Friday, October 22, 2004
Carlisle Oral History Farming on Russell Street — 90 years ago . . .
When Raymond H. Dutton was born on East Street on June 1, 1905, Theodore Roosevelt was President of the United States, Carlisle homes and barns were illuminated by kerosene lamps, only about 500 people lived here, and the first Old Home Day was still seven years away.
Now 99 years young, personable and remarkably energetic, Mr. Dutton came to the Mosquito office with his daughter Candy Petersen recently to share his memories with the Carlisle Oral History Project. Although he lives with his daughter and her family in Brookline, he made it clear that he enjoys his independence. His eyes sparkled when his daughter mentioned an upcoming weekend away with her husband: "Good!" he cheered at the thought of having the house to himself.
The historic farm at 549 Bedford Road, now owned by Tina and John Kyprianos, who operate Carlisle Antiques, holds special memories for Mr. Dutton. His grandfather, John Proctor Davis, owned it and young Raymond "spent lots of time at my grandfather's farm." Mr. Davis was active in town affairs and was a Selectman in the late 1800s.
The move to Russell Street
In 1914, Raymond's father bought a farm at 122 Russell Street, now the home of Eric and Timm Brandhorst, and the Dutton family moved there from East Street. An early settler, Benjamin Russell, had built a home across from the farm in 1680, and the street is named for him. Ray Dutton graduated from the Highland School in 1918 and from Concord High School in 1922. Asked what he did for fun after school and weekends, he retorted, "We worked. We cut asparagus on the farm after school." What about friends? "Well, Mariah Clark [Guy Clark's sister] was my high school sweetheart," he offered with a shy smile. But Mr. Dutton married Emily McAllister and they had four children: Laurence, Bruce, Karen (Candy) and Donna.
After high school Mr. Dutton worked as a carpenter and stonemason, and his craftsmanship is still visible in town. "I built the stone wall in front of Dr. Towle's house on Westford Street [number 436] and the retaining wall at Spalding Park in back of home plate," he explained. "Stones were moved by a horse and drag. In 1929, I dug my own cellar," he recalls, for the house he built when he married, just down the hill from 122 Russell Street (on the right side going toward Concord Street).
In 1935 the family moved to Concord where Ray Dutton's children grew up. "I lived in Carlisle for thirty years and lived away from it almost seventy years," he observed. But it's obvious that those thirty years have made a lasting impression on him. Candy Petersen frequently drives her father to Carlisle to revisit his former homes — the house on East Street, his parents' farm and his own house on Russell Street, and his grandfather's farm on Bedford Road.
Mr. Dutton's long connection with Carlisle inspired him to write some memories of the places he loved. The level of detail he provides of a bygone era, viewed over a 99-year span, is extraordinarily valuable to local history buffs. First-hand accounts of Carlisle in the early1900s are rare today, and we thank Mr. Dutton for sharing his memories, which appear below in his own words.
Memories of life in Carlisle
[When we lived on East Street] I remember when the planks on the old Bedford Bridge were loose. When the cars drove over them they would rumble. When the wind was blowing toward Carlisle it would sound like thunder. Does anyone else still remember this?
I remember the ragman going by with his horse and wagon collecting rags. My mother always had a bag of rags. The gypsies passed through going from town to town. Water was pumped by a windmill to a water tank on the second floor of the barn.
In 1914 my father bought a farm on Russell Street. It was in the days of kerosene lights in the house and lanterns in the barn. The source of water was a spring at the bottom of the hill. A gasoline engine in the cellar pumped the water to a wooden storage tank on the second floor of an unfinished room at the end of the house. The tank had a three-inch overflow pipe at the top of the tank. I thought that instead of having an overflow pipe, I could run a wire from the gas engine to the top of the tank. When the water reached the wire a short circuit would shut off the engine. It worked fine!
The kitchen was heated by a black iron wood stove. The wood had to be split very small. My job was to keep the wood box full. The box was 16 inches wide by four feet high by four feet long.
The washing machine was made of wood with a large wheel on the side with a handle to turn the washer. It took 15 minutes for each wash. A round wringer was on the washer to squeeze the water from the clothes. Water was heated in a copper boiler on top of the kitchen stove. The boiler was two feet long and 16 inches high. The clothes dryer was the line outside with the sun and the wind. In winter the clothes froze solid until the sun came out.
Cleaning Spencer Brook
The best improvement on the farm was cleaning Spencer Brook. It ran from Russell Street through the middle of the farm 600 feet to an old swimming hole. After years without cleaning, soil and sod had built up to hold the water back. With shovels it was cleaned, the water drained and the fields became better to cultivate.
My father was always looking for ways to improve the farm. He wanted to put watering bowls in the barn for the cows. Money was very short. At the time I was working for Herbert Lee, a house painter who lived on East Street. We were painting on Hubbard Street in Concord. I had received $75 for painting. It was going to cost $75 to install the water bowls. I lent my father the $75 so they could be installed. Later, I received the money back and put it in the bank.
In 1920, a system was put in for gas lights. It was constructed of a large drum in the ground in which carbide crystals were added to water to form the gas. Three-quarter-inch galvanized pipe was used to pipe it to the house and barn. Electricity came to Russell Street in 1925. The water system was updated and an electric motor and pump with a compression tank were installed. Both the house and the barn were wired for lights.
The gas station on the farm was a 55-gallon drum high enough to run by gravity. It was used for the car and the truck. Bursaw Gas and Oil in Acton kept the drum filled.
My father never liked seeing a stone sticking above the ground. The small ones we could dig out. Large ones had to be blasted. Blasting required drilling with drills and a heavy sledgehammer. The holes were 18 to 24 inches deep. We took turns holding the drill and swinging the hammer. Father stored dynamite on the farm. Dynamite was put in the hole with a fuse long enough for us to run away before the rocks started flying. Later, the dynamite was detonated with a wire running to a box. A plunger would be pulled to make a spark. My job was to clear the field with a pair of horses and a drag. Small stones could be picked up and thrown on the drag; larger ones had to be rolled onto the drag with a crowbar. It was all horse power and man power. We didn't have a tractor.
Vegetables for the Boston market
The main crop for sale was asparagus. Strawberries were also grown. They were sent to the Boston market. The milk was sent in 40-quart jugs to Hood Milk Company. All kinds of vegetables were grown for the house.
Refrigeration in those days was an icebox. The top was enclosed with metal with a drain hole leading to the floor. The iceman came to replace the ice until my father cut his own ice. There were three icehouses in Carlisle, the Dutton icehouse, the Clark icehouse on Concord Street (there was a pond at Clark's used for this ice) and the Davis icehouse which was at their farm off 225 Bedford Street. Ice was also cut on the Concord River. I trucked the ice to the icehouse. The Davis icehouse is gone. Where the Clark icehouse stood, there are now trees but the pond is still there. The Dutton icehouse was the last standing. It even survived the barn fire but not the bulldozer. It was in the way of a road to a new house behind my old homestead, which still stands, the sole monument to a bygone farm and life.
© 2004 The Carlisle Mosquito