The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, February 11, 2005


New book preserves images of Old Carlisle

Carlisle's newest history book will be published next week. The cover photo was donated by Beverley Macdonell.
Though a small town, Carlisle has been honored with an amazing number of histories. Sidney Bull's History of the Town of Carlisle, 1754-1920, published in 1920, was followed by Martha Fifield Wilkins' 25-volume Old Houses and Families of Carlisle, Massachusetts, presented to the Gleason Public Library in 1941. In 1970 Donald Lapham wrote Carlisle: Composite Community and in 1976 Ruth Wilkins produced her definitive history of the town, Carlisle, Its History and Heritage, revised and reprinted by the Carlisle Historical Society in 2002.

Just in time for the town's 200th birthday comes a new history: Images of America: Carlisle written by the Carlisle Historical Society and published by Arcadia Publishing. The book is a visual history with 208 photographs dating from 1860 to 1950, spanning nearly a century of the town's past.

Launching the project

In late 2003, Carlisle Historical Society president Charlie Forsberg was approached by Arcadia Publishing, the New Hampshire publisher known for its image-driven local history titles. They wanted to know if the Society was interested in producing a volume in their Images of America series, as many surrounding towns had previously done. Charlie turned the question over to Ellen Miller, the Society's public relations chair, who, after careful consideration, enthusiastically accepted the publisher's offer. Ellen assembled a committee to meet with a representative from Arcadia. Together, they plotted the framework of the book, devised a project timeline, and divided up the tasks. It was an intensive effort. Work began in May 2004, and the finished manuscript was delivered to Arcadia on October 5. Project members spent the summer collecting the photographs that best represented Carlisle's history and doing research for the text. Often complicating their work was the publisher's requirement that all photos be original — no copies from printed materials, no negatives, no laser-printed images.

Project members brought a variety of strengths to the work. Ellen Huber, long-time Carlisle resident and Mosquito photographer, brought her extensive knowledge of the town in photographs. While many photographs were found in the Gleason Library and Historical Society collections, Ellen had another method. Through her years of experience, making and working with Carlisle images, she often knew exactly which picture she wanted and tracked it down. For example, unable to locate a particular photo of Mrs. Jennie Fisk at the Litchfield Parsonage, she found it in an old Mosquito calendar and photographed it for the book, thereby creating an original image. Ellen especially enjoyed "rummaging through the old photographs" and talking with long-time Carlisleans about them.

Helen Lyons contributed countless hours of research and, together with Ellen Huber, was responsible for several chapters of the book. Stephanie Upton pitched in to complete the chapter on businesses as the deadline approached; Conni Manoli-Skocay, archivist for the Gleason Public Library and the Carlisle Historical Society, helped project members locate photographs and related historical information in both collections. In addition, she assembled the chapter on fires and storms.

Ginny Mills grew up in a family that made Carlisle their home for generations. Her mother, Helen Lee Wilkie, was born in what is now the Woodward House on Bedford Road, and Carlisle's famed photographer and printer Edmund L. French was her great-uncle. Ginny contributed two chapters to the book, but she also shared the depth and breadth of her knowledge about the history of the town of Carlisle and its people. She tirelessly traced intricate genealogical connections, located houses, pinpointed dates, and provided the accurate information that only a native Carlislean would know. Finally, the entire project came to fruition thanks to the vision and organizational efforts of Ellen Miller. She made sure deadlines were met, served as the liaison with Arcadia, wrote much of the text, and guided project members through the process of creating a book. "For all of us who worked on the project, this was a joyful learning experience," said Ellen.

The community gets involved

Just as it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a community to produce such a book. With this in mind, Ellen put out a call for photographs. Through a notice in the Mosquito and old-fashioned word-of-mouth, Carlisle residents past and present responded. Though the archives of the Gleason Public Library and the Carlisle Historical Society were the source for many of the photographs used in the book, others came from private collections. From albums and attics came images of Carlisle, many of which were previously unknown even to those familiar with the town's history.

Jean Shubert, the daughter of Carlisle historian and author Ruth Wilkins Hollis, appeared with an armful of family photo albums. These contained many early twentieth-century photos of Ruth, her family, friends, and neighbors, but also several unique shots of the disastrous 1925 fire that devastated a portion of the town's center, including 7-9 Lowell Street, where the family lived. These, as well as several family portraits, found their way into the book. Beverley Macdonell of Stearns Street, a great-granddaughter of Captain Horace Wilson who owned Wilson's Stock Farm on South Street (now Assurance Technology Corporation), provided the cover photo. Carol Treibick of East Street, whose father was a collector of old postcards, contributed two postcards of Carlisle by photographer Charles Hodgman that she had found on Ebay. Richard Lamburn, a Westford resident who grew up in Carlisle, lent a 1947 photograph of Boy Scout Troop 36.

