Friday, January 22, 1999
Restoration of Antique Barn Heralds Revival of Historic Bartlett Farm
If you're not familiar with the southern section of Carlisle, you can easily get lost on the winding roads that lead to the Bartlett Farm, situated on the edge of the Estabrook Woods. As you make your way down the long stretch of driveway you can't help but wonder: am I in the right place? All you see is a large and very old barn.
To Tim Murphy, that's fine. He's the owner of Colonial Barn Restoration, with skills honed for renovating antique barns. Murphy will ensure the aged barn makes it to the millennium. With his bias, he might even argue that this barn should be the first thing you see.
While the barn may dominate your initial view of Bartlett Farm, there's much more to this property and story. A New England farmhouse founded in 1765, its associated structures, and 49 acres of land lie beyond.
Memorable people have lived here: Minuteman Zacheus Green, his good son Isaiah who brought in the Blaisdell boys, the independent Hannah L.C. Green, and the conservation-minded Bartletts. The current owners, Bill and Marge McCormick, live each day within the parameters of the past: finding their dream house, preserving it, and planning for the future. For over 230 years, residents of this address have shared one striking characteristic: a strong public spirit.
1997: Buying a conservation refuge
A few years ago, the McCormicks casually began looking for a new home. They had lived in Carlisle since 1978 in contemporary houses on Acton Street and on Hickory Lane. They liked the town, but they wanted more land. Bill, an active member of the Appalachian Mountain Club, loves hiking and Marge is an avid gardener.
Realtor Sue Streeter of Barrett & Co. knew the McCormicks were the ideal buyers for the Bartlett Farm. The property featured 49 acres of land, 47 of which were under conservation restriction. Although some of its walls dated back to colonial times, the recently renovated house had new plumbing and heating systems. Further revisions included a completely new kitchen, dining room, and master bedroom. Streeter scheduled the McCormicks for the first showing.
"I fell in love immediately," said Marge McCormick. "A purist might be horrified [at the improvements] but we felt everything was done so well and it pleased us so much."
"It was like heaven on earth," said Bill McCormick, who had grown up in an old Victorian house. "Foolishly, I made an instant decision to make an offer."
The McCormicks quickly realized that despite the very good condition of the nine-room house, there was plenty of work to do outside. An old workshop and garage were totally beyond repair and required removal or wood rot might threaten the house. An adjoining field had a pool with a bad crack in its floor. The antique barn needed immediate renovation or it would collapse.
The McCormicks have already removed the workshop and garage. Construction has begun to add a garage, another bedroom, and a potting shed. They have reconstructed the pool. The barn is undergoing repair.
The McCormicks are greatly interested in the history of the property. They have explored remains of an old foundation, and other "relics" as Bill put it. They have thought about the former residents, and can even picture colonial soldiers marching past the house on their way to fight the British in Concord at the Old North Bridge.
When tearing down the workshop, carpenters uncovered four mismatched shoes apparently dating back to the 1800s. The shoes, while of little financial value, are important to the McCormicks as they provide a connection to the past lives of those who once lived here.
1998: Saving the barn
If you are thinking of renovating a barn, get in line. Murphy, the founder of four-year old Colonial Barn Restoration, specializes in complete barn restoration. He has worked on about 50 barns, including the repair of four in Carlisle with five more scheduled in town.
"We plan to keep this place in good shape," said Bill McCormick. "We want to maintain its basic character."
The McCormicks would like to have a Christmas tree farm. One of the first things they did was bring a forester to assess the site. An acre can hold about 1,000 trees. The forester recommended staggered planting of one tenth of the trees per acre each year. Harvest of the first trees can take place in eight years.
"Bill's fantasy is to have a horse or two to pull sleigh wagons," said Marge McCormick. "People could take a ride while getting a tree." She would like to cultivate blueberries and strawberries in the warmer months.
The McCormicks value their privacy. That was one of the reasons they were attracted to the remote site. Nonetheless, they have been very supportive of public use of trails on the land. Hikers on the Estabrook Woods trail system cross onto Bartlett Farm woods. Sometimes people even come up to the house to ask directions.
While owners of the Bartlett Farm cannot build on the 47 restricted acres, they are not required to open any portion of it to the public. Nonetheless, the McCormicks have done that and plan to continue doing so in the future.
