A History of the North Andover Improvement Society

The North Andover Improvement Society was founded over one hundred years ago. The town at that time was quite different from what it is today. Lot requirements and building codes were unheard of. Trash and garbage were dumped behind homes. Streets were not maintained and landscaping was unknown. In 1885, Mr. J.D.W. French with a handful of concerned citizens organized a group whose objective was “to aid in any way in its power not only every enterprise which has as its object the physical improvement of the Town, but those that aim to elevate its social life and develop a higher citizenship”. Their first efforts involved improving selected areas of the Town through tree planting and general beautification work. Each Spring the Village Improvement Association, as it was then known, sponsored an Arbor Day celebration, organizing programs within the schools and distributing trees to be planted along the town streets. 

Steps were taken to obtain lands for commons and playgrounds in various areas of the town. In 1892 the Association completed a report which recommended the adoption of a plan for a comprehensive and complete system of drainage for the whole village.  

Statistics of the time cited the many cases of diphtheria and other diseases as proof of the necessity for such a program. Another committee drafted a program of roadway improvements to be implemented over a period of years.

The Society provided a vehicle for obtaining much information of use to the Town and served as an advisory board to the selectmen, often suggesting possible lines of action. In 1885 the Society requested that the Selectmen place an article in the Warrant accepting the state statute authorizing the establishment of building lines on public ways. It also requested that the Massachusetts Highway Commission be petitioned to construct a state road within the boundaries of the town. Both efforts were successful and the first town building codes were established and a state road was constructed.

In 1893, after eight successful years it was felt by the members and general public that the future of the Association was very promising, and in order to assure its permanence and allow for a wider scope of activities, the organization was incorporated under state statute as the North Andover Improvement Society  

Activities at the end of the 1890s included the establishment of a Club House with reading room and gymnasium to “keep the young men out of the streets in the evenings”, the maintenance of various triangles, burying grounds and commons, and the naming of all existing streets. The society’s activities in tree planting continued, with over thirteen hundred trees planted by 1900. At the urging of the Society, the Town elected its first tree warden, Mr. Peter Holt, and much of the Society’s work in this area was gradually given over to the town.

During the first two decades of the 1900s the Society became more and more involved in the civic and health aspects of North Andover life. A site committee was established to find a safe location for a public garage and dumping ground. A program was worked out with the Highway Department for monthly trash collections. In cooperation with the Davis and Furber Company and other industries, large land areas were obtained and developed as parks and baseball fields. A special committee was set up devoted solely to investigate the purchase all lands included in what is now known as the Olde Center Common. Maintenance work on the triangles and playing fields continued. 

A lecture series for parents was sponsored and coordinated with the school department. At the request of the superintendent of schools, the society established a long-range plan to raise money and purchase appropriate pictures and decorations for all school buildings. A committee of over one hundred members attended to this.

With the onset of World War I the Society made a great effort to interest the citizens in planting home vegetable gardens to combat the high cost of living. Seed packets were distributed in the schools. For those with very little land, the Society arranged with certain landowners to allow the farming of small garden plots for a nominal fee.

The major project of the 1920s was the purchase of all lands within the “Center Common”, the removal of existing buildings, and landscaping, the results of which we currently enjoy. To raise the necessary money, a Country Fair was held each Fall and by 1932, after ten fairs had been held, a total of over $13,000 had been collected.

The 1930s brought a sharing of responsibilities between the Society and the Town departments. In 1934 we purchased some very needed equipment for the Board of Public Works, coordinated a Spring cleanup week with the Highway Surveyor, and rallied a great deal of support to oppose the granting of a dog racing license.

A sub-committee was formed in 1938 to draft an article for the Town Warrant calling for the establishment of a Town Planning Board and the appropriation of $500 to draw a master zoning plan. The article passed by a large margin and within a few years, due to a joint effort between the new Planning Board and the Society, our first zoning by-laws were adopted.

During the forties and fifties, the Society often functioned as and advisory board to the Town and aided the various departments when needed. Money was set aside each year for the use of the Tree Department, and street signs were purchased and installed with assistance of the Highway Department. In 1950, a sub-committee was established to investigate all requests for variances to the zoning by-laws and all matters before the Selectmen and Planning Board.

In 1959, the Society gave to the Town all the land in the Center Common ”for the use and enjoyment of the people of the Town.” For seventy five years the Society had worked at acquiring and maintaining the major triangles, commons, parks and playgrounds. One of the last of these was given to the Town for the site of the fire station in the Old Center.

The Society then turned to a new goal. Reviewing the great development surge of the fifties, it was noted that the open lands, watersheds, and woodlands, which are so vital to the character of North Andover were fast being lost to housing construction. A land acquisition committee, predecessor to the Town Conservation Commission, was established in 1960. A parcel of nine acres off Grey Street was the first to be acquired. Attempts were made to acquire land abutting the lake; a filling station and the Rea’s Pond area. It was the Conservation Commission which eventually took over this project and obtained Town Meeting approval for the Rae’s Pond acquisition. In the 1990s the last parcels owned by the Society, land off Grey Street and at the corner of Stevens and Osgood Streets, were donated to the Trustees of Reservations, which abutted both acreages. The Trustees had better facilities for the care of land.  

In recent years the Society has made itself available to assist the Town in any project where its help was needed. Benches were provided for the Becky’s Pond park and trees and shrubs for landscaping the Kittredge, Franklin and High Schools. Trees on the Old Center Common were identified and labeled. The Society helped sponsor “Lets Get Growing”, a program to adopt and plant islands and triangles about the Town. The Society continues to plant and maintain planters beside the Kittredge Monument in the Old Center. 


Then the Society undertook to restore Patriots’ Memorial Park, designed by Olmsted Brothers Landscape Architects in 1922. In the process of researching for the application for National Register of Historic Places, it was discovered that the Park was actually part of a planned residential development, Tavern Acres. The application was approved for a District, including the park, twenty houses, and Stevens Memorial Library. New plans were drawn to use available plants, funds were raised, and trees and shrubs were planted and paths installed. The monuments from World War II and the Korean-Vietnam conflicts were moved to the park and all monuments cleaned and restored. The Society continues to maintain the Park, much to the enjoyment of the citizens of the Town. 

The Phillips Brooks statue, Civil War Monument and Kittredge Monument were also cleaned and restored. Most recently the Society has undertaken to work on an application for Tree City USA status, beginning with a tree survey, and a project to place handsome welcoming signs at entrances to the town.

Beginning in 2005, the Society sponsors The Friends of North Andover Trails, which works closely with the Conservation Commission to restore trails and develop new ones.  Most recently, the Society began sponsoring the North Andover Wildlife Team, which works to promote native plants and eliminate invasive plants with the goal of increasing bird and butterfly diversity.

North Andover Wildlife Team volunteer adding native plantings at the Stevens Estate.