Friday, December 15, 2000
The Carlisle Oral History Project
As part of the Carlisle Oral History Project, in October Ellen Miller interviewed Larry Sorli, a life-long resident of Carlisle, who grew up on his farm on Westford Street. The videotape, audio cassette, and transcript of the interview will be available at the Gleason Library in January.
EM: Let's start at the beginning. Were you born in Carlisle?
LS: No, I was born in Emerson Hospital in Concord, in 1921.
EM: Were your parents living in Carlisle at that time?
LS: Yes, they came here in 1913.
EM: Could you tell us where they came from and why they settled in Carlisle?
LS: They came from Norway. My mother was brought up on a 250-acre farm. In Norway, the oldest son gets the farm and my mother was the daughter, so usually they have to live somewhere else. That's the procedure over there. My mother went to cooking school and then came over here in 1902, to Boston. My father came from a different part of Norway. He wasn't a farmer he was a storekeeper over there. He and his whole family came to Boston in 1905. My mother was 17 then. My father was born in 1868, so he was pretty old. When I was born, he was over 50.
EM: Where did they meet?
LS: In Boston, at kind of a Norwegian lodge, I guess, is how they met each other.
EM: Where were your parents living when you were born?
LS: On the farm. . . on this farm. They were married in 1913 and then came out here and looked at the farm. They bought it in 1914 from the Loverings. Their father was a minister. They sold the farm to my folks, but they built the house at the top of the hill here, so that they were my next-door neighbors. One [son] was one year older than I am and one was one year younger, so I chummed with them quite a bit because we went to school more or less together.
EM: When was the farm built?
LS: The house was built in 1804, it was the second house; the original house and the barn were built in 1744. It was built as a two-family house. It's got seven fireplaces in it. It was seventy acres and we still have the original seventy acres.
EM: So your mother being a farm girl wanted to live on a farm, is that how they came to Carlisle?
LS: It looked like Norway around here, hilly, same type. There were quite a few Norwegian people living in Carlisle at the time, at least a dozen or more different families. I don't know why they chose Carlisle -- maybe they were recommended by other people. Concord had two Norwegian churches in the 1930s, so maybe that was part of it.
EM: Would you tell us what it was like growing up on the farm?
LS: Well, we didn't have electricity or running water in those days. We didn't get that until I was about eight years old, so when we had electricity it was a great event, you know, lights all over the house. And then we got a telephone. And the road out here was just a dirt road back in the early twenties.
EM: What kind of a farm did your parents run? Was it a dairy farm?
LS: Yes, a dairy farm at the start, mostly. They always had cows and horses and chickens, but they sold milk to go into Boston. There was a railroad station over the hill here, Carlisle Depot, they put it on the railroad train there, and it went into Boston. Then later on a man from Bedford bought the milk, J.B. Prescott. He bought milk from most of the farmers back in the thirties.
EM: What were your responsibilities on the farm when you were eight or nine years old?
LS: Oh, I had to take in wood for the wood-burning stoves. And I used to drive the horse rakes with the rake hay and stamp the loads of hay, and go up in the barn when we were taking in hay. We took it in all loose in those days, there were no balers, so I had to stamp it down and carry it around; it was very hot in the summer. We didn't accomplish much in a day, maybe two or three loads in a day, small loads. And I had to tend the cows. You know, around the gardens, the cows always wanted fresh grass. They had to stay in the cow pastures, but we'd let them out around the gardens and I used to have to watch them so they wouldn't go into the garden and eat all the corn or any of the crops. That was quite a job -- there were a dozen cows, they were running here and there and everywhere. It was interesting!
And then I led the horse a lot, when we were cultivating. The horse would sometimes step on the crops -- we raised a lot of strawberries and raspberries those days and sold them commercially to a commission man, so I had to lead the horse and my father would pull the cultivator.
And in the winter, when the ice got to be eight to ten inches thick, we would cut ice. We had all the ice-cutting equipment, like scoring the ice and bigger saws that sawed in certain sizes. I used to have to lead the horse to pull the ice up into the ice house, back and forth, and then they packed it in there and put hay around it and it kept until September or October in the fall.
EM: And this was the ice you used to keep food cold, before electricity.
