Friday, October 27, 2006
Memories of a unique neighborhood: Tophet and Carleton Roads
I really love our neighborhood, the "U" formed by Tophet and Carleton Roads off East Riding Drive. It is a neighborhood of 22 homes of various designs ranging from Colonial to contemporary, and a new construction underway.
Alyn and I have lived here for 34 years, having moved to Tophet Road from East Street where we had lived since 1966. We are aware of how comfortable and stable we find the familiar surroundings and memories. We also are aware each year of the changes happening around us; families leave and new families move in. Long-time residents have often spoken of the camaraderie, concern for others, and enjoyment we have had in this micro-community. New neighbors have always been welcome here, but I am certain that they all heard tales of traditions and helping one another. And then, they too became part of the neighborhood.
Each time a house undergoes some repairs, renovations or a sale we talk about the "old days" at that home, but do not always remember clearly who has lived there. As I found that my memory, along with those of some of the old-timers around me, was not as clear as we would wish, I decided to learn more about our history as a neighborhood and to put it on paper. The result is an on-going attempt to gather documented and remembered information about coming to live here, and the experiences that families have had while here.
A new subdivision in 1969
I learned from Planning Board records that this area off East Riding Drive was owned, and the lots and roads developed by Cal-Mar Realty Trust of Bedford, Mass., Joseph W. Moore and William J. Callahan, Trustees. They purchased the land from Charles L. Little and named the sub-division "Little's Woods." None of us has ever heard that term before or since. The Planning Board accepted the development in June 1969. A number of modifications were required by the Board and were completed in the next few years.
The Planning Board's folder on our development revealed surprising information. I found reference only to lot numbers, not addresses, which led me to investigate when the houses were given addresses. Using the Gleason Library's collection of town phone books, I found that in the 1960s, all houses in Carlisle were listed only by the street name, some with lot numbers. During the mid-1970s houses gradually were officially assigned house numbers that reflected the distance in feet from the start of the street when a zero was added to the number. Our house, #200 Tophet, is 2000 feet from the start of Tophet where it meets East Riding Drive.
Around town the adoption of these numbers replacing lot numbers happened in an uneven pattern. For example, across from us the Donnellys' house, whose foundation was poured in the fall of 1970 and was occupied in April 1971, was listed as 13 Tophet Road (their lot number) until 1979. Our house became 200 Tophet in 1978, although we had lived there since 1972. As of 1978 the DeBenedictis house on Carleton Road (location of The Children's Place) was still listed in the phone book as lot # 3 rather than the current #54.
Only one house in our neighborhood has the distinction of having the original owners and the lot number still on its mailbox. It was the second house to be built on Carleton Road. As one who likes tradition, I was very happy to learn that there is a working agreement among the town, post office and utilities to use whichever number (lot or distance in feet) suits the owner. Currently, the mailbox and phone book list the lot number.
In the Planning Board folder was a letter, dated September 28, 1972, from then chairman Terry Herndon expressing concern about the 16 catch basin covers that were constructed in the form of parallel bars. The basins had been installed with the bars parallel to the direction of the road. One child had already been injured when his front bike wheel fell into such an opening. The builders were told to turn the grates 90 degrees. I appreciate this detail every time I pass one. In May 1976, Town Meeting accepted Tophet Road as a town road. Carleton Road had been accepted at a Special Town Meeting, November 1975.
Construction of homes
Builders Jack Sarness and Will Sanford each bought several lots from developer Joseph Moore, sometimes reselling them or building houses. Marjorie and David Harrigan were the first residents of Tophet Road in January 1970. Marjorie remembers that there was no power on the street when the house was under construction; the builders had to bring in generators. Tophet Road had no asphalt, only dirt and gravel, and sometimes, as the only residents, the Harrigans had to call the DPW to remind them to plow the street. Each winter in the l970s David flooded an ice rink in their backyard for Marjorie and the neighborhood kids. Marjorie still lives in the house.
Two of Sarness's contemporary-style houses, with flat roofs, were built on Carleton Road in 1974. The roof design and other flaws were a source of grief to owners. Fred Lemire, who bought the lot and the house design at 146 Tophet Road from Sarness, decided to redesign the house, alter the rooflines and build it himself with help from his dad. The Lemires moved in April l976. In 1981, Fred Sr. became the first resident at the Carlisle Village Court senior housing. Fred Sr.'s younger brother was Ed Lemire, a chef known to many in Carlisle.
