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Pearson Hall: Former Home of Andover’s Riflery Club

COURTESY OF ANDOVER ARCHIVES

Today, Pearson’s basement houses a collection of classical busts and texts.

In the late 1910s, the previously unused basement of Pearson Hall was filled with students. Rather than browsing through classical texts or admiring the building’s collection of marble busts, these students were beginning their membership in Andover’s newly established Riflery Club.

According to Axel Ladd ’20, Co-Head of Classics Club, the idea of riflery training on campus was first brought up during World War I by an Andover alumnus. While training his troops, the alumnus noticed that many of his soldiers lacked the necessary skills to join the military. To address this, the alumnus decided to return to Andover and implement a new training program geared toward fundamental military skills.

“They were recruiting and drafting young eighteen-year-old boys right out of high school. So he helped institute the program, [and] we have some of it left over today. You know [how] every student at Andover has to pass a swim test? That was left over because of the draft. They wanted to make sure all students drafted into the Navy could swim,” Ladd said.

The Riflery Club, one aspect of the new training program, soon began competing with other schools. According to Ladd, the team of about 200 members were worthy adversaries.

“The rifling team actually did very well. They beat [Phillips Academy] Exeter a couple of times, and competed in some competitions around Boston. They had 200 members, which is [a lot] considering back then Andover was a much smaller school, ” Ladd said.

At this time, Pearson’s basement had previously consisted of several unused classrooms. Ladd explained that because of the riflery team’s success, the school decided to convert Pearson’s basement into an indoor gun range. Nicholas Kip ’60, Instructor in Classics, describes the setup of the former gun range and speculates that President George H.W. Bush ’42 may have practiced riflery there.

“They had the lines that you run up to put the targets on and so forth. They had the clips for the targets to hang down from and all that stuff. Because it was there before World War II, almost certainly George Herbert Walker Bush would have practiced riflery down there,” said Kip.

As time passed, however, marksmanship became less of a mainstream sport. Additionally, with the end of World War I and World War II, there was no longer an acute need to train students in riflery.

“By [1968], the army had enough lethally trained people that they didn’t need that particular rifle range. These are just 22 rifles. They weren’t very dangerous. It was just how to shoot the thing and hit the target,” said Kip.

While Abi Olafimihan ’22 understands the relevance of a gun range in the last century, she considers having one now as too dangerous.

“A lot of things have changed since the 1900s, so I guess then [having a gun range] maybe would have been okay, but if that was still here now I wouldn’t feel comfortable with it,” said Olafimihan.”In my opinion, it’s very dangerous, [in case] someone was able to access those guns and actually do something at school. I don’t think that’s a good idea. Even if it’s just not the students, if someone came onto campus and found those [guns] everyone would be in danger.”

Offering a different perspective, Duncan MacKenzie ’20 welcomed the idea of a gun range on campus, citing the need for constant supervision by trained professionals.

“The Pearson gun range would be a welcome addition to the campus and extracurricular activities, so long as it was well overseen by faculty members, and students participating would have to pass certain certifications. I’m not advocating that we just put a gun range in the bottom of the classrooms, but I think that the idea is not necessarily a bad one and not one that should be precluded from discussions,” MacKenzie said.

To justify his position, MacKenzie referenced the global status of marksmanship as a sport. MacKenzie also believes that riflery is both a fundamental aspect of American life and a useful skill to bear.

“Riflery is an Olympic sport, and not only that, but the Second Amendment is a core part of the country. Teaching people this activity is an Olympic sport, but also it’s a skill that is beneficial, and every citizen should be aware of how to safely handle a firearm… in a manner that would not cause harm to themselves or others,” MacKenzie said.

Today, devoid of the clamour wrought by passing bullets, the basement in Pearson serves as a storage space for the Classics Department, according to Ladd.

Ladd said, “The Classics Department has decorations, a lot of busts and statues, there’s some extra supplies down there as well. [Joshua Mann, Instructor and Chair in Classics,] saved a lot of the classical literature books that were going to be thrown out during the renovations of the library, and I think he put a lot of those upstairs but some downstairs as well.”