Perley Fred Gilbert was born in St. Johnsburg, Vermont on December 14, 1868. His parents were Charles Gilbert, a dentist, and Sarah Louise Hale. When the family moved to Andover in the 1870s, Perley attended Punchard High School, graduating in 1887, then studied at Phillips Academy for a further three years, 1887-1890.
Perley entered the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the fall of 1890. After his sophomore year, he spent a year as an intern at the offices of Merrill and Cutler, Architects, in Lowell. Back at MIT, he graduated in architecture in 1895.
His first job, however, was working for a heating and ventilation company, an experience where he noted that “hands-on experience in refrigeration, machinery, heating, ventilation and sanitation gave me a very valuable asset for an architect”.
Taking on small architectural work alongside, Perley opened an office at 53 Central Street in Andover in 1898 “with the intention of changing to a more favorable location when the opportunity presented itself”.
This opportunity arose the following year when Mr. Merrill, his former employer (having dissolved his partnership with Mr. Cutler) invited Perley to join the business, reforming the business under Merrill & Gilbert, Architects.
Merrill himself retired in 1900, “leaving the architectural library, drawings and equipment” to Perley. The rest of Perley’s career was therefore secured under his name at the same location, now known as Perley F. Gilbert Associates, Inc.
Perley decided not to specialize in any area in order to gain experience in a variety of projects and buildings. As a result, he was able to work on “one-of-a-kind” projects, including designing “a village of 150 workers’ cottages for the American Woolen Company in Maynard, Massachusetts.”
But it was in our town of Andover that Perley made its reputation.
The renovation of the town hall in 1896 was perhaps at the top of the list. Hired to oversee the project after the city’s 250th anniversary, Perley’s work still draws praise for the spiral staircase and the city seal on the lobby floor. “Determined to get it right”, mosaic artist Elias Galassi was brought in to create the ceramic pieces for Gilbert’s design and adaptation by local artist Leonard Sherman.
In 1905, when Allen Hinton, known for his successful ice cream business, wanted to build a house on recently purchased farm property, he hired Perley – whom he had known at Phillips – to design his house at 104 Hidden Road.
Later hired by William Wood, already familiar with Perley’s work at Maynard, Perley designed Orlando Cottage – now the LANAM Club. Orlando was started in 1916 and finished in 1917, in a Spanish colonial revival style and a green tiled roof. Reflecting Mr. Wood’s belief in “solid family foundations”, Orlando was built with two stories underground, carved into solid rock. Steel beams were used in critical areas and timber was ordered from local Pitman & Company. The cost was $400,000 in 1916.
Other significant buildings in Andover include the Town Rest Home on Carmel Road in 1924, the West Parish Vestry in 1926, the Memorial Auditorium and High School Wing in 1934, and the Society Fence history of Andover in 1939.
Not content to rest on his laurels, Perley was also actively involved in local philanthropic and social organizations. Perley listed them as St. Matthew’s Masonic Lodge, the Punchard Alumni Association, the Technology Club of the Merrimack Valley, the Lowell Board of Trade, the Echo Religious Club of Andover, AVIS, the Merrimack River Waterway Committee, and the Camp II Sons of Veterans.
Perley Gilbert died in 1956 at the age of 87 and is buried in West Parish Garden Cemetery.