The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, August 18, 2000


Carlisle Farms preserve unique way of living

This is the fourth in a series of articles featuring the sites that will be part of the Art of Living in Carlisle Tour on September 23.

First-time visitors to Carlisle are often surprised to see cows grazing on open farmland in a town only thirty minutes from Boston. Horses are almost as common as bicycles in town, and there's even the occasional donkey.

Residents recognize farming as an intrinsic part of the town's composition, past and present. Many still refer to Kimball's Ice Cream as Bates Farm and will happily share childhood memories about a visit to the Bartlett Farm. Some people still raise chickens, and if you do or you're lucky enough to know some one that does, you will agree that fresh eggs taste much better than those from the supermarket. According to Rena Swezey of the Assessors' Office, there are 16 agricultural properties in town. The number includes 14 farms, primarily concerned with the production of hay and grain, and two horticultural nurseries.

The Carlisle Cultural Council will pay homage to town agriculture by featuring two farm properties1081 Westford Street and 745 East Street. These sites are more commonly known as the Sorli Farm and the Town Farm. Each has a different history, but both date back to colonial times.

Yielding a rich heritage in farming

With land prices in Carlisle reaching new highs and fields routinely turning into subdivisions, it's comforting to pay a visit to the Sorli Farm. The green and yellow expanses seem impervious to the passage of time and changes in ownership. It has been part of the Native American Penacook nation, Concord, Acton, and now Carlisle. The first farm was built here in 1744. Today the buildings, pastures, orchards, and woodlands still adhere to most of the farm's original boundaries. In a society fraught with technological turmoil, you can find comfort in stability here.

Three generations of the same family has farmed this land for almost a century. Helga and Anders Sorli came to Carlisle in 1914 and purchased the farm. In the early 20th century many Scandinavians settled in the southwestern section of town. They marketed produce, eggs, and milk to the growing metropolitan population around Boston. Son Larry O. Sorli and his wife Marjorie extended the farm heritage. They once raised up to 7,000 chickens, and delivered eggs on two routes covering parts of Belmont, Watertown and Cambridge until the early 1970s. Today, the Sorlis still grow pumpkins and hay.

The Art of Living Tour will feature the original barn at the farm. This structure, dating to 1745, is "English" in style, with different framing than the later 19th-century barns. Architect Larry A. Sorli, the younger, will be on hand to describe the barn's attributes and present historical information. Tour visitors can view early farm tools and horse-drawn equipment in the yard. Larry O. Sorli, the elder, will share his farm lore.

The poor find a place to stay

The property at 745 East Street has a strong historical foundation. Former Minuteman James Nickles was the first to build his home here.

The colonial forefathers had to deal with the issue of poverty. In 1796, the town of Carlisle had five paupers. The custom at the time involved auctioning off care for the impoverished to whoever could care for them for the lowest cost. These transactions took place at the home of the town's vendue master, Timothy Wilkins, until about 1830. The town paid the bills for liquor consumed at these meetings. Subsequently, the selectmen took over bargaining with contractors for the care of the poor.

In 1852, Carlisle made new arrangements. The town purchased the 162-acre farm on East Street, now owned by John W. Holland, for $2,900. The site became the Town Farm to house paupers. A superintendent and his wife ran the farm, under the jurisdiction of a town committee. In 1880, the town supported 510 tramps and six paupers. By 1881, the house had greatly deteriorated, and the town spent $2,592 to construct a new building. In 1926, the town authorized selling the dwelling as a residence.

Considerable renovations reflect the changes in the house's primary use. For example, the cell-like bedrooms, large enough to just hold a bed, have been resized. The walls show traces of round holes where stoves connected to the original chimneys.

The Art of Living tour will focus on the property, and discussions of its history. A demonstration at the site will feature quilting.

2000 The Carlisle Mosquito