The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, September 19, 2008

Explore Carlisle’s Greenough Land

Part of a 742-acre swath of protected open space

The cooler weather and beautiful colors of fall provide yet another opportunity to enjoy Carlisle’s conservation lands. As the mosquito population dwindles and the grasses, wildflowers and migrating birds reflect the change in the season, Carlisle’s fields and trails beckon. At 242 acres, the Greenough Land, located on the eastern border of Carlisle, is the

Page's Brook feeds into Greenough Pond. (Photo by Helen Lyons)

largest of the town’s conservation parcels. The land, which has frontage on the east and west sides of Maple Street, on Brook Street and on the Concord River, provides the perfect setting to hike, canoe or simply to observe nature.

Purchased in 1973 from the estate of Henry Greenough, this conservation parcel contains wooded areas, a large pond and dam, wetlands and agricultural fields. The Greenough Land has an extensive trail system with links to abutting conservation parcels allowing long, peaceful walks through fields and forest, around the beautiful Greenough Pond, along the Concord River, through a “pine plantation” or on to neighboring Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge. The 21-acre pond, the largest in Carlisle, can be used for water-based recreation such as fishing, canoeing and skating.

The Greenough Land abuts or is near several other conservation lands including the town-owned Foss Farm, Town Forest and Heidke parcels, the federally owned Great Meadows, and other parcels owned by the Carlisle Conservation Foundation (CCF) or by private parties. The total area of the contiguous parcels (including Greenough) is approximately 742 acres. This large conservation cluster affords an extended habitat for a diversity of wildlife.


In addition to Greenough Pond and the Concord River, the Greenough property also includes sections of Page’s Brook and its associated wetlands, several certified vernal pools, 160 acres of upland hardwood and pine forests, a pine plantation, stone walls and large rock formations and approximately four acres of agricultural fields most recently used to harvest hay and corn.

There are also several structures that are significant features on the property. The large slate-roofed barn, which was a part of the original Greenough estate, still stands to the east of Greenough Pond. A warming hut which was built for skaters can be found on the west side of Maple Street. Remnants of old farm buildings, including hen and turkey houses, a piggery, a tool shed, a corncrib and a woodshed along with numerous stone walls can also be found on the land.

Colonial history

According to Ruth Wilkins (Carlisle and Its History and Heritage, 1976), the first European settlers on the Greenough land arrived in 1757. Solomon and Elizabeth Andrews purchased land around what is now 528 Maple Street and cleared it for farming, thus beginning a long history of agricultural use of the land. Andrews also operated a grist mill nearby on Page’s Brook. According to a draft baseline assessment of the Greenough Land, prepared by the Carlisle Land Stewardship Committee, this flat meadow land was also used as a training ground for the Revolutionary soldiers.

From 1884 to 1923, the property was occupied by the French family, descendants of Soloman Andrews. Edmund L. French, printer and noted photographer of Carlisle life, lived on the property until 1917. In 1928, Henry Greenough, an executive at a Boston textile manufacturing firm, purchased the land and made a number of major improvements to the property. Greenough was a bird enthusiast and it is thought that sometime prior to 1931 he created the pond and built the dam to provide habitat for waterfowl.

From 1928 until 1973, Greenough maintained the property as a working farm, raising cows, pigs, turkeys and chickens while growing corn and other crops. According to a Carlisle Oral History interview with Edmund French, the actual farming was done by Alfred Windhol. French stated that he (French) helped build the barn and that “the Greenough house was impressive enough to be the subject of an article in the May 1930 edition of House Beautiful.” At one time, it was thought that Henry Greenough’s son Peter and his wife, opera singer Beverly Sills, would move into the Greenough Estate. Instead, the couple moved to New York City for Sills to pursue her opera career.

Acquisition $378/acre net cost

In 1973 Carlisle purchased 242 acres of the 280-acre Greenough estate from the estate of Henry Greenough for $385,200. Financial assistance was provided through the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund and the state Self Help Fund. A total reimbursement of $288,900 (75%) resulted in a final cost to the town of $378 per acre. Because state, federal and local funding sources were used toward the purchase of the Greenough Land, use of the land is subject to certain restrictions, mainly that the land be permanently protected parkland available for use by all, and that uses be restricted to agriculture, conservation and passive outdoor recreation.

Greenough Pond's earthen dike is in need of repair. (Photo by Helen Lyons)

The remainder of the Greenough estate was sold as four separate parcels. The Greenough house (528 Maple St.) and approximately 30 acres were sold as one parcel. This land is now surrounded by conservation land and is reached by a narrow private road from Maple Street. Two additional parcels were sold as two-acre lots on Maple Street and the remaining parcel, which is in Billerica, was sold to the Carlisle Conservation Foundation (CCF).

The purchase of the Greenough Land was also subject to a Life Estate covering a small portion of the estate, including the farmer’s cottage, the barn and approximately two acres of the surrounding land. The Life Tenants, Alfred and Elizabeth Windhol, were caretakers for the Greenough estate until Alfred, who had survived his wife by two years, died in 1997.