A journey back in time
Edward and Joan Bartlett secured the rural nature of their Carlisle property by putting 47 of the 49 acres under conservation restriction in the '60s. They
inadvertently ensured that the property would honor their memories for although both passed away in the early 1990s, the sign "Bartlett Farm" still stands.
"The Bartletts made a great gift to Carlisle," said Sue Streeter who represented the McCormicks. Streeter has sold real estate for about 15 years in the area, and finds conservation restrictions are an asset to selling properties here. "If you're moving to Carlisle, you're coming here for the rural nature and conservation."
Subsequent owners of the property are legally bound by these restrictions. They cannot chop the site up into house lots for personal property. Preserving such a large area strengthens the survival of indigenous vegetation and wildlife.
The McCormicks respect what the Bartletts did by protecting the land. They have no plans to change the name of the Bartlett Farm. Although it's uncertain what future owners might do, it seems clear that Carlisleans would continue to refer to the property as the Bartlett Farm for many years into the future.
Carlisleans of the past, however, referred to the place differently. And the name Green usually figured into its nomenclature.
1765: Zacheus Green builds a home
Being born a second son wasn't so bad in the 1700s in Carlisle. There was plenty of land to go around.
Zacheus Green was born in 1732 to the family's pioneer settler, John Green. The elder brother, John, remained on the family homestead in Carlisle all his life. When Zacheus married Elizabeth Kidder of Westford in 1765, he acquired fifty acres of land near Estabrook Woods.
Zacheus cleared out a spot for their home on a dirt road that people were using to travel between Billerica and Concord. Long out of use, grass and weeds now cover that road, but in the past it was the road that connected with Estabrook Road, which Minutemen marched to get to the Old North Bridge.
The original Green house had a central chimney and two rooms, one downstairs and one up. Zacheus, Elizabeth, and ten children lived here. Only one daughter died relatively young (at 25) so one can imagine the bustle in this home.
Zacheus was one of the first community leaders in Carlisle. He petitioned for Carlisle to be separate from Concord in 1756. He volunteered to fight in the Revolutionary War at a time when husbands and fathers did not find leaving their families and farms particularly patriotic. His two younger brothers, Nathan and Asa, joined soon after. In 1782, Zacheus even served as a selectman.
On a side note, his brother Asa's death in 1785 prompted the father John Green to set aside a corner of his farm for family graves. Subsequently, he sold plots to friends as well, and eventually the family donated a portion of land to the community. Such was the beginning of the Green Cemetery in Carlisle.
We can surmise that Zacheus and Elizabeth faced a challenging life on the farm with their ten children. His granddaughter Hannah would recount old tales of Indians complaining that the Greens had settled in the midst of their hunting grounds.
1819: The Blaisdell boys arrive
The second owner of the house built by Zacheus Green was his son Isaiah (b. 1772). Isaiah was also an active member of the community but after two marriages he had only two daughters.
Across town, there was another farm at 341 Bedford Road. In present times, you may hear it referred to as Bates Farm. Here, Isaac Blaisdell the 7th, the town wheelwright, died in 1819 leaving his wife "Polly" Mary (Andrews) Fisher Blaisdell (b. 1781) with two sons, Isaac the 8th (b. 1815) and Hiram (b. 1817). She was pregnant with a third son, subsequently named William (b. 1820).
Polly, a Carlisle native and formerly a waitress at the tavern in the town center, had difficulty caring for the farm and the boys. She had already suffered tragedy, as her first husband had committed suicide when threatened with bankruptcy. Prior to (and perhaps a condition of) her third marriage to widower Robert Gilcrist in 1827, Polly "bound" out her three sons to Isaiah Green.
"It was not necessarily a cruel thing to do then," said Elizabeth Carpenter of the Carlisle Historic Commission. "It was an economic decision. It was a way to have children raised while learning a trade."
In fact, town historian Martha Fifield Wilkins, in her 1941 manuscript about Carlisle families, blithely wrote of the Isaiah Green household: "We may well imagine that there was a busy happy household of three boys and three girls and possibly it helps to explain the wide fertile fields and many farm buildings."
Isaiah was responsible for expanding the farm and adding farm buildings, including the property's barn. The three Blaisdell boys probably handled many of the strenuous chores associated with farm living, and apparently none of them particularly enjoyed working another man's land. Upon turning 18 in 1833, the eldest went to live in Concord with Deacon Elijah Wood to learn the shoemaker's trade. Each of his brothers, upon reaching 18, also went on to learn the shoemaking trade, and then returned to Carlisle to live and work.
