Fond Memories in ‘Woodvale’
Residents look back on the creation of the Woodvale neighborhood in the Campanelli homes of the 1950s.
The neighborhood of Danvers known as Woodvale had humble beginnings as stark, plywood structures dotting farmland previously inhabited by Hood Dairy Farm on the edge of town.
Woodvale sprawls from old apple orchards behind Danvers High School over to Old Burley Street and Burley Street down to Conant Street and behind the section of Poplar Street near Shetland and Belgian roads and Morningside Drive. The old Hood farmhouse still stands at the corner of Burley Street and Sherwood Avenue.
These single-story structures had six basic floor plans and were built on concrete slabs on substantial land lots. By adopting catchy street names from colleges and famous streets in Boston, they were marketed as affordable homes to first-time home buyers. The modern designs represented the epitome of home ownership, says longtime resident Mitch Turcotte.
Turcotte recalled that when Brockton native Alfred Campanelli proposed this new “cookie-cutter community” of ranch-style houses in the late 1950s, many Danvers elders were skeptical: “Plywood houses? Who would ever want to live in a Plywood Village?”
After all, they learned how to build homes the “old fashioned” way, utilizing the organic materials around them — timber from the vast forests of New England to construct the frame and field stone foundations. They were proud of their sturdy, resilient New England-style homes that could withstand nature and the test of time.
With time comes change. Campanelli had designs on changing the landscape, and to an extent, thus changed the fabric of the Danvers community and many other areas in the northeast.
“The same way we carpenters feel about vinyl siding and vinyl fences — it’s about change as much as it is about anything else, and when people see change they are resistant to it. It makes them uncomfortable,” said Steve Gilliss, a local contractor.
Over time the houses sold. In 1964, a Campanelli ranch could be had for $14,000. The idea of home ownership turned to a reality for scores of newcomers to the area.
“I didn't grow up in Woodvale, I'm from the Port,” Turcotte remembers. “But in about 1957 the ‘Woodvale kids’ started to attend the Danversport School. It was an interesting experience for all of us since these kids were from all over the place (mostly the Boston area moving to the ‘sticks’) or from some sort of parents’ corporate re-location. It broadened our horizons and also allowed them to experience the true meaning of ‘Port Rules,’” Turcotte said.
Dan Rich grew up near the top of Sherwood Avenue, and has great memories of his early years living in Woodvale.
“I walked to (Thorpe) school every day, uphill both ways in the freezing snow before I became a car nut,” said Rich. As for the construction of the homes, he recalls, “We had no basement, but our floors were very warm (from the radiant heat). The furnace was in the kitchen.”
Danvers native Melanie (Gotts) Moon remembers the neighborhood she grew up in as a tight knit community filled with playmates.
“Homes close together, no treacherous driveways, sidewalks and well lit streets were like a bonanza for us. There were kids everywhere. You never had to call friends for ‘playdates’ as [kids] do today. Everyone was outside. Kickball games, hide ‘n seek — not to mention sledding in the winter — were always activities the neighborhood kids participated in.”
The neighborhood hockey games were the stuff of legend.
“It wasn't ‘sunny day, mom’s watching with popsicles’ — everybody had fun. We used to play ‘Kids On One Street’ versus ‘Kids On Another,’ recalls Jeff McDermott. “If someone brought in an out-of-towner it was Game On! Regardless of the weather conditions, the games lasted hours. Eventually they got so big we started playing ‘Woodvale’ vs ‘Anyone Who’d Play’ at the High School,” he said.
“And of course, the brook that we were not supposed to go in,” says Beckie (Webber) Lundrigan, referring to the snake-like waterway that winds underneath and through every section of the town. Rich and his friends “borrowed” insulation boards during the construction of the Dunn Wing at Danvers High School, tied them together and rafted through the maze of creeks.
Sisters Maureen (Swanson) Thompson and Colleen (Swanson) Napoli remember sledding at Danvers High, situated on land gifted to the town by Campanelli in 1962.
“I loved living in Woodvale, hence the reason I still do. Our yards are huge and the houses are versatile. If you run out of room you can add on easily,” said Napoli.
Since they were built with such a basic format, the homes are perfect to make additions on. As Moon suggests, “So many homes in Woodvale have gone through incredible transformations, with very few still the same layout as what was built.”
In fact, the community has changed so much over the past 50 years that many sections are difficult to identify clearly as a “Campanelli” development.
And it turns out that plywood, which is a type of manufactured wood made from thin sheets of wood veneer glued and pressed together, is now one of the most widely used wood products. It’s preferred over plain wood because it is flexible, cheap, workable, recyclable and can usually be locally manufactured. Additionally it’s strong, resistant to cracking, shrinking, twisting and warping. Ironically, you’ll find it in nearly every home built today.
Woodvale has grown into itself and matured, along with it’s earlier residents. The homes have been altered and expanded along with them, but the kids still play hockey in the streets, and the forbidden brook still winds its way through. For certain, residents of Woodvale, past and present, can attest to the tight knit community that has flourished over the decades. Indeed, Woodvale was and still is a great place to grow up in Danvers, plywood and all.