Concord, New Hampshire Reporter, Columnist, Civic Leader and Legislative Historian: Leon William Anderson (1902-1983)

Leon "Andy" Anderson, NH legislative historian in 1931 with his book.

Leon “Andy” Anderson, NH legislative historian in 1931 with his book, “To This Day: The 300 Years of the New Hampshire Legislature.” Photograph copyright of his daughter Susan Anderson Manning–used with her permission.

Leon W. “Andy” Anderson came from humble, blue collar beginnings, but his personal drive to understand the meaning behind political events, led him to become a noted New Hampshire historian.  I was first introduced to his name, when I browsed a curious and valuable book called “New Hampshire Women Legislators Golden Anniversary 1921-1971” (that was co-prepared by Leon W. Anderson, Mrs. Alice V. Flanders and Edward J. Gallagher).

He was born Carl Leon William Anderson in 1902 to Swedish immigrants, Gustaf and Alma (Hasselind) Anderson, in the town of Graniteville, Massachusetts [now called Westford]. Both his father and step-father were stone cutters, working at one of the several granite quarries of the area. It is only fitting that he would migrate to the “Granite State” to harvest granite himself.

Leon removed to Concord, N.H. with his family when he was about 14 years of age, so that he, and they, could work in the Swenson Granite Quarry. (He remained in the Concord area until the end of his life). Leon was also secretary of the International Quarryworker’s Union in Concord from 1921-1925. The 1940 US census indicates that he had achieved a grammar school education, probably in Westford MA where he grew up.  No doubt like other children of his time, he left school in order to work at a trade and help support his family. In 1974 Keene State College recognized his literary and social contributions, and awarded him an honorary Doctor of Laws and Letters.

Leon began working for the Concord Daily Monitor and NH Patriot in 1925, as a reporter and later a columnist.  His daughter, Susan (Anderson) Manning told me “he took a typing correspondence course, so he could apply for the Monitor.” Most of his work focused on New Hampshire legislative and governmental news, and he quickly became intimate with the New Hampshire political environment. He continued in this position with this newspaper for a total of 41 years.

Photograph from a 1974 Nashua Telegraph news article

Photograph from a 1974 Nashua Telegraph news article

In 1943 he served in the New Hampshire House of Representatives. During World War II he worked on a state-sponsored civic salvage project. From 1945-1946 he was a member of the Legislative Interim Committee for Study of Alcoholism. He also served on the N.H. Racing Commission.

In 1967 Leon W. Anderson became New Hampshire’s legislative historian when the legislature appropriated $15,000 for the project, of which $6,500 was Anderson’s basic fee. The rest was for writing and publishing expenses. As legislative historian he originated and supervised the 1969 Sesquicentennial celebration of the State House, and came up with a idea of a commemorative liquor bottle to finance it.  He spent so much time in the New Hampshire capitol building that he was sometimes called the “State House mascot.”

He also produced an extensive collection of historical pamphlets, booklets and books, including:
— The State House, Concord, N.H.; Sesquicentennial, 1819-1969
— Old Man of the Mountain: Born, in the Creation; Resides, in Franconia North
— New Hampshire Women’s Legislators Golden Anniversary 1921-1971 (with Mrs. Alice V. Flanders and Edward J. Gallagher). This book was distributed at a tea on April 6, 1971 hosted by Mrs. Walter Peterson, the then state’s First Lady at the Bridges Mansion. All present and former women solons were invited.
— New Hampshire’s State House Eagle
— Major General John Stark,: Hero of Bunker Hill and Bennington, 1728-1822
— The New Hampshire State Senate 1784-1973
— Hannah Duston / Heroine of 1697 Massacre of Indian Captors on River Islet at Boscawen, N.H.