A number of the original owners did a lot of clearing of the land themselves, and construction as well, mainly interior but sometimes exterior. Number 127 Tophet Road, whose foundation was poured in 1974, is an individually designed house, which was built day-by-day, board-by-board by an unemployed engineer. He and his wife lived there until 1978 when they sold it. Dan Roy at 127 Carleton drew up his house plan. He and his father-in-law from Lynn helped with the construction and the Roys moved in in July 1972. They continued finishing the interior for a long time. Dale and Rita Wesgan at 132 Tophet, and Mike and Caryl Dundorf at 234 Tophet, owners of two of the four neighborhood Deck houses, finished the interiors of the shells themselves.
The first house on Carleton Road
Tom Sangiolo acted as general contractor in 1973 and did all the finish work at 159 Tophet. Angelo DeBenedictis, who bought the land on Carleton Road directly from Moore, cleared all the trees himself and then was the general contractor for the house, doing much of the work himself along with relatives in the business. Theirs was the first completed house on Carleton; the DeBenedictises moved in May 1971 and are still there. Mike and Nancy Leonard's contemporary- style Carleton Road home was finished on the top level, but the ground floor was left unfinished until in the late 1970s. Uncle Clem from Lexington was delighted to finish the project, creating the children's bedrooms and playroom.
Today, the original owners who still reside in the neighborhood include the Harrigans, the Donnellys, the Leonards, the DeBenedictises, and the Rovins.
Building a community
As you might suspect by now, the Tophet Road-Carleton Road neighborhood is a cohesive community. While we may not hold coffees and socialize any more than other Carlisle neighborhoods, nonetheless there is a strong feeling of community. Alyn and I remember one weekend when we got a frantic phone call asking for strong men to help keep a tall tree that Fred Lemire was cutting from coming down onto their house. Like Paul Revere's ride, the word went out and a number of nearby men were seen hurrying down to assist. The neighbors all soon gathered for work and a lot of chatting.
In the early 1970s a major crisis brought neighbors together in a way they never expected nor wanted. Old-timers remember the difficult and unpleasant struggle to remove a concrete foundation business being illegally run by William Cronin from the lower acreage of 187 Tophet Road. It was a very stressful time for the neighborhood. Everyone could hear the crashes made by the loading and unloading of heavy concrete forms at all hours of the late night and at 4 a.m. The owners' workmen caused problems for neighbors' children, harassing the teenage girls walking to and from the high school bus stop. The owners were unwilling to even discuss the neighborhood's concerns. They erected a spite fence and threatened neighbors when we walked down the road. For a while the Selectmen were reluctant to support the neighbors' struggle. Finally, we were able to bring enough pressure to have the Selectmen enforce the by-laws, shutting the business down. The Cronins finally sold their house and moved out of town in 1984.
Jean Donnelly remembers how the younger Donnellys had their own playgroup with kids from the two next houses. When the twins Lawrence and Christopher were five and sibling Kevin was four, there was Amy Stack (also four), Andrea Stack (18 months younger), Brian Lemire (one year older than Kevin) and Melissa Lemire who was a year older than the twins. These kids traveled between their adjacent houses, not on the street but using their own paths through the woods. When the kids moved from house to house, the mothers kept each other informed. Kailah and Joshua remember the years of after-dinner neighborhood games, particularly "Kick the Can." It was almost a nightly affair that lasted from the late '70s into the mid-'80s.
Our neighborhood currently has children from ages three through high school. We love to see them as we walk around. They seem to stay closer to home than the children of the 70's and 80's. Gone for now are the evenings of mass recreation.
In 1984 Alyn and I had a pool built for exercise, for Joshua who was then on a swim team and for Kailah. Starting in 1986 we have had almost-annual neighborhood pool parties, now called "Gab and Plunge." Former as well as current neighbors mingle and the children romp in the pool and spa, reminding all of us of the continuity of play and memory. Block parties are part of the neighborhood's tradition — the Mosquito reports on a block party held in September 1972, attended by 105 residents of Tophet, Carleton and East Riding Drive. In more recent years, the Charvats on Carleton Road have held an annual holiday party.
I have hopes for the continuing sense of community within our neighborhood, carried on by current and future residents. It is a gift we give each other and our children.
© 2006 The Carlisle Mosquito