The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, October 22, 2010


The mystery of the third Town Pound

NO POUND FOR ME. A peaceful sheep waits for food at Great Brook Farm State Park. (Photo by Marjorie Johnson)

On Westford Street by the new Hanover Street development is a stone structure – really just two walls – sitting opposite Cross Street. According to the newly completed Historic Properties Survey by Preservation Consultants Anne McCarthy Forbes and Gretchen G. Schuler, those walls are possibly what are left of the third Carlisle Town Pound. But determining its existence and exact location through historic documents has proven to be a challenge.

From the early 1700s Carlisle, as a farming community, has had to deal with wandering livestock including cows, pigs and horses. To temporarily house loose livestock, residents constructed a town pound, or an enclosure to restrain the illegally loose beasts. According to the survey, “The first mention of a town pound was in the first District Meeting in June 1780 when attendees agreed (by vote) to require that each man give a day’s work in building a pound for the newly formed district. This was to retain those stray horses and cattle that should not run free.” Though the location wasn’t noted in the historic documents, it was probably close to the current Town Common. In the 1700s most town pounds in New England were constructed of wood but were replaced by fieldstone or quarried stone in the 1800s.

Each year Carlisle residents were asked to vote on which type of livestock could legally wander free. The Survey explains, “Historically, residents … voted on an article each year to determine whether ‘horses, neat cattle and swine could run at large in the district.’” The voters generally allowed swine to run amok, but agreed to restrain horses and “neat cattle” (domesticated cattle).

Carlisle’s Ruth Chamberlin Wilkins writes about Carlisle’s Town Pound in her book, Carlisle, Its History and Heritage. After the first meetinghouse burnt down in 1810 “just after the voters at a Town Meeting on April 23 voted” to repair the old building, says Wilkins, plans for the new meetinghouse included using the town pound stones “to fill up where the meetinghouse is to stand.”

The new meetinghouse was completed across from the Town Common in 1812 and the Selectmen formed a committee “to procure a new pound, and to let out the contract for building it to the lowest bidder.” Nathaniel Parker, coming in with the low bid of $25, won the contract. The town bought a 32-feet-square piece of land from James Wilkins for $2 in 1813 somewhere along Westford Street.

But here is where the evidence gets murky. The survey notes the second pound was to be located “a few rods from the village,” which places it close to the current fire station. Donald Lapham, who wrote Carlisle, Composite Community in 1970, included a map which shows James Wilkins owning property close to the center of town. The map and historical guide prepared by the Carlisle American Revolution Bicentennial Commission of 1975 show a town pound built in 1812 near the intersection of Westford Street and Rockland Road, but it had been removed at a later date. The Survey reports that Sidney Bull, in his History of the Town of Carlisle, Massachusetts, also reported that by 1920 the second town pound had been removed.

Perhaps Wilkins also owned land further down on Westford Street, which Lapham thinks is the site of the third town pound. The Survey notes that “This stone arrangement, reported to be a pound only by Lapham in the 1960s, was on the property of the circa 1935 Charles Sorli House, which was demolished when the land was purchased for a recent subdivision. A sidewalk was constructed along Westford Street as an amenity to the new subdivision. If this was the location of a town pound it is possible that the east and south walls were removed for another use at an earlier time. Lawrence A. Sorli, nephew of Charles Sorli, reports that there was a stone-lined well that has been filled located next to the east side of this stone wall arrangement.” Perhaps once again town pound stones were put to use, this time to line the Sorlis’ well. The Survey also notes that “The map and historical guide prepared by the Carlisle American Revolution Bicentennial Commission of 1975 showed the pound at this location and noted that Westford Road had passed the pound on its north side until the road was straightened here.”

Today we can visit the remnants of the third town pound, if indeed it is, by walking on the pathway by Hanover Road. The stones, piled about three feet high, form two walls with an angle in between. It’s clear those stones were used for something, so why not a town pound? Next time the Police Log mentions loose horses we can imagine them being rounded up and stabled in the town pound. We might also imagine two additional walls to hold those horses in. ∆

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