— 40th Anniversary New Hampshire State Liquor Commission, 1934-1974
— Bicentennial Commemorative, 1775-1975
— New Hampshire’s flower, tree, bird
— Bottle up for the Bicentennial
— Concord Coach: Abbot-Downing, 1827-1900, Concord, New Hampshire
— Concord’s Trials and Tribulations
— Daniel Webster: New Hampshire’s noted defender of the U.S. Constitution, 1782-1852
— Bicentennial New Hampshire: Birth of government of-by-and-for the people, 1777/78-1977/78 : the constitution of…
— World’s first cog railway: Still going strong, 1869-1978
— Three hundred years: New Hampshire’s unique Governor-Council government, January 21, 1680-1980
— New Hampshire’s unique Japanese Charitable Fund: 75th anniversary, Treaty of Portsmouth, 1905–September 5, 1980.
— New Hampshire’s tricentennial, 1680-1980
— “To This Day: The 300 Years of the New Hampshire Legislature” (Canaan NH 1981) gives an account of the history of the state from the perspective of the General Court that we used throughout this book.

Leon W. Anderson, NH state legislative historian from Portsmouth newspaper.

Leon W. Anderson, NH state legislative historian from Portsmouth newspaper.

This last book, “To This Day…” was his greatest writing challenge. Begun in 1967, it was finally published in 1981. When interviewed by a Portsmouth Herald reporter in 1967, he was asked what is alike and what is different about yesterday and today. Leon Anderson replied: “More than a century ago, people were complaining that the legislature (now 424 members) was too large, he said, and in almost the same breath they worried about what the influx of new people might do to the state.” What’s the biggest difference he had found between then and now “We’re soft,” Anderson said, “as a people we’re soft as compared to what we were a hundred years ago because everything comes easy to us.”

Leon W. Anderson died 23 Feb 1983 in Concord, Merrimack Co. NH.  On that day, the flags atop the New Hampshire State House flew at half mast. The New Hampshire Records and Archives building had been constructed in 1963 on the grounds of the New Hampshire Hospital. In 1983 it was named the “Leon W. Anderson Building” to recognize his contributions to the people and State of New Hampshire. The facility contains a climate-controlled archival vault, work areas, a records storage area (expanded in 1974 and 1996), and a micro-graphics area (expanded in 1989). In its last expansion in 2006, a facade of granite was added to the building (how appropriate!).

Today you can read numerous quotes from Leon W. Anderson’s works on the official State of NH website, drawn from the varied local topics that he wrote about. Historians and citizens owe this man a great debt for being willing to sift through the artifacts and ancient documents to find the simple truth, and to share it with us in a meaningful and useful way (even when it came to topics others might find boring). So the next time you visit the New Hampshire State Archives at the Leon W. Anderson Building, or use one of his history books as reference, you will better understand this intriguing man.

Up until now I have only written about “Andy” Anderson the writer.  From the many newspaper articles I read while researching his story, and from his daughter, I gleaned  some additional facts.  He was well liked, and highly respected for his political knowledge.  He was admired for his ability to report on NH politics in a bi-partisan, and impartially honest way. He was a good husband and father, who had a ready smile. He composed his stories, pamphlets and books on a well-worn manual typewriter, yet there was nothing old about how he expressed himself.

He was also a kind and compassionate human being who helped many people, mostly anonymously.   It seems to me that when the State of New Hampshire went to name the Archives Building, they did exactly the right thing.  They named it after a man who made the complicated seem simple, who served the State of New Hampshire by preserving and compiling its history, and who was a true and contemporary role model for its citizens.

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5 Responses to Concord, New Hampshire Reporter, Columnist, Civic Leader and Legislative Historian: Leon William Anderson (1902-1983)

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  4. Jennifer Stanton says:

    Thank you for this. I’m doing research on my family tree, never having known much beyond immediate family. This gentleman right here, however, is my great uncle. Its validating to find little bits of historical citations, and evidence of the individual lives I am finding out about, but none of those can manage what you have done here. You have brought him back to life, and introduced me to the man that was. I appreciate that.

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