When Andover first began, there was no dining hall on campus, according to the paper “Culinary Crimes on Andover Hill: A History of Dining at Phillips Academy” by Jeffery O. McAnallen. Although Andover’s constitution required the school to provide room and board, it lacked mention of food. For economic reasons, Andover sourced out food to “landladies,” local citizens who would provide those services for Andover students for a price.
In 1842, 64 years after the school’s founding, Andover recognized that boys on financial aid likely could not afford to pay the landladies, so they constructed the “Chocolate Hall,” a building for students on scholarship that included food and board. The “Chocolate Hall” stood where Tucker House currently is located, according to McAnallen. The building was adjacent next to a pasture with grazing cows, providing fresh milk to the students. However, with food costs rising, the Trustees decided to create the first dining hall, called the “Beanery,” to reduce overall expenses.
It was not until 1928, when Thomas Cochran offered to finance a new dining hall as part of Andover’s 150th anniversary, that the “Beanery” was retired as Andover’s dining hall. After two years, the building was finally completed in the fall of 1930. From its conception, the building was named Paresky Commons, but it would take several years for students to stop calling it the Beanery. During that time period, students on financial aid would serve as waiters, according to McAnallen.
Paul Robarge, Director of Paresky Commons, worked at Andover in 2007 during the most recent Commons renovation. During that time, the dining hall operated out of to the Sumner Smith Hockey Rink.
“I began at Andover in 2007 when Commons closed for renovation. My team and I were tasked with creating a culinary destination within the constraints of the Sumner Smith Hockey Rink. To the best of my knowledge, this temporary operation that opened in January 2008 was very well received.We had the opportunity to re-open Commons to the community in April 2009,” wrote Robarge.
While modern Commons food is widely enjoyed by the Andover community today, Nicholas Kip ’60, Instructor in Classic, explained how during his time at Andover, sentiments weren’t exactly the same. Students used to make fun of the leftover ‘Mystery Mounds’ served by Commons.
Kip said, “Every year for quite a while, the Senior class would put on its own play, and the plays were always musicals of sorts. They would do different things and target different things about the campus…And the most memorable was called the ‘Mystery Mound Mambo,’ where they got up and did a dance, because every Monday they had a special serving called ‘Mystery Mounds’, which were made of the leftovers of whatever hadn’t been eaten from the previous week, and there were all sorts of jokes about ‘Mystery Mounds’ as you can probably imagine.”
According to Kip, while some institutional Commons traditions have remained the same, like Juniors generally eating in Upper Right, others have died as the school has become less restrictive of student mealtimes. For example, Kip recounted how at the time, not attending breakfast was a special privilege reserved for Seniors.
“It used to be that Upper Right was the Junior dining hall, and the Juniors all sat around, and there’d be one prefect who’d preside over the Juniors and make sure they were all present and accounted for. If they happened to miss breakfast, they’d get a cut. Breakfast was required for Juniors, Lowers, and Uppers. Seniors were allowed to use their discretion,” said Kip.
Billy Flynn has been working at Commons for over 30 years, and also expressed appreciation and affection, as well as the familiarity that he has with his fellow Commons workers.
Flynn said, “I truly love working at Commons every day. This is my second home because a lot of people know me… I’ve seen a lot of famous people come and go and I love working with old workers and new workers.”
Although Commons work duty still exists, Kip recounted that Commons work duty during his time at Andover involved three different stages, affectionately called “Slop,” “Feed,” and “Catch”. Each station would have a different job, with the “Feed” and “Catch” stations competing with one another to complete their tasks the most quickly.
“When you’re on Commons duty, there were several possibilities. Kids would simply take their eaten-upon utensils, plates, cups, or dishes and drop them on this place. It was called Slop, and what happened was if you were assigned to Slop, then you had to clean the leftovers off the plates. It left a terrible smell on your hands. And since you got Commons duty one week per month, you barely had time for your hands to come back to smelling normal before you got Slop again,” said Kip.
Kip continued, “Then there was Feed and Catch. Feed was you took the Slop-treated utensils, dishes, and plates and put them on a conveyor belt that took them through a washing machine, like a car wash, and the game was to see if Feed could put the things onto the conveyor and put more stuff on the conveyor than catch could get off the conveyor. If Catch couldn’t get it all off, then the machine would automatically shut off, so it was a win for Feed.”