Friday, February 4, 2000
The Mosquito Looks at One Carlisle Neighborhood: Hartwell Road
This is the first in a series of articles focusing
on the search for a sense of community in Carlisle
Some say that Carlisle is a town without neighborhoods; that two-acre zoning and our modern tendency to site houses for privacy often prevent the kind of casual contacts between neighbors that fosters a feeling of closeness. Yet there are areas of Carlisle where old-fashioned neighborliness is alive and well. On Hartwell Road, neighborhood barbecues, group trick-or-treating at Halloween, and other get-togethers, both planned and informal, cement a neighborhood in which children are the primary focus.
Driving along Hartwell Road offers a contrast to many of Carlisle's "tucked away" neighborhoods, in which long driveways and dense foliage hide neighbors from each other. Most of the fourteen Hartwell Road residences can be seen from the road, and several surround a small rotary, known to residents as "The Circle," which has a wooden picnic table under the trees on the grassy (now snowy) center. There are no connecting streets to other parts of town, and although all residences are in Carlisle, Hartwell Road connects to Lowell Road in Concord. The visibility of neighbors, and the central focus of the Circle, along with the way the neighborhood is set off from others, give a sense of a close neighborhood with distinct boundaries.
At a recent get-together over coffee at the Hartwell Road home of Carolyn Kiely, I spoke with three residents about what it is that makes their neighborhood tick. Joan Popolo, Ann Warner, and Carolyn represent various stages in the "settling" of Hartwell Road: Joan was one of the first residents, arriving in March of 1993; Ann has been here since June of 1995; and Carolyn celebrates her first anniversary on Hartwell Road this month.
Built in '93
One of the defining neighborhood traditions is the "Circle Party." According to Joan, "We moved in during the spring of 1993. All fourteen houses here were built at about the same time, but not everyone had moved in yet. I thought it would be nice to get the kids together before school started so they could know who they would be getting on the bus with." Thus in August of 1993, the Circle Party was born, an afternoon for neighbors to gather on the Circle with their barbecues and chairs and catch up on the summer. The party has become a tradition and now takes place every September, the Saturday after Labor Day. It includes games such as bike racing and football throwing for the younger children, organized by the older ones, model rocket launches, and an evening campfire over which marshmallows are roasted and stories told. [Note: A permit is required for open fires in Carlisle.Everyone agrees that "no one misses the Circle Party if they can possibly come, even if it's just for an hour or two."
The Circle Party was followed by other neighborhood events. Joan Bero organized a "Scarecrow-Making" party in the fall, and a tradition began of gathering the children to trick-or-treat together at Halloween. This past fall, Carolyn Kiely hosted a Halloween party for neighborhood children. She jokes that she also inherited the neighborhood Christmas party. The former occupants of her house, the Petriccas, had held a Christmas party every year, and Carolyn and her husband, David Spotts, decided to continue that tradition with a neighborhood Christmas Brunch, held last year on December 12.
Plenty of unplanned activity
Carolyn describes her year here as "wonderful," and laughs that she knew she was in a real neighborhood when, on moving day, she arrived to find her neighbor, Bret Bero, had chipped the ice from her driveway. Having moved from city-like Alexandria, Virginia, Carolyn was thrilled to find a neighborhood where her children, now three and five, could run and bike freely. In Alexandria, most days were spent at playgrounds, parks, and museums. While the family still enjoys these kinds of outings occasionally, "there's really no need for planned activities." Joan, whose children are ten and thirteen, agreed. "Kids never have to be bored here. I tell mine to look out the window because there's always something going on." Activities on any given day could include pick-up baseball and soccer games, biking and rollerblading around the circle, gatherings at the various swing sets throughout the neighborhood, or sledding on one of the neighborhood hills.
Ann Warner, whose two children are preschoolers, says one of the things she loves about the neighborhood is the way the older kids play with and watch out for the littler ones. "Of course the younger ones love all this attention from the big kids," she notes. Joan claims this is a rolling tradition, "When my kids were young, the older kids in the neighborhood looked after them, so now that they're older, they watch out for the next generation." Ann also points out the lack of boy-girl segregation. "It's a very inclusive neighborhood. Everyone just wants to play together and have fun." She points out that the annual lemonade stand, which raises money for the model rockets launched on Circle Party day, is staffed by neighborhood boys and girls of all ageseven pre-schoolers help out!
When asked what makes this neighborhood so, well.. neighborly, all agreed that the cul-de-sac was key to the freedom kids enjoy here. "You can let your kids out the door and not worrythey stay in the cul-de-sac," says Carolyn. Joan notes that she has, on occasion, used walkie-talkies to communicate with her kids when they are out. The fact that there are plenty of children in the neighborhood, and the isolation from other neighborhoods (even middle-schoolers are not typically allowed to bike on busy Lowell/Concord Road), adds to a sense of togetherness. According to Joan, this persists even as children get older and attend different schools (several elementary and middle school-aged residents attend private schools). The lack of drive-through traffic fosters a real sense of safety, as everyone driving through the neighborhood "belongs."
Convinced that the neighborhood is a kid's paradise, I was curious what the neighborhood means to adults. Do the grown-ups get together as the children do? What do they do for fun? Is it a disadvantage to be set away from the rest of Carlisle?
Early in Hartwell Road's existence, the neighborhood banded together to gain town acceptance of the road as a public way in order for school buses to come into the development instead of picking up children at Concord Road. Joan Popolo was actively involved, but feels this was not a particularly important factor in neighborhood unity. She says the various traditions that have grown up over the years, such as the Circle Party, as well as stability of ownership and the fact that, in the early years, everyone was new to Carlisle, are bigger factors in neighborhood cohesiveness.
Joan has been walking regularly for several years with a group of neighborhood women she met early on. She also mentions that coffees and "wine and cheese" get-togethers were at one time popular, but Ann concedes that those have fallen by the board as people have gotten too busy. When asked if this has to do with fewer "stay-at-home" moms, no one knew for sure, but Ann added that working people are as visible at neighborhood functions (which are often on weekends) as anyone else. Nowadays neighbors tend to get together more informally over backyard barbecues or meet at the picnic table in the Circle. In addition, socials are held when a new family moves into the neighborhood.
The apparent isolation of Hartwell Road is not seen as a disadvantage by these residents, especially when they compare their location to other developments within Carlisle. Proximity to the Concord train station (4 miles away) and to shopping in Concord, was, for many, a major reason for choosing to live here. They also take advantage of the Middlesex School, which has a playground, swimming pool and tennis courts. Nearby conservation land, including Spencer Brook, is convenient for walking, and neighbor Nancy Ackermann (who was unable to attend the coffee but sent a letter) says residents are bound by their "love of this natural setting (where) turtles have returned to lay their eggs in more than one backyard," and "a black bear was caught on film indulging in birdseed, vegetable gardens, and compost piles." While Joan concedes that moms "drive a lot" to classes, sports, and play dates, she thinks this is reduced somewhat by the fact that "kids have a tendency to play in the neighborhood." She also is curious to see if the new development going in across Concord Road (Buttrick Woods), to which her kids could walk, will be viewed by them as a new source for playmates.
Joan remembers a time when Hartwell Road was viewed by some as "the neighborhood that shouldn't bethis isolated donut, partly in Concord, which wasn't connected to the rest of Carlisle." She adds, "The things people used to criticize the neighborhood for are the things that now make it work so well." Having interviewed these residents, I came away believing there is another element to the formulathe energy and determination of good neighbors who, throughout the brief life of Hartwell Road, have worked to bring fun, friendliness, and neighborhood spirit to what could have been just another development.
© 2000 The Carlisle Mosquito