Friday, July 13, 2007
Beverly Sills' Carlisle connection
When Beverly Sills, the luminous opera singer and legendary arts administrator died on July 2 at the age of 78, longtime Carlisle residents remembered her special connection to the town.
Sills was married to Peter B. Greenough, the son of Henry Vose Greenough, whose estate sold 240 acres of the Maple Street property to the Town of Carlisle in 1972. The Brooklyn-born diva married Peter Greenough in 1956 in Cleveland, where he was working as an editor on the family-owned newspaper, The Plain Dealer.
Peter Greenough had deep New England roots. He was born in Brookline, graduated from Milton Academy and Harvard College, and was a descendant of Reverend Peter Bulkeley of Concord — in fact, Greenough's middle name was Bulkeley. Peter Greenough died in Manhattan on September 7, 2006, at the age of 89.
In her 1987 memoir, Beverly: An Autobiography, Sills wrote that she met Henry Greenough on her wedding day: "My father-in-law and I respected and loved each other from the moment we met."
Henry V. Greenough was a textile manufacturing executive in Boston who bought the Maple Street farm from George French in 1928. He and his wife made extensive renovations to the 1830 farmhouse at 528 Maple Street and the property. An "ardent conservationist," Greenough built the large pond with a center island for nesting wild geese, created hiking trails, and enhanced the landscape with extensive plantings and wildflowers. The farm caught the attention of the magazine House Beautiful, which featured it in its May 1930 issue. (A copy of the article and a complete history of the property are found in volume 9 of Old Houses and Families of Carlisle, Massachusetts by Martha Fifield Wilkins, in the Gleason Public Library.) Henry Greenough died at 93 in a Waltham nursing home in December 1977.
According to Ken Harte of Estabrook Road, who was a member of the Conservation Commission which negotiated the sale of the Greenough Land, "In 1971, Peter Greenough was planning to acquire the house and 30 acres surrounding it." Negotiations over access roads and the other buildings were underway when Greenough changed his mind and decided to sell the entire property. Peter Webster bought the farmhouse and the surrounding 30 acres, and the Town of Carlisle purchased the rest at the end of 1972. Harte points out that had Peter Greenough kept his family's farmhouse, Beverly Sills would have been an occasional Carlisle resident.
The Greenough Land continues to make news even today. The Mosquito of June 29, 2007, reports on the imminent demolition of the caretaker's cottage, and the possible preservation of the barn.
Beverly Sills made at least a few visits to Carlisle, and anyone who met her would probably never forget her. Norma Japp of Bedford Road was a ConsCom member when the Greenough Land was sold to the town. In a September 22, 2000 interview with the Mosquito, Japp said that she "especially enjoyed meeting Mr. Greenough's daughter-in-law, the famous opera singer Beverly Sills."
In her autobiography, Sills refers to the Greenough farm only once, when she visits her "father-in-law's farm — 600 acres in Concord, Massachusetts." She, of course, meant Carlisle, and the farm was 300 acres, not 600.
© 2007 The Carlisle Mosquito