Friday, March 16, 2007
If these stone walls could speak: The Davis Corridor
One of Carlisle's natural treasures is the Davis Corridor, the 156-acre parcel acquired for conservation between 1973 and 1995 in the southeast of Carlisle. It consists of woodland used primarily for walking, horseback-riding, bicycling, cross-country skiing and nature study on its trails. The trails link neighborhoods in Carlisle and form a major network with trails on protected lands in Concord. As part of Greater Estabrook Woods, the Mass. Division of Wildlife and Fisheries recognizes this land's great value for biodiversity.
However, the stone walls throughout the land bespeak of earlier activities. The Davis Corridor is wreathed in Carlisle's colonial history. Below is a brief summary from histories of Carlisle by Ruth Chamberlin Wilkins and Donald Lapham, followed by selections from Thoreau's journal and memories of more recent times.
Colonial history — 1600s
Sometime before 1683, Robert and John Blood came to Carlisle from Lynn and built their home east of today's 454 Bedford Road, southeast of the intersection of Stearns Street with Bedford Road. In eastern Carlisle, he two brothers bought three grants of land: 500 acres from Rev. Thomas Allen, 500 acres from Increase Nowell and 400 acres from Atherton Hough. They also acquired large holdings in other parts of town.
Over the years following these acquisitions, the Bloods were involved in boundary and tax disputes with Concord and Billerica. The difficulties of trying to establish boundary lines through almost impassable swamps, undergrowth and woodland caused lengthy disputes and litigation. In addition, Robert claimed that his property was not part of any town, and he had heated encounters with tax collectors. Eventually Robert did pay taxes to both Concord and Billerica for protection against the Indians and for his share of the building and upkeep of the Concord Meetinghouse and the Concord bridge over the river.
Four of Robert's twelve children and many of their descendants built houses on the east side of Carlisle, particularly on today's Bedford Road, River Road, Prospect Street, Maple Street and Brook Street. In the 1600s, Robert Blood and his sons improved old Indian trails or built new cart paths connecting the many Blood farms. Some of these are now trails in the Davis Corridor.
Colonial history — 1700s
Jonathan Blood, one of Robert's sons who is thought to have built the Ruettgers' house at 453 Bedford Road, or part of it, in 1734, requested in 1744 a road from his house to Concord. This road is now Stearns Street and Two Rod Road, an extension of Stearns Street through the Malcolm Land down to Hutchins Pond and by Punkatasset Hill to Monument Street in Concord. The road was used for early travel between Billerica and Concord, and travelers often stopped at the Old Revolutionary Tavern on Stearns Street, between the Jewells' house at 108 Stearns Street and the Dennisons' house at 78 Stearns Street. Two Rod Road, a trail that is two rods (33 feet) wide, often bordered by two stonewalls, is today the western border of the southern half of the Davis Corridor.
An old road connecting Prospect Street to Maple Street appears on early maps as "Old Road from Concord to Billerica." Today, it is the Blood Farms Trail in the Davis Corridor and forms part of its eastern border, with stone walls two rods apart along parts of it. Since the Bedford Road bridge over the Concord River, connecting Carlisle to Bedford, was not completed until 1795, these north-south roads connecting Concord to Carlisle to Billerica were important early colonial transportation routes.
References in Thoreau's Journal — 1850s
In the mid-1800s, Henry David Thoreau's Journal refers to J. Mason's pasture shown on old maps in the southernmost portion of today's Davis Corridor, east of Two Rod Road and just north of the Concord-Carlisle border. Thoreau's Journal gives a sense of the vegetation and land use in this area. Some excerpts follow:
June 23, 1852
"To the [Mountain] Laurel in Mason's pasture in Carlisle via the old Carlisle Road. [Thoreau's route began on Estabrook Road in Concord, and he followed chiefly the fields or pastures parallel to Estabrook Road.] These are very agreeable pastures to me — no house in sight — no cultivation. [Just north of the Carlisle border, he turns east to pass near the old Kibby Place and then follows a path he cut the previous fall through Cedar Swamp to Two Rod Road, a bridle road in Thoreau's time,, and south to Mason's pasture.] The Mt laurels in Mason's pasture have not a blossom — they appear to have been partly killed by the winter or else late frosts — the leaves many of them are turned red & dead - & yet they sometimes blossom for I see the remains of former flowers. They grow in the open pasture."
June 5, 1853
"The young pitch pines in Mason's pasture are a glorious sight, now most of the shoots grown six inches, so soft and blue-green, nearly as wide as high. It is nature's front yard. The mountain laurel shows its red flower-buds, but many shoots have been killed by frost. A Polygonatum pubescens [Hairy Solomon's Seal] there two and one-half feet long There is a track of pasture, woodland, orchard, and swamp in the north part of town [Concord], through which the old Carlisle road [Estabrook Road] runs, which is nearly two miles square, without a single house and scarcely any cultivated land on it, - four square miles."
June 10, 1853
"To Mason's pasture in Carlisle [with the poet Ellery Channing]. The mountain laurel will begin to bloom tomorrow. . . .We continue on [northerly, on Two Rod Road], [then westerly] round the head of Cedar Swamp, and may say that we drank at the source of it or of Saw Mill Brook, where a spring is conducted through a hollow log to a tub for cattle. Crossed on to the old Carlisle road [Estabrook Road]. What shall this great wild tract over which we strolled be called? Many farmers have pastures there, and wood-lots, and orchards. It consists mainly of rocky pastures. It is a paradise for walkers in the fall. There are also boundless huckleberry pastures as well as many blueberry swamps. Shall we call it the Easterbrooks Country? It would make a princely estate in Europe, yet it is owned by farmers, who live by the labor of their hands and do not esteem it much."
