The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, May 25, 2007


Carlisle honors Esther and Waldo Wilson and daughter, Sarah Andreassen

Those of us who did not grow up in Carlisle, and especially those who are newcomers to town, may not remember hearing the names of Esther and Waldo Wilson or Sarah Andreassen, Carlisle's latest honorees. Each played important roles in town affairs and each in their own way exemplified dedication to public service. The Wilsons and their daughter, Sarah Andreassen, could count among them over 137 years of service to the town. At their May 15 meeting, the Selectmen considered appropriate ways to honor them.

Wilson is an old Carlisle family name, and all these honorees were descended from or married into the family of one Captain Horace Waldo Wilson, who lived in Carlisle in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He built Green Cemetery's Wilson Chapel in 1906, and the first shovelfull of earth at the groundbreaking was turned by his grandson, Waldo D. Wilson.

Waldo Wilson — first fire chief

Waldo Danforth Wilson, a native Carlislean, was Carlisle's fire chief from 1927 when the department was formed in response to a large fire in the town center, until his retirement in 1982.

In May of 1926 he discovered a fire in the window of the center store (now Ferns). He and a neighbor extricated the town's fire truck from the henhouse where it was kept in the summer and then signaled George Hibbart to ring the alarm bell in the First Religious Society; Hibbart was on his way to pick up the Carlisle schoolchildren in a horse-drawn barge. In the end, the fire destroyed the store, but adjoining buildings were saved. A Special Town Meeting established the official volunteer fire department after that incident and made Wilson its first chief.

During his tenure as fire chief, he oversaw the rebuilding of his own 1930 oil truck into a water tank truck for the department, trained volunteers and expanded the department from five men and one truck to a 20-man team, six fire trucks, a boat, and a supply of wheel-driven and portable equipment.

There is a display of archival material at the Fire Department that was placed there in 1986 to honor Wilson's contribution to the department. The Selectmen voted at their May 15 meeting to install a plaque on the display case in his memory. At their next meeting, on May 22, they again praised his contribution to the Fire Department and wondered if there might be an additional way to honor his accomplishments. They noted that his over-50-year term as fire chief may be a record in the state. With the current mandatory retirement at age 65, his record is unlikely to be challenged in the future.

Wilson also served as Carlisle town accountant from 1930 to 1975, when his daughter, Sarah Andreassen, took over the position.

Esther Wilson - dispatcher and teacher

Waldo Wilson was married to Esther, for whom the town's communications department will be named. Mrs. Wilson served the town for over 50 years, first as a schoolteacher and later as a one-woman communications department as the town dispatcher from 1927 to 1979.

In 1939, Carlisle was in the vanguard of communications systems when a short-wave radio was installed in the Wilsons' home to contact other fire departments and the Department of Conservation. Mrs. Wilson, the first woman to be certified by the FCC in communications, ran the dispatcher's office out of her home at a roll-top desk until her retirement in 1979. She sounded the fire horn, connected citizens to other citizens and to the Fire and Police Departments in emergencies, and dispensed news and kindly advice from her home-based post. She was available at all hours, but everyone in town knew that when the light that burned in her kitchen window to indicate that she was on duty was turned out, Mrs. Wilson had gone to bed for a few hours of well-deserved rest.

She died at age 98 in 2002, and her casket was borne by the Fire Department's old 1931 Engine One to her funeral in the Wilson Chapel in Green Cemetery. Her granddaughter turned on that small kitchen lamp for the duration of the service, and extinguished it at its close.

The Wilson Memorial Chapel was built in Green Cemetery in 1906. (Photo by Betsy Fell)

Mrs. Wilson knew everyone in town and so much about the town that she discreetly refused to be the subject of an oral history project lest she reveal information that might hurt others' feelings. Upon the announcement of her death, letters came in to the Mosquito from as far away as Florida remembering her, both as the town dispatcher and as a schoolteacher in the 1930s.

Sarah Andreassen - town accountant and clerk

Waldo and Esther Wilson had two daughters: Mary, a Lexington teacher, and Sarah, who stayed in Carlisle and married another Carlislean, Carl Andreassen, whom she met while both were working at Valleyhead Hospital (now Assurance Technology) in the 1950s. Sarah Andreassen acquired a background in accounting and computer programming and became the town accountant in 1975. In 1989, she became the town clerk as well, and she held these positions until her death at age 63 in August of 2003. She continued to work at Town Hall through her long treatment for cancer.

Andreassen was a peppery and energetic woman, known for her dry sense of humor and her meticulous dedication to her job. One Carlisle couple remembered that she had given them her home telephone number, so that they could call her to open up the town clerk's office if they could not get there during open hours to take out their marriage license.

Irene Blake, our assistant town clerk, who worked with Andreassen for many years, remembered in the Mosquito shortly after her death that during the last week of her life, "[Sarah] was in the office on Monday, had a CAT scan on Tuesday, went to the town accountants' picnic on Wednesday, was admitted to Brigham and Women's on Thursday, and died on Friday. If that's not living your life your way, and every minute of it, I don't know what is."

A plaque commemorating her 30-year service to the town will be placed at the Town Hall patio, which will be named for her.

[References: Carlisle, As the Mosquito Saw It, page 25, contains more on the Fire Department's history.

"Carlisle loses an icon — First woman dispatcher licensed by the FCC served Carlisle for over 50 years," by Marilyn Harte, Mosquito, August 30, 2002.

"Carlisle loses a special Town Clerk and Accountant — Sarah W. Andreassen," by Marilyn Harte, Mosquito, August 29, 2003.

"Ode to Sarah W. Andreassen," by Irene Bass Blake, Mosquito, August 29, 2003.]

2007 The Carlisle Mosquito