Today, while a small portion of the Greenough Land is still used for agriculture, much has reverted to forests and all of the original farm buildings except the barn are gone.

Current use

The Greenough Land is used primarily for conservation, passive recreation and agriculture. Trails which connect to Great Meadows, and, past that, to the Foss Farm conservation area, are used for hiking, running, cross-country skiing and snow-shoeing. Canoeing, fishing, ice fishing and skating are explicitly allowed by the Conservation Commission’s Rules and Regulations. However, lack of direct access from a road makes recreational use of the pond somewhat difficult. The Greenough Land also includes approximately four acres of land in agricultural use. This land has been leased to local farmers for at least the past 15 years and is currently used as a corn field.

Trail network

Walks along the four-mile trail network reveal a wide diversity of habitats and vistas, including woodlands, agricultural fields, Greenough Pond, the wetlands of Page’s Brook and a portion of the Concord River. Some of the trails were created after purchase by the town while others use old farm roads that existed at the time of purchase and are suitable for horseback riding. One trail hugs the shore of the pond passing through the CCF-owned parcel in Billerica. A footbridge allows the hiker to pass over a section of the pond and continue toward the slate-roofed barn. The Trails Committee is in the process of obtaining a permit from Billerica to repair the wooden bridge which was built many years ago by volunteers. After crossing the dam at the pond, the trail splits, with one branch leading towards the Concord River, while the other heads south, passing through a field and a grove of pine trees. The trail toward the river meets up with the Great Meadows river trail and heads south to Foss Farm. This area is often flooded during the late winter and spring and is basically impassable during high water periods. The trail through the field meets the inland Great Meadows trail, which continues on to Foss Farm.

Although most of the Greenough Land is to the east of Maple Street, a small section lies to the west. Here one can hike to a small pond that has been used as a skating area. A warming hut was built on the north shore of the pond soon after the land was acquired by the town. A trail which begins near the hut travels west along the northern shore of the pond, then to the north parallel to Maple Street. Although this part of the property is not large, it is interesting in that it contains rugged ledge, ponds and wetlands all within a small area.


Hikes around the Greenough Land provide a wonderful opportunity to observe nature. Wild blueberries, blackberries, wild azaleas, partridgeberry and a myriad of wildflowers, ferns, mosses and mushrooms dot the woods and fields. Bluebirds, Baltimore Orioles, Bobolinks and other migrating birds criss-cross the fields and call from the branches of the fruit trees that line the old farm road to the barn. The pond holds boxes for nesting Wood Ducks and it is not unusual to sight Great Blue Herons, Hooded Mergansers, Mallards and even an occasional Seagull. According to the baseline assessment, Conservation Commissioner Tom Brownrigg, an avid birder, has sighted over 100 bird species on the Greenough Land since the year 2000.

The State’s BIOMAP data base shows that much of the area around the Greenough Land is considered to be Supporting Natural Landscapes for rare species. In its 2007 data base, the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife indicated that the state-listed rare species Britton’s Violet has been found on or near the Greenough Land.

Land issues

After the death of Alfred Windhol, the Conservation Commission (ConsCom) tried unsuccessfully to find a tenant for both the farmer’s cottage and barn. The cottage remained unused, and its condition slowly deteriorated. In 2007 Town Meeting authorized the use of up to $25,000 in Community Preservation Act funds to demolish the cottage and restore the land to open space. This act was precipitated by concerns over liability related to the deteriorating condition of the building, and the presence of asbestos in the building. The cottage and adjacent greenhouse were demolished in late 2007.

In 1993, the town spent $6,350 to repair the slate roof on the Greenough barn. For several years, the barn was used as a working and storage area but it has been unused since early 2007. It remains locked with most windows boarded while the Board of Selectmen seek a party interested in leasing the building.

A professional inspection of the Greenough dam was conducted in October 2001. The report noted that the two spillways were in fair to poor condition and that the dam was not satisfactorily maintained. According to the baseline assessment, since that inspection no major changes have been made to the dam that would improve the its condition other than the removal of trees and large bushes from its banks. The grooves in the cement spillway which were designed to hold sluice boards have deteriorated to the point that it is no longer possible to insert boards to increase the water level in the pond. In addition, bank erosion and sinkhole formation near the spillways have caused the dam to become increasingly unsafe and in 2006 the road over the dam was closed to motor vehicles. According to Massachusetts regulations, the dam, rated as “low” in hazard potential, must be inspected by a registered professional engineer at least every ten years. The next inspection must be undertaken by October 2011.


Parking for the Greenough Land is available at two lots, both on Maple Street. The south parking lot is just south of the intersection with Brook Street. The north parking lot is just northeast of the intersection with East Street. A kiosk in the north parking lot displays a trail map. In addition, direct access to Greenough Land trails is available at five trailheads on Maple Street, one on Brook Street and one from the intersection of Brook and Maple Streets. Two trails allow access to the southern part of the Greenough Land from the Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge. ∆

© 2008 The Carlisle Mosquito