.

“Yes,” retorted Howard, “if we have a calf die of the murrain, we dress it and bring it down here and you are glad to buy it.”

I enjoyed my expedition to beautiful North Windham Cemetery on Popple Dungeon Road looking for the gravestones of Rebecca French and David Howard. Both are purported buried there. I found two David Howards, clearly related. I would not be able to say which was he of the veal.

John French’s wife Rebecca survived well into her 70s. She is not buried with other family members, which would make it easier to confirm her inscription. I found only one Rebecca in the whole cemetery, so it may well be her, but I am by no means certain.

These local cemeteries represent our common Vermont history, transcending all town lines. It is disturbing to see how eroded many of the older graves are, making the epitaphs almost impossible to decipher.

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Filed Under: Community and Arts LifeLeft in Andover

About the Author: Vermont native and noted potter Susan Leader grew up on Popplewood Farm in Andover. At age 17, she was inspired to take up the potter's wheel by "a charismatic potter" from the Society of Vermont Craftsman. She spent 18 months apprenticing at pottery villages throughout Japan. She returned to Popplewood Farm, where she and her husband, fiddle player John Specker, raised their two daughters.

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