85 Andover, MA: Isolated As You Want To Be

[Andover school green]

On my way out of the museum, I asked the woman at the sign-in desk whether people in Andover were isolated. "Not at all," she answered, a cheery smile crinkling the corners of her almond-shaped eyes. "I'm not isolated though I live alone. You're only as isolated as you want to be." Then with a wave, she was off to meet someone for lunch.

The school's green dominates Route 28 for about a mile on the south end of "town" (the business district), and, from the edge, you can just make out the downtown skyline of Boston. The town of Andover (as opposed to the school Philips Andover, which also just calls itself "Andover" to separate itself from its sister elite school Phillips Exeter in New Hampshire) lies on the banks of the Merrimack River about twenty-three miles north of Boston. Andover was originally settled in 1636 under the Indian name of Cochicewick. The community incorporated in 1646, named after a town in England where many of the settlers had come from. Being on a river, Andover was home from the early days to powder, paper, and woolen mills. Although now primarily residential (most homes go for around $1 million), Andover has a number of companies in defense, computers, and medical products.

Andover is still governed by open Town Meeting, a scene depicted by Rockwell but never Hopper. The town's 20,000 registered voters meet at Andover High School to debate and vote on the town's financial and business decisions over the course of two or three nights. The local newspaper boasted that it's "the purest expression of democracy" but warned that the success of the system requires "the active participation of our residents." Tellingly, they added, "electronic forms of communication do not eliminate the need for face-to-face meetings."

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