Over the next two decades, except for writing one personal essay about the pond across the street from our house here at 53 Poor Street, I turned my writing attentions elsewhere, and experienced no regrets about failing to be inspired by Mr. Theroux’s offhanded musing. A few years ago, however, I began to type out some thoughts about this place where I have now lived longer than I have lived anywhere else. Eat local? It suddenly made sense for me to “write” local. And so, in between freelance assignments, mostly for an antiques-trade newspaper that published my articles about auction prices and trends, museum exhibitions, the psychology of collectors, and related aspects of American material culture, I began researching primary sources and reading what others had written about Andover’s history. Then, in March of 2020, when the pandemic forced us all to restrict our travels, it made even more sense for me to concentrate my attentions on Andover.
To be sure, I had been locally focussed when I wrote about Lawrence. Mr. Theroux had characterized my book correctly as the result of a “closely observed residence,” except, he’d opined, that previously “such personal accounts … would be concerned with distant cities: ‘Rangoon Jottings,’ ‘Ten Years in Khartoum,’ ‘A Decade in Bangkok.’” He had been making the point that Lawrence resembled “just that sort of city — a remote, bereft, rotting and blighted place that was once prosperous and proud” with, he added, a social structure as complex as the formerly colonized or occupied cities he had named. He had also noticed that the stance I had taken towards Lawrence was not unlike that of writers who intended their stays to be temporary. I wouldn’t have said so when I’d arrived there in 1984, but I realize now that my time in Lawrence had, like any traveler’s, always been fated to end. Long before I’d written my book’s final pages, I had known that I would leave.
Readers of Huddle Fever occasionally asked if I planned a sequel, but I had neither the interest nor a rationale for such an undertaking. I had written the book because I’d kept asking myself questions I needed to answer for my own benefit: “What the hell happened here? How did Lawrence get this way? Was there ever a more dysfunctional entity?” The only other places I had lived were a New York City suburb (Greenwich, Connecticut), a major city (Washington, D.C.), and, for a single year, a one-square mile hamlet just over the D.C. line (Takoma Park, Maryland). The ways of a working-class society living in the ruin of an industrial landscape were a mystery to me. Hence, my bewilderment and urge to understand it, an urge that became a compulsion, not the least because I myself had come from a working-class family: my father had been a carpenter, then town building inspector; my mother, a secretary. In any case, with those questions about Lawrence answered, at least to my own satisfaction, a sequel wasn’t on my mind. Besides, in order to write such a thing, I needed the primary access, by way of daily living there, that I had forfeited by moving to Andover.
As I came to realize, however, this project actually is a sequel. At its most basic, Huddle Fever was a history of what Lawrence once produced: cloth. The Missionary Factory is a history of what Lawrence’s nearest neighbor once produced: men of the cloth. Lawrence had its famous textile factories. Andover had its equally renown Andover Theological Seminary — a “ministerial factory,” in the words of Harriet Beecher Stowe, whose husband was one of its graduates (class of 1827) and later became its professor of sacred literature.  The Stowe family lived in Andover from 1852 to 1864, during the period of Calvin Ellis Stowe's tenure, while Mrs. Stowe adjusted to and then made use of the success that the publication of Uncle Tom’s Cabin had brought her, promoting the abolitionist cause in Europe, where her book was selling even better than it was selling here. At her desk in a faculty house on campus she also wrote the eight books that followed it, a couple of them boldly critical of Prof. Stowe’s colleagues and their efforts to convert the world’s “heathen” to Christianity while failing to rid themselves of their most obvious sin: doing little or nothing to end slavery.
1. Paul Theroux, “Terminal City,” New York Times Book Review, Sept. 24, 1995.
2. Harriet Beecher Stowe, “Letter from Andover,” Andover Advertiser, Oct. 21, 1854. Reprinted from the New York Independent.
This book isn’t only about the seminary, however, even though the hundred-year arc of its rise and fall provides a handy narrative, the beginning of its end neatly demarcated by its move to Harvard in 1908 after a heresy trial — the famous "Andover Case" of the 1880s — resulted in, among other things, a disillusioned, then decimated student body. The Missionary Factory is necessarily also about the growth of the town, from a remote colonial village — settled by the eventual overtakers of the indigenous people who had lived here for eons before them — to its present-day status as an affluent suburb of Boston and source of one of its most renown “products”: the graduates of Phillips Academy. Conceived of and founded in 1778, during our War of Independence, P.A. is the reason why the seminary was situated here in the first place.
As the seminary gained its fame and influence around the world, the town’s citizenry witnessed the simultaneous burgeoning of the international textile empire next door, in the lineup of Lawrence’s massive, red-brick mills along the Merrimack, a rib having been taken out of Andover to create the mill city in the first place.  The spectacle surely helped residents develop a bigger-than-local perspective and allowed them to believe that Andover’s missionary factory was a plausible, intercontinental undertaking. Wealthy, well-connected Andoverites, themselves successful in business, gave substantial amounts of money to the seminary and the associated missionary movement. Ordinary church-goers in turn gave their pennies. The hoi polloi also engaged in such mundane though essential labors as running the boarding houses that were essential in the years before any dorms were built. Indeed, from my perspective, the more important, largely untold story is about the lay people’s role in the seminary’s gargantuan, guaranteed-to-fail, global mission.
3. John Updike, Due Considerations: Essays and Criticism (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2007), 28. Note: Congregationalism was the established church in all but one of the New England colonies. Baptist Rhode Island was the exception.
4. Of course, long before the war began, the Enlightenment's ideas, specifically deism, were starting to challenge orthodox religious beliefs.
5. The Essex Company bought slightly under seven square miles of private farmland, some in Andover and the rest in another riverside town, Methuen, when they set about creating Lawrence in the early 1840s.