LS: Yes, and the milk -- the milk had to be kept cold until we got rid of it every morning at the railroad station where a man picked it up from Bedford. I used to help milk the cows a little, more or less just a little.
EM: After electricity, did you have milking machines?
LS: No, after we got electricity, we gradually went out of the milk business and got into raising poultry then, because I was older and I went to school for poultry husbandry. And then I started raising beef cows -- Black Angus. I had sixteen of those at one time. I still have a couple. One of the interesting parts is that we had triplets born here, three little females. Actually it happens only once in every 10,000 births. I still have one of the descendants of one of those triplets. The beef prices aren't too good, so it doesn't pay to raise beef.
EM: Where did you go to agriculture school?
LS: University of Massachusetts at Amherst. I graduated in 1941.
EM: And then you came back to run the farm?
LS: Yes. You see, my father never drove a car and didn't go to school in this country. My mother, she went to night school for a while.
EM: When you took over the farm, what gradual changes did you make?
LS: Well, we had an old tractor and I bought another newer one, so we started going into more machinery then. We had all kinds of electric egg graders and candlers. Then we hatched chickens -- we had 16,000 baby chicks one year, so I was hatching for a few years.
EM: Were you in competition with the Swansons?
LS: Yes. Well, I worked for Paul Swanson in my freshman year. I had to work on a farm, so I was lucky that Paul hired me for six months, for that whole spring and summer, so I learned how to do things from him, and then also I learned in school.
EM: And you built many buildings on this farm, didn't you?
LS: Yes, I built the big hen house there in two stages in '39 or '40. I built seventy feet of it one year and then I built the other end of it. It was quite an undertaking. Then I remodeled the barn to make chicken pens there, and then I built the brooder house at this location [1081 Westford Street] in the back yard here. Otherwise, we raised the chickens out in the fields. We used to have twenty or thirty houses with 100 in each house. It was quite a job. We used to have to vaccinate them early in the morning and then we'd feed them every other day. We had hoppers that were weatherproof so that the grain didn't spoil. I laid down half-inch pipes so they had running water so I didn't have to carry water.
I delivered eggs. I had retail routes in Belmont and Cambridge. Five hundred dozen a week I'd sell retail and the rest I would wholesale. But then in the seventies the cholesterol scare . . . people didn't use so many eggs and people kind of got out of the egg business, so that business kind of stopped then. So then I gradually went into raising beef cows and haying and raising crops, like pumpkins, squash and things like that.
EM: What sort of help did you have?
LS: We usually had one or two working men, older men usually.
EM: Let's go back in time to your growing up in Carlisle. Where did you go to school?
LS: I went to the Highland School in Carlisle. You spent two grades in one room. You were in first and second, and the next room downstairs was third and fourth, and fifth and sixth and seventh and eighth upstairs.
EM: How did you get there?
LS: Well, they had a school bus. I guess it wasn't glass windows, it was curtains. It was cold in the winter. It was quite an experience.
EM: Who were some of your classmates at the Highland School?
LS: There were Butlers -- their mother is still living in Carlisle, she's a Dutton now. And there were the Robinsons, but they moved away. They were an old-time family. Most of the others were either immigrants or newer people. In high school, there were about twelve of us who started high school at Concord High, and only three of us graduated. You know, we all had to work in those days, mostly boys. For the school bus, we had to go to Carlisle Center to get the bus. The bus didn't come up here for the high school students. It was about two miles each way, we'd bicycle to the Center, or catch a ride.
EM: What was your social life like? Were you friends with mostly Norwegian children?
LS: Yes, but mostly children in my class, the other classmates. There were about twelve or fifteen of us. And my folks belonged to a Norwegian club, a Scandinavian club, here in Carlisle. There were about eight or ten families. They had monthly meetings and then they would have a dance at the Cranberry Bog, maybe one night a year, for the
young people. Also on Christmas Eve -- the Norwegians celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve -- we'd have a big meal and we always had Santa at the farm. My folks would invite all our relatives in Boston -- they would come out on the train and stay for a few days. My poor mother would be cooking for two days in a row before that! So with Santa Claus and dancing around the Christmas tree, it was quite exciting for the younger people.
