Andover Stories: A Horse of Another Color | Opinion
Andover’s history is colored by captivating characters who have enriched our town. Some like Abraham Marland, William Wood and John Dove have stood the test of time and remain relatively well known; the memory of others has faded into the past.
Steven Byington was a well-known and beloved figure in his time. He was a familiar figure walking downtown or to the station from his ivy-covered gray stone house on the High Street in Ballardvale. Byington cut a distinctive, tall and lean figure with a flowing white beard, white tennis shoes (whatever the weather!) with a cloth bag slung over his shoulder. He was a regular sight along Main Street, shopping at local stores or en route to one of his frequent visits to the Memorial Hall Library.
Born of strong Yankee stock in Westford, Vermont, in 1869, later growing up in Ballardvale, he was the son of a minister-farmer. Headed for ministry, he graduated from Union Theological Seminary and seemed destined for greatness.
Things didn’t quite turn out that way. A profound, lifelong speech impediment blocked his path. Early on, Steven resigned from the only parsonage he had held.
Steven Byington was not discouraged because at the age of 13 he had already found his life’s passion: translating the Bible into modern English without sacrificing its original essence. His passion will take more than half a century to materialize; and more years to finally earn publication.
Byington was gifted with a brilliant intellect and an ability to master languages. During his lifetime, his literacy was measured in some 17 languages, including a dozen he was fluent in. He possessed an extremely rare understanding of living English. He was an accomplished man of letters.
Steven started reading at the age of three! After resigning from his parsonage, in his own words, Byington “struck in various places as a very unsuccessful teacher, with equally unsuccessful experiences in other professions”.
His fluency in languages and his ability to translate each into everyday English eventually led him to Ginn and Company, a Cambridge-based publishing house specializing in schoolbooks. Byington quickly became the firm’s go-to proofreader and translator.
Byington made a name for himself not only at Ginn and Company, but also gained fame with local media, particularly the Boston Globe. Steven was a prodigious letter writer often featured in the Globe’s “What People Talk About” editorial column. Always in touch with the world, Steven has written about issues facing not only local municipalities, but also those on the international stage. His popularity and insight were commemorated in a July 10, 1951 column, “Every Globe Reader Reads Mr. Byington (He Knows So Many Things)”. His writings have also been published regularly in magazines across the country.
Beyond his work in publishing and his undying passion for Bible translation, his faith has kept him involved in the Ballardvale community. Active in the church, Byington held many positions, taught Sunday school and even held the pulpit preaching the Sunday sermon. He touched those around him by lifting their spirits. One student, reflecting on Byington’s influence, wrote: “I was twelve years old when I entered Mr. Byington’s class. With his tremendous command of the language, he… brought his storytelling to life. I would rank it among the best. Steven T. Byington was by far the most learned man I have ever met”.
Steven was also a bit of a Renaissance man, with a zest for life. An accomplished gardener, passionate naturalist and dedicated mountaineer – climbing Vermont’s Mount Mansfield at age 85! His schedule was never too full.
Sadly, little is remembered of Steven 65 years after his death. Yet he was a fascinating man who left his mark not just here in Andover, but in a much wider world.