The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, June 25, 2004


Oral History Project: Bill Bovey — a Carlisle original

Bill Bovey stands before a portrait of his grandmother and holds a book of letters she wrote about the coronation of Czar Nicholas and Alexandra in 1894. (Photo by Ellen Huber)

Bill Bovey is a self-described country boy who grew up in Carlisle, left it for the city, and returned decades later. But he was hardly the typical Carlisle kid, and the Boveys were a rather exceptional family.

The Martin K. Bovey family came to Carlisle from Arlington seventy years ago and bought the historic Red Lion Tavern on West Street. In the winter of 1934-35, they had it moved across the road to a more desirable location. They added a wing and a garage, and here the three young Bovey boys grew up amid the woods and fields of rural Carlisle.

Today Bill Bovey lives in a contemporary house on Russell Street with his wife Katherine, a travel agent, and two dogs (one is a rescue dog from Puerto Rico). A youthful and vigorous 75-year-old who speaks fast and laughs often, Bill recently reflected on his rather atypical Carlisle upbringing. His parents thought the Carlisle Schools were

inadequate for their boys, so "they sent me to the Peter Bulkley School in Concord from grades one through five," Bill reports. "A neighbor across the road, Charles Schermer, would drive to the train station in Concord every day and drop me off near school." Young Bill's trip home was more rigorous. The school bus dropped him off in Concord at the corner of Westford Road and Spencer Brook Road, and he walked the rest of the way home alone on West Street — one and a quarter miles — from the age of six. "You know what I used to do when I walked home from school?" he asks. "I'd find a beer can and kick it home!"

Bill Bovey's brothers — one older, one younger — went to boarding school. "I went to the Fenn School for grades six through eight and then away to boarding school." Although the family lived in Carlisle, their activities were Concord-based. "We went to Concord Dancing School, we went to church in Concord, and most of our friends were there, except for a few who lived near us," Bill recalls. His father taught English at Harvard College until 1938 and then left academia to make films about the outdoors. "He was away a lot. My mother had her Concord Garden Club and ran things at home. We had a couple who lived with us and took care of us kids. They lived in the wing that we added to the house."

Living in a tavern

In the winter of 1935-36 The Red Lion Tavern on West Street was purchased by the Bovey family and moved across the street. (from the Bovey family photo file)

"It was fascinating," Bill says about moving the house. He was five years old and remembers it well. "We'd bought the house for practically nothing and paid to have it rolled across the road, which was a very elaborate process. They cranked it up and put it on rollers and horses went around and around winding up the rope. As I remember, a lot of the boys [movers] had tobacco in those little tins, and I would hang around and pick up the empties!" After the move, the family put the house back together, and "it was a wonderful place to grow up. Each of us had our own room and enough bathrooms to go around. Every room had a fireplace." During the move a fireplace brick carved with the date "1720" was found, as well as some old coins.

Today Janet Lovejoy lives in and cares lovingly for the house where Bill Bovey grew up. (To read more about the house, go to, click on Archives, and click on the issue of December 10, 1999). Echoes of the tavern resound in the huge downstairs fireplaces, multi-paned windows, wide floorboards, and irregular paneling. As Bill says, "The floors had a little roll to them."

Although the Boveys didn't farm, the boys adopted Carlisle's rural traditions. "I raised chickens for a while. I would buy some baby chicks and a broody hen from Ivar Larsen [Inga MacRae's father] and I was in the egg business!" Bill recalls with a satisfied chuckle. "I didn't have an egg route, but we had enough eggs for our family."

Becoming a woodsman

Today the former Red Lion Inn, with its added wing and garage, is home to Janet Lovejoy. (Photo by Rik Pierce)

Martin Bovey taught his boys to be expert woodsmen. "I learned how to use an axe and a two-man saw, and I learned how to burn brush, which I still do a lot of here [on Russell Street]. Dad insisted we do it with one match and no paper. I loved it!" Bill says of his Carlisle childhood. "I'm a country boy. I loved to work in the woods."

This must have been especially pleasing to his father — a hunter, fisherman and outdoorsman who grew up in Minnesota and lectured at men's clubs all over the country. Before he married Bill's mother, he spent a winter driving dog teams for the Hudson Bay Company in Northern Canada. "In 1940 or thereabouts we went on a pack trip out to Alberta and Dad made a movie of that trip called Timberline. It was just beautiful, in color. Later, he and my brother, who was in the movie business for a while, made a film about the Red Sox."

