A Secret Garden in Potter Place

By Pat Cutter, Andover Historical Society
Taking a break from the Andover Historical Society’s annual spring clean-up day in May, Pat Cutter relaxes in the Society’s “secret garden” surrounded by the stone foundation that once supported the “mansion” of Richard Potter.  The garden is just across the tracks from the Potter Place railroad station, now owned by the Historical Society. Photo: Larry Chase

Potter Place was a very busy village within the Town of Andover in the early 1900’s.  It was a railroad hub and had a large hotel, two village stores, a livery stable and many homes, large and small.  In the early 1800’s, before the Northern Railroad came to town, it was a quiet backwater and the home of Richard Potter, renowned ventriloquist/magician  and subject of a new biography by Andover’s John Hodgson.

A beautiful sign made by Frank Cellini who was a frequent vendor at the Andover Historical Soc. Old Time Fair, marks the spot of the Secret Garden in Potter Place. Cellini, who passed away last year, donated the sign to the society.  Photo: Larry Chase

Mr. Potter built a home that, although modest by today’s standards, was called a mansion.  Later that home was incorporated into a large Victorian house by Daniel Downes and was located across the tracks from the railroad station.  Over the years, fires decimated Potter Place. The hotel burned for the second time in 1919 and Mr. Downes’ house on September 28, 1923. The land and the remaining cellar hole remained vacant, but became an attractive dumping ground — and the railroad station became the home of the Andover Historical Society.
Ken Reid and Bob Hamilton moved to Andover in 2002 and became lifetime members and advocates of the Historical Society.  The neglected cellar hole held an attraction for them and they had a vision of a sunken garden, ideal for relaxation and contemplation.  A year was spent hauling away concrete and asphalt chunks, tree trunks, a rusted auto-body frame, and accumulated trash. Trees, limbs and stumps were removed, caved-in stone cellar walls were rebuilt and several loads of soil were brought in.  As Ken tells it, he took charge of the project and, in the background, Bob quietly did most of the work!
An ad in the Beacon brought donations of plants from local gardens, and many flowers and shrubs were brought in for planting. As time passed Bob and Ken “matured” and so did the garden.
Today, the garden continues to flourish, and it remains a simple gardening surprise in a most unlikely place.  Many local folks and strangers alike have discovered the garden, and for some it provides a bit of a quiet respite from the chaos and problems of the outside world.  If you are unfamiliar with the garden, you might want to check it out.