Here, Thoreau is alluding to the fact that the Estabrook area, lightly settled by farmers in the late 1600s, was largely abandoned by the mid 1800s.
The Davis Family — 1900s
John A. Davis is remembered by his daughter Ann Clark of Bedford Road as "a patient, kind, and reserved gentleman." He came back to his family's farm on Bedford Road after graduating from Wentworth Institute to help out and to do what was in his blood: run a family farm, raising corn and strawberries for market, hay, some chickens and a few cows. The cows were pastured in part of the Davis Corridor.
To supplement his income, John also drove the school bus and did house painting and wallpapering in town. He loved to walk in the woods, spending hours there, and Clark remembers walking with him on the trails when she was a child. "Once, when I was young, a friend and I were walking with my dad in the woods. Dad pretended that we had gotten lost. I got quite upset, so he stopped to let us catch up. Then, we followed a stone wall and found our way out. Everything was fine, and I was glad to get home."
John's wife Aslaug came to the U.S. from Norway at age 18 and was the eldest daughter in her family who lived in the Heald House on Concord Street. She had been trained as a cook in Norway and cooked and cleaned houses at times for families here and in Concord. Together, John and Aslaug enjoyed rural Carlisle life. Their house, now the home of Carlisle Antiques, stands across Bedford Road from the Davis Corridor entrance.
In 1971, Massachusetts declassified forestland, which forced landowners with large holdings to sell. The Carlisle Conservation Commission approached John Davis to ask if he would be interested in selling his land to the town for conservation. He replied that he would much prefer to see it preserved than sold to a developer. He realized the potential value to the town of his historical trails with their link to the Concord trails. He cared about Carlisle, and he cared about conservation. Tim and Nancy Fohl, who took his tour of the trails, remember Davis as a very positive and likeable fellow, with stories of old Carlisle and accounts of chillier weather up on Curve Street.
The Malcolm Land — 1990s
The Malcolm Land section of the Davis Corridor was in agricultural use until 1992. In 1911, Arthur and Mary Malcolm purchased the farm on Stearns Street and Two Rod Road. The original house, on the west side of Two Rod Road, built in 1800 by Benjamin Proctor, a cooper and carpenter, burned down in 1958. The Malcolms' son Allan continued living in the roofed-over basement of the house after the fire and farmed his family's fields with his brother Wilbur until Allan's death in 1992. They raised market crops: strawberries (primarily), flowers, raspberries and, earlier, apples, peaches and pears.
Today, the remains of a portable sawmill on Two Rod Road from the late 1800s and numerous stone walls throughout the Davis Corridor suggest a variety of agricultural and woodlot activities on this land over the years. The handwritten manuscript of Martha Fifield Wilkins, "The Old Houses and Families of Carlisle" (available in Gleason Public Library), gives details of land transfers, contents of estates and many tales of earlier Carlisle days. Farms, meadows, barns and houses are enumerated for the Blood families and the later owners of their farms.
The town purchases the lands
The land, when purchased in 1974, 1978, 1981 and 1995, consisted of 17 individual parcels previously owned by six families and two churches. The town paid a total of $344,730 (one parcel was a gift) and received a total of $147,841 in State Self Help funds. The net cost to the town was $196,899, or $1,255 per acre. At the time of Carlisle's purchase, the Davis Corridor lands were mostly woodlands, fallow fields and a wild cranberry bog. The several parcels belonged to:
• Mr. and Mrs. John A. Davis (55.27 acres, 2.87 acres)
• Mr. and Mrs. Frederick J. Fleming (8.02 acres)
• heirs of Henry N. Clark (27.9 acres, 8.6 acres, 1.1 acres)
• First Religious Society of Carlisle (8.93 acres, formerly the FRS woodlot)
• Guy William Clark, Jr. (3.4 acres)
• Olive B. Carruthers Trust (2.35 acres)
• Roy B. Hodgman (10.68 acres)
• Carlisle Congregational Church, heir of Allan L. Malcolm (23.1 acres).
In addition, John A. and Aslaug B. Davis gave to the town valuable Bedford Road frontage of 1.58 acres.
The town voted to purchase these lands for conservation purposes, to protect wildlife and watershed resources. The corridor connects to and protects the Estabrook Woods, close to 672 acres belonging to Harvard University, and other protected lands in Concord, extending south to Punkatasset Hill and east to Lowell Road. This large protected area totals about 1,000 acres altogether.
References: Carlisle, Its History and Heritage, by Ruth Chamberlin Wilkins; Carlisle: Composite Community, by Donald Lapham; The Journal of Henry D. Thoreau, Volume I (1837-1855).
The Land Stewardship Committee (LSC) is an eleven-member subcommittee of the Carlisle Conservation Commission. Its goal is to manage town-owned conservation land to protect, maintain, and enhance conservation interests. At present, this mandate covers the 30 conservation parcels (totaling 1,082 acres) owned by Carlisle. In addition, as stewards, the LSC also seeks to foster a commitment among residents to protect and preserve our conservation lands.
© 2007 The Carlisle Mosquito