Last summer Ginny Mills and Ellen Miller traveled to Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, to visit Frances Lapham. The Lapham family had lived in Carlisle for several generations, in a house on Concord Road across from the Town Common. They are a family steeped in Carlisle history: Fran's brother Donald wrote not only a history of the town, but numerous articles and papers as well. Fran, an amateur photographer, donated many pictures to the project.

When no photographs of St. Elizabeth Chapel could be found in the archival collections, Father Thomas Donohoe of Saint Irene Church produced several for the chapter on churches. Photos of the Daisy family and their store were provided by Barbara (Daisy) Culkins, while Dot Clark contributed views of Clark Farm. Terry Herndon graciously shared his knowledge of antique automobiles by pinpointing the make and year of several old cars once seen on Carlisle's dirt roads.

A celebration of small town life

Images of America: Carlisle is a visual celebration of one hundred years of life in this wonderful small town. The photographs include the farms, houses, landscapes, businesses, and people who give the town its identity. On these pages readers will find Ed French presiding over his printing press, Mary Green staffing the desk at the Gleason Public Library, Guy Clark cleaning his milking machine, and blacksmith Ingwald Otterson at his forge. Small town life in all its colorful variety is represented: an Old Home Day parade in honor of returning World War II soldiers, students posing for their class picture on the steps of the Highland School, and the members of the Ladies Circle of the Congregational Church on an outing to Ashby on a summer afternoon.

In 1932, Helga Sorli started Carlisle's first ice-cream stand at the Sorlis' farm on Westford Street. (Photo courtesy of Larry A. Sorli)
The importance of farms and agriculture to Carlisle's history and identity is emphasized throughout the book. Bates Farm, River Road Farm, and the Nickles Homestead are included, as well as a snapshot of Emma Taylor Lapham feeding the family pig and a portrait of Prospera, the cow owned by Great Brook Farm, who was legendary for her milk production. Other images take the reader down streets and past old houses; some of which still stand on their ancient foundations and others that have faded into memory. Sited close to the roadside on Westford Street, on a landscape of rolling farmland, is the Parlin-Sorli House, still occupied today by the Sorli family. The Blood-Foss House still stands, too, the first house on the right after crossing the Concord River from Bedford. It overlooks the old fields of Foss Farm, now preserved as conservation land. Both houses look much as they did when photographed in the late nineteenth century. Gone are the Stephen Taylor Homestead, which stood on Cross Street, and Captain Thomas Green's farm, located on South Street. Once the homes of generations of these farming families, they are now preserved in the pages of the book.

The spiritual life of the town is addressed in the chapter on churches. Included are the First Religious Society, Carlisle Congregational Church, and the town's Catholic community, which culminated in Saint Irene Church. Civic organizations are the spice of community life, the activities that people participate in when the work day is over. Bands, baseball, dances, and plays all had a special place in lives of Carlisle folk, as did organizations like the Grange, the Red Cross, and the Boy Scouts. These are included as are unique images of the Hurricane of '38 and the All New England Flood of 1936, allowing readers to see how these awesome weather events impacted the town.

The final chapter includes a gallery of portraits of the people who shaped Carlisle. Formal portraits of nineteenth-century Carlisleans like Joanna Parker Gleason and Father Walker, the beloved minister of Carlisle's Congregational Church, contrast with a charming picture of young Arthur and Helen Lee sitting in a wheelbarrow. A moving photograph of Maria Taylor holding her infant great-grandson, Donald Lapham, is symbolic of the intricate web of families who lived and worked here for generations.

Book available next week

Though the book was not created specifically for the town's Bicentennial, the Carlisle Historical Society is proud to share in the celebration through its publication. Arcadia's insistence on high-quality original images, not scanned copies, resulted in a superior publication that contains clear images laid out in a graceful format. The final product is a lasting visual documentation of Carlisle's history. Publication is set for February 14, just in time for the start of the Bicentennial. Images of America: Carlisle will be available for $19.95 at Ferns and Carlisle Antiques, at area bookstores and many retail outlets in surrounding towns. In addition, it will be available online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. You can also purchase it during intermission at the Bicentennial historical play at the Carlisle Public School. Proceeds will benefit the Carlisle Historical Society.

2005 The Carlisle Mosquito