The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, December 18, 2009

Christmas tree farm: a family business

Everett Lapham poses with twins Nancy and Wayne in a family photo taken around 1945, before he began planting the tree farm. (Courtesy photo)

A recent photo of Jack, Regina and John Troast in front of their Concord Street home shows the tree growth on their property over the last 50 years. (Photo by Mollie McPhee Ho)

The Christmas tree farm on Concord Street, a half-mile south from the center of town, is once again open for business. With the help of their eight-year-old son John, Jack and Regina Troast now own the tree farm which was planted by Everett Lapham in the 1970s, 80s and 90s.

At first, the Troasts offered only limited tree cuttings, donating the proceeds to the Alzheimer’s Association of Massachusetts. Then, Jack explained, “We were away the last two Thanksgivings so we really couldn’t do much with selling the trees.” Regina added, “It took us a while to think about the land and decide how we wanted to move forward. When we first moved in John was just a baby.”

Now the Troasts’ goal is to open up some space to regain the view and to have room for future plantings. “We can’t believe how fast the Christmas trees grow,” Regina exclaimed. “We have pictures from when John was small and trees that were little then are quite large now.” Walking the property, one can see the original trees planted by Ev Lapham towering over the smaller trees which have self-planted.

This year, the Troasts selected a number of trees to cut for sale. “We had a tree service come in to cut the trees, just because of the size and weight of them,” Jack explained. When they are available to help customers, the Troasts put a sandwich board out “and if the board is up, it means we’re selling.” Prices for the trees vary according to variety and size. The Troasts would like to cover the cost of cutting the trees.

The faded “Sound Horn For Trees” sign dates back to the time that Ev Lapham sold trees and is still used by the Troasts..(Photo by Mollie McPhee Ho)

Customers can also cut their own trees and Jack said they’ve had a few who have done so. “Some people think it’s fun to trudge out in the snow and choose their own tree and they’re welcome to,” Regina added.

The tree farm planted by Ev Lapham is known for its unique variety of trees, including Colorado Blue Spruce, Concolor (White) Fir, Douglas Fir and Fraser Fir (see box). The trees are all natural, with no pruning and no use of fertilizer or pesticides. “The most popular trees have been the Concolor Firs,” Jack commented. “I think people are attracted to their unique color and soft needles.” And size is not a problem. “This is the place to come if you need a large tree for your foyer or have a cathedral ceiling,” Jack stated.

Thus far, the Troasts have been happy with the response to their sale, with the snow on the first weekend in December helping to attract customers. In the future, they would like to offer live trees as well. Clearly enjoying the enterprise, Jack said, “We’re pleased to hear customers say they are happy to have a Carlisle tree for the holidays.”

John is actively involved in the dealings of the tree business and as a self-proclaimed, enthusiastic history buff, the third-grader is also enjoying sharing the history of the property with customers. “I know a lot about the Laphams from our neighbor Mrs. [Sandy] Nash,” John explained.

“There were no trees here when Ev built the house,” John continued. “Guy Clark’s cows used to wander over and graze on the hill. You can still see barbed wire along the stone wall.” Mrs. Nash’s house was Ev Lapham’s grandfather’s house and all of the Laphams lived in these houses around us.”

John has found a number of relics from the past on their land and under the barn on the Nash’s property, including pieces of pottery, colored cut glass, nails and what he believes are Ev Lapham’s old work tools. “I found his wrench, his nails. I found a lot of his things!” he exclaimed.

Lapham loved Christmas trees

Nancy Lapham Randlov remembers how her father first became interested in Christmas trees. “My father planted a few Christmas trees as part of a Boy Scout project with my brother, Wayne,” she said. “That’s when he discovered his love of Christmas trees.”

“My father always talked about how he wanted to start a tree farm when he retired. The trees brought him a lot of joy. He didn’t just plant them randomly. Each year he would clear out new areas for the trees and plant them in rows. He planted more than he thought he would sell so that some could grow bigger.”

“My father started small and expanded to different areas around the house and in the field,” Ev’s younger daughter, Janice Lapham Roussos, remembered. “One year he was laid up with a bad back and so my husband and I planted the trees for him. But our rows weren’t quite straight enough, so he went out later and moved them,” Janice recalled, laughing.

“He wanted the trees to be organized and planted in rows wide enough so that he could mow between them on his riding mower. He said that sitting on his mower made him feel like a king. He loved working on the land and the Christmas trees were very important to him.”

“Many Carlisle residents remember cutting trees at the farm every year. “You could also tag them and return later,” Janice recalled. One year, he tagged a tree with “Richard Nixon” for a joke. She said, “My father really enjoyed having people come. He loved seeing families coming back year after year.”

Ev Lapham continued selling his Christmas trees well into his 80s and only stopped in 1997 when he moved to New Hampshire to be closer to Nancy and her family. Ev Lapham passed away in 2007 at the age of 95.

Troasts drawn to the land

Jack and Regina Troast first saw the property in the fall of 2001. “It was late in the afternoon and this was the last of the houses that we were going to look at,” Regina said.

“We were wondering if the house would be too small. I don’t think the broker had even turned off the car before Jack was out of the car and running to look over the hillside,” she remembered.

“What drew me to the land was probably a combination of the potential and the natural beauty and wonderful space.” Jack said. “You can make a house work for you but you can’t reproduce the land.”

“I was immediately drawn to it,” Regina commented. “I grew up in western Massachusetts with the state forests and beautiful lakes. The hill and the trees just pulled me in.”

The Troasts worked with architect Larry Sorli, Jr., to design a Gambrel-style addition that would maintain the house’s cozy presence and connect with Carlisle’s small-town charm.

Jack, who works in the commercial real estate business, supervised the construction. Regina, who is a former teacher and member of the Carlisle School Council and the Curriculum Enrichment Committee, coordinated many of the design details.

Construction of the addition proceeded throughout the spring and summer and the Troasts moved in during September 2002. ∆

Tree varieties seen at Carlisle farm

Colorado Blue Spruce

The Colorado Blue Spruce is an attractive tree with a narrow, pyramidal shape, cone-shaped crown and somewhat prickly needles. The species can reach a mature height of 65-115 feet with a diameter of two to three feet. Blue Spruces grow relatively slowly. They are long-lived and may reach ages of 600-800 years.

Concolor Fir (also known as White Fir)

The White Fir is an appealing tree with a spire-like crown, straight trunk and soft needles. Native to the western United States, it may reach sizes of 130-150 feet in height and three to four feet in diameter. The oldest white firs may reach 350 years of age.

Douglas Fir

The Douglas Fir is not actually related to the true firs. The branches are spreading to drooping, with sharply pointed buds and small firm needles. The species grows from 70-250 feet tall with spreads of 15-25 feet.

Fraser Fir.

The Fraser Fir is a southern fir, quite similar to the Balsam Fir. It has a compact shape, dark green needles, an intense fragrance and unusually good needle retention. A small- to medium- sized tree, the Fraser Fir can live to 150 years and rarely grows taller than 70 feet.

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© 2009 The Carlisle Mosquito