About the Cranberry Bog -- the Swedish lady who was a friend of my mother, she ran the Cranberry Bog with her husband, mostly her. She had people pick all the cranberries, but then you had to go all over them and pick out all the bad ones in case there's one that's spoiled. My father and I would go out and help pick berries around the dikes and we took home usually a bushel or so for our own use. We used to go fishing there, too -- a lot of pickerel and bass there. They always had to have water there in case there was a frost, the cranberries had to be covered. I guess that Cranberry Bog has been there since the turn of the century. It's nice that Duffy runs it now, it's the only one in this part of the state.
EM: What about the winters back then? Weren't they real winters with a lot of snow?
LS: There wasn't too much snow. It was something like this. In the seventies and sixties we had some big storms. Then there was the '38 hurricanewe lost our electricity for three weeks, so we had to carry all our water. We had to repair our buildingsa lot of the buildings the roof shingles blew off, and the windows blew out. All our apple trees were pushed over. Where I live now, this used to be an apple orchardabout three acres here, so we had quite a few apples to be picked. They were sent to Boston to be sold. We made cider from the drops on the ground.
EM: Let's talk a bit about your involvement with Carlisle. What major changes have you observed in town?
LS: Well, I was on the Finance Board for a couple of terms and I was on the Board of Assessors for 37 years, so I've seen a lot of development in Carlisle. I worked with Guy Clark and Francis Dutton; we were all farmers when we started out. It was very interesting to see all the new houses, the new Deck houses, and colonials. When I started, there were approximately 5 or 600 people in town, and it grew to 5,000, I guess.
EM: When do you think Carlisle started changing from a farm community to the town we have today?
LS: I think after the warafter 1945, '46, '47, when they started building. We built this house in '47 and from then on, there were 40-50 new houses a year, at least that many.
EM: And how many farms were there when you were a young man?
LS: About six dairy farms there was Guy Clark, and Andreassens, and President Garfield's grandson had a farm where the Elliotts are now on River Road, and then there were some smaller farms. Then there was about a dozen poultry farms, anywhere from 500 hens to 4 or 5,000. Swanson was quite a raiser, and Larsons' farm, and Knudsens' farm, and Frank Hannaford, he was quite a poultryman, and Lawrence Bearse had quite a large farmhe went to school where I did.
EM: Would you tell us a little about your family?
LS: We have two boys and two girls. My oldest daughter lives in Lexington. She has one son who's at Colby now. My youngest daughter built a house across the street from me and she has two sons. Then there's my son Larry who owns the farmhouse and three acres, he's an architect. And I have a younger son that's a harpsichord builder. He doesn't like it heretoo much trafficso he lives in Shutesbury on a dirt road beside the Amherst Reservoir. He likes the quiet life up there. He builds two or three harpsichords a year.
EM: Where did you meet your wife?
LS: Her folks and my folks were friends. I guess I met her through a party.
EM: What are your interests outside of your family and your farm?
LS: Well, I used to go hunting a lot, but I gradually got away from that. People don't like to hear guns going off in their back yards. I like fishing. Then I collect old tools, because I used a lot of them so I have quite a collection. In the winter I like to ski and skate. I've skied since I was old enough to walk. My folks skied on the farm in Norway. I used to ski in New Hampshire with the children.
EM: You've been to Norway a few times, haven't you?
LS: Yes, in 1926, my folks took a boat trip to Norway and I went with them. I was only five years old then. Amundsen was on the boat when we went; he discovered the South Pole. He gave lectures during the trip. We spent two or three months in Norway. Another farmer in Carlisle took care of this farm while my folks were gone. When we were married, we lived on the farm for 25 years and were never away from the farm for one night. There was always so much work to do and we just couldn't leave the animals. When the children got bigger, they could take care of the farm. Then we took another trip to Norway and Swedenmy wife and I and our youngest daughtermy wife has a lot of relatives there.
My mother's original farm is still intacther brother ran the farm, and now his children run it. They don't raise cows any morejust grain and pulp wood. You can't sell a farm in Norway, it has to be kept as a farm, but you can sell it to your relatives. The government supports the farmers there, and everybody gets a month's vacation. They hire agricultural students to run the farm, so the farmers can have a vacation.
EM: If you were going to speak to someone today about moving to Carlisle, what would you tell him about our town? What kind of a town is it?
LS: Well, it's kind of a bedroom community, I would say now. It's a pleasant town to live in, I think.
© 2000 The Carlisle Mosquito