Martin Bovey was a stern taskmaster. "We called Dad 'The Commissar,' " says Bill with affection. "We had work programs. One thing Dad didn't like in his lawn was dandelions. So when we got home from school every day we'd use an asparagus cutter to get the roots; you'd have to dig 100 dandelions. From then on you would get a penny for 20. One day I dug a buck's worth of dandelions!" Bill guffaws. "I had a blister in the palm of my hand, but I was quite proud of myself.

The infamous Hurricane of 1938 that roared through town gave the Boveys ample opportunity to practice their woodsmanship. A huge tree in the front of the house fell across the road. Mrs. Bovey saw it start to wave and herded the children to the back of the house so they wouldn't see it topple. The Boveys owned 90 acres on West Street, and two men worked all winter cleaning up the woods. "The government at that time was buying timber to encourage people to clean up their woods, so a lot of our timber went to the government. We had some of the grade B and C logs milled on our own at the old Barrett's Mill, and I got to be pretty good at stacking the lumber that came back. Then we built a garage across the road, we built a pen, and I built a chicken house for my chickens."

It was Martin Bovey's love for Carlisle's woods that led him to serve on a town committee in 1937 which studied ways to protect the woods from serious fires. The committee recommended that water holes be dug in several locations around town near natural water sources. "There are water holes in town that he was basically responsible for having had dug," Bill points out.

Leaving Carlisle

Bill Bovey graduated from Yale in 1951, during the Korean War. He joined the National Guard, Company H, in Concord, and in October 1951 he took a job with Estabrook and Company, a Boston brokerage firm whose name has changed over the years and is now known as Legg Mason. (He's still there, now the senior member of the firm.) "I was in the Guard for six summers," he says. "I met a lot of people I never would have met otherwise. It was good fun."

The Boveys sold the house on West Street in 1954 and moved to Chelmsford. Bill Bovey got married and lived in an apartment on Dartmouth Street in Boston. "When our second child was on its way, we bought a house in Concord in the early '70s, up behind the Louisa May Alcott House, on the ridge. One January night in 1987, I came home and my good wife said, 'Found a house in Carlisle we're going to buy!' I said, 'Been there, done that!' And here we are! So we came back in '87. We've got a pond out here. I've got ducks and geese to feed."

A Russian coronation

Scattered throughout the house on Russell Street are family photos and heirlooms; an elegant portrait of Bill's grandmother graces a living room wall. And therein lies a tale of glamor and excitement in a fairy-tale setting — the 1894 coronation of Czar Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra in Moscow. Kate Koon Bovey, Bill's grandmother, published a book of letters to her parents with historic photographs that describe the almost two-week celebration (that included a shocking misadventure that resulted in thousands of celebrants being trampled to death). She was on a grand tour of Europe with "a bunch of other young ladies of means from the Minneapolis area" when a family friend arranged for Kate Koon and her sister to leave the group and be part of the coronation festivities. "They went to every party, banquet and ball in the week preceding the coronation and three or four days afterwards. She talked to us a bit about it," says Bill. "This book was done in 1942 with my Dad's help. It was definitely a limited edition. It's an extraordinary book." Robert K. Massie used it as a resource in writing his best-selling book Nicholas and Alexandra, published in 1967, and he inscribed a thank-you message in Bill's copy of his grandmother's book.

Among other treasures in the house are several models of sculptures by Cyrus Dallin, an area artist who sculpted "Appeal to the Great Spirit" now at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. "He lived across the street from us in Arlington Heights," Bill remembers. "He would invite us kids to come over and watch him work. My parents invited him out to Carlisle for dinner quite often." Bill points out two paintings — an apple tree and a barn —one by Dallin for the Boveys. "He was quite an old man when we knew him. [Dallin died in 1943 at the age of 83.]. He was a fascinating guy, just a wonderful old man."

Bill Bovey still goes to work in Boston every day. Asked about retirement, he says only, "My wife is a travel agent and she's got lots of places we should go." One of those places will be London, where the men's chorus in which Bill sings, the Sangerfest, will perform in Royal Albert Hall in a Festival of Men's Choirs, 1,000 voices strong. It's likely that Bill Bovey's voice is one of the strongest.

2004 The Carlisle Mosquito