Isaac Blaisdell the 8th would become the first Carlisle shoemaker. He worked for forty years in the trade, and eventually employed six men. He married a Susan Green and purchased a farm at 70 Lowell Street, which would remain in the Blaisdell family until 1966. His son, Isaac Blaisdell the 9th, would even purchase the family's first homestead on 341 Bedford Road, which was then owned by yet other Greens.
Did the Blaisdell men understand and forgive their mother Polly for giving them up as boys? It seems likely. When her third husband faced financial difficulties, the youngest son, William, took over their small farmhouse (built off Brook Street by Gilcrist in 1827) and let them live out their lives there. Upon Polly's death at age 90, William spent hours contemplating her grave in the Green Cemetery and even placed a stone post there to sit on.
Fate and necessity brought the Greens and the Blaisdells together, leaving behind a thriving farm.
1892: Remembering Hannah L.C. Green
Hannah lived on the Green homestead (now the Bartlett Farm) for 90 years (d. 1897). An old photograph of the aged spinster reveals a stern, neat, and determined woman. She efficiently managed the farm and business issues herself.
Her youngest sister, Nancy, also never married and lived with her until her death (d. 1872). The middle sister, Lydia, left the farm while her father Isaiah still lived (d. 1855) when she married William Farrar in 1845.
Hannah modernized the Green home. She replaced the windows. She had a carriage house built to house her buggy, and drove her own horses. For many years she would carry her homemade butter to the Concord Agricultural Fair and win first prize.
Secluded a half mile away from other properties, Hannah prided herself on staying current. She read the Boston Daily Globe regularly. A feature about her "Vendue," or auction, even appeared in an 1892 issue of the paper.
The Globe reporter quoted the energetic Hannah at her spinning wheel: "A deal of sparking's been done on this settle. 'Twas plenty broad enough for two, and when hauled up before the fire 'twah't bad, neither; the wind couldn't get through the back. There's many a worse seat made in these days, and city folks buy 'em too. I've set on this and spun off eight knots in a day, and I could do something at it today."
Hannah bestowed several gifts to Carlisle. She funded the building of an octagonal summerhouse in 1874 in the Green Cemetery that visitors could use for temporary repose on hot, sunny days. Hannah augmented her sister Lydia's 1881 bequest of $653.70 to $1,000 to build a Civil War soldier's monument in the center of town. She even donated personal items of historical significance to the Gleason Library.
1970: The Bartlett Farm legacy
Although a Green nephew inherited the farm from Hannah, other families then purchased it. Ownership changed several times in the 20th century. It would take Edward and Joan Bartlett to renew the spirit of farm life and public contribution.
Joan Bartlett's mother, Harriet Motley of Concord, along with two friends, bought the property in the 1920s. They rented out the house and land until the 1950s when it was turned over to Joan. She had kennels built for dogs she would take to shows, including prize-winning Whippets, Afghans, and Miniature Poodles.
Joan was active in dog training in both Concord and Carlisle. She was training director of the Concord Dog Training Club, and president of the Ladies Dog Club. She herself judged at many New England dog shows.
In the late 1950s, Joan married Edward Bartlett, also of Concord. Together they brought donkeys, horses, and later goats to the farm. In the 1970s a boy in the neighborhood used the Bartlett's barn to raise Irish Dexter cows for a 4-H project.
Edward Bartlett worked as a cabinetmaker. A top-notch craftsman, he had a workshop on the property. He volunteered time to act as a scoutmaster in Concord and Carlisle. Then, in 1970 he took public involvement one step further. He made the move to put 47 of the 49 acres under conservation restriction. The two-acre provision allowed for one residence and outbuildings.
"The Bartletts were good people who wanted to do something for the community," said Ken Harte, an active conservationist and neighbor. "They were not out looking for public recognition." Harte's children, along with others in the neighborhood, worked on the Bartlett Farm feeding the dogs and taking care of the other animals.
The Bartletts secured the history and future of a significant Carlisle property. Were they able, their Green predecessors of the two previous centuries would undoubtedly applaud.
© 1999 The Carlisle Mosquito