By Dustin Luca and Yadira Betances
---- — ANDOVER — As crews fought the blaze long into yesterday evening, there was a sense that something historic was leaving Andover.
The structure destroyed in last night’s fire was part of the original Frye Village that predated Shawsheen Village and the William Wood era, according to the Andover Preservation Commission.
“It’s a tragedy in a sense of the loss of history,” Karen Herman, chairwoman of the preservation commission, said. “When (Wood) began to work on creating his dream of Shawsheen Village, he retained a lot of original structures and just put them where he wanted them to be.”
The former Poor and Poor Wagon Shop, which became known as Arden casino, was one of those structures. In its life, it bore witness to change, time and time again.
Built in 1867 by wheelwright and carriage maker William Poor, it was once one of the premier wagon shops in the Merrimack Valley and a station for the Underground Railroad, according to a historical narrative assembled by Andover Preservation Commission member James Batchelder.
Throughout Poor’s life, he played a leading hand in the transformation of the area. As he neared his retirement, the neighboring John Dove estate across the way at 276 North Main St. was purchased by textile tycoon William M. and Ellen (Ayer) Wood in 1891. They began improving their more than 60 acres into the Wood estate
At the time, William Wood owned the powerful American Woolen Co., and designed the area around Shawsheen Square as a community for the upper and middle managers of his company.
With the retirement of Poor and his son in the late 1890s, the wagon shop was sold to a blacksmith. Within three years, Ellen Wood would come to buy the structure, which was relocated across the street to her family’s estate in 1900.
The building was again moved to the opposite end of the Wood property before it settled into its current location and was transformed into Arden casino by 1909.
The structure was used as a theater over the years, hosting plays and orchestra performances as well as garden fetes for the League of Women Voters. Wood would hold his employee outings at the property, with 2,000 workers said to have been entertained there in 1920.
The estate was passed down through generations of the Wood family, eventually landing with Wood’s grandson, the late Cornelius Ayer Wood Jr., whose widow, Rosalyn, still occupies the main estate house.
Herman said Rosalyn Wood was very mindful of William Wood’s legacy and the “sense of the history of place” that his entire estate represented to the town. In recent years, much of that property has been given to the Trustees of Reservations, a nonprofit conservation organization that preserves land, nature and historic places in Massachusetts.
“We’re lucky to have had someone like that in Andover,” Herman said of Rosalyn Wood.
When Susan Grabski, executive director of the Lawrence History Center, learned of the fire, she said, “My heart sunk.”
“It’s a significant loss because it was a living link to the past; it’s catastrophic,” Grabski said.
Grabski, who grew up in Andover, recalled learning about William Wood when she was in sixth grade at Shawsheen School. She said Poor’s Wagon Shop was “as important as the mill, the stories, the history of the people and part of the landscape.”
“Hearing the stories and looking at the house was fascinating,” she said. “That industrial legacy was still here, and he was the only mill owner still represented in the area.”
Wood and her family have been benefactors for many local programs and causes, giving millions to the Andover-North Andover YMCA expansion, Esperanza Academy and the new Andover Youth Center.