The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, November 29, 2002


Sale of moss nets $35 in '29

During the Town Forest committee meeting on November 19, Carlisle Town Clerk Sarah Andreassen presented a collection of Town Forest reports from 1929 to 1948. Committee chair Jane Anderson read an excerpt from the 1929 report, which noted a profit of $35 for the sale of moss from the Town Forest. She puzzled why anyone would be selling or buying moss.

A puzzle should never be left unsolved! Upon searching through volumes of books, a possible explanation has surfaced. The moss that was sold was probably sphagnum moss, which is the top layer of peat. Peat and moss were very important in the 1700s and 1800s and early in the 1900s. In the boggy areas there were probably thick mounds of sphagnum moss, which would be exposed if the area were drained. Evidence of ditches can still be seen on the Town Forest land. They may have been used to drain the swampy areas, and then the land would be left to dry. Moss and peat were commonly used as fuel on Block Island and the Cape, but around Concord and Carlisle it was used as fertilizer. The dried moss and peat could be easily scooped up and sold to farmers. They would either dump it directly on their fields for fertilizer, or put it in the pig yard to have the animals mix with mud and dung, and then spread it on the fields.

After the moss and top layers of peat were cleaned out, the land would dry further. Sphagnum moss has the ability to absorb vast quantities of water (the Native Americans used it in diapers!), which allowed it to survive in the nutrient-starved waters of the bog. As the bog dried, the nutrients were freed through decay and the land could be used to plant trees. In 1929, 6,000 pine trees, which would not have survived growing in a bog, were planted. In 1934 another 5,000 were planted.

Since the town reports do not give an explanation of the reason for the sale of the moss, this is conjecture. Please write to the Mosquito if you have additional information or another theory.

2002 The Carlisle Mosquito