Gilbert Lawrence, age 84
Raymond Lawrence, age 81
Sarah Lawrence Minty, age 35, Raymond's daughter
487 Monument Street
Interviewed May 11, 1995
Concord Oral History Program
Renee Garrelick, Interviewer.
Chandler Gifford, age 72, a friend and neighbor of the Lawrences and a leader in the Concord Land Conservation Trust, has joined us for this oral history.
Sarah - I have compiled a family genealogy from their roots in England to Concord. The first Lawrence that I have done research on that arrived from England was John Lawrence. Records show that he was baptized at Wisset, England on October 8, 1609. It was also recorded that he probably came to New England in approximately 1630 with a large party under the guidance of Governor Winthrop. It's recorded that he bought some 35 acres in Watertown and settled there for several years. He was by trade a carpenter. In 1662 he moved to Groton, Massachusetts. His homestead and land was in that town southwest of a hill called Gibbets Hill, a short distance from the First Parish Meeting House. It is recorded that he was one of the original settlers and proprietors of Groton and owned a twenty-acre right. He was very involved in town government and had many children - 13 by his first wife and two by his second wife. One of those children named Nathaniel had several children also and all the sons were very involved with town government in Groton. He had another son Enoch that was born in Watertown and also moved to Groton. Enoch had one son named Nathaniel and Nathaniel had a son Nathaniel, Jr. and Nathaniel Jr. had John Lawrence III and he came to Concord. I have records that John Lawrence had a son born in Concord in 1768 and I am assuming from records that he was born here on this property. I have records that they had some children, Joshua William Lawrence who is Ray and Gil's great-grandfather, and he lived here in Concord on the land. Joshua had Abbott who is Ray and Gil's grandfather, who then had two sons, Gardner and Austin. Ray and Gil are sons of Gardner.
Gil - Just prior to my Dad's farming, one of the first activities that I heard about was grandfather Abbott's lumbering operations here. All those wooded areas out there were covered with white pine. Abbott sold the whole thing standing to a professional lumberer, who cut thousands of timber and boards and that was the first activity on this farm that I remember hearing about first hand.
There was another Lawrence on the property next to us but that was another Lawrence, not related.
Ray - Monument Street had a great number of farms that I remember. There were the Petersens, several of them, and several families of Howes on both sides of the street, William Brewster was not a farmer but a world famous ornithologist and this was Lawrence land here. In our day it was mostly pasture except for asparagus beds down there. I think we had 30 something acres in our family that bordered on the river with five or six acres of asparagus, a small apple orchard. The Woodman's house was our folks' honeymoon house. The Hodgmans, I don't know who was there before them but they are related and in our day the Puffers, and some people named Blood lived right up to the Carlisle line. On this side we were here and then it became Frank Mason's land and then people named Burbank and they owned right to the Carlisle line on this side.
Most people were farmers by occupation using truck farming. I mentioned the asparagus and there were lots of strawberries. All the kids from school would come up and pick strawberries for 3 cents a quart, piece work. We made a lot of money. My goal was to pick 35 boxes a day to get my $1.05. Practically everyone that was in school worked up here at one time or another.
I remember perhaps most vividly the pascal celery and we had big fields back there. Plus the truck farms had carrots, beets, and onions, corn, cauliflower.
Gil - We would market at South Market Street at the open air market in Boston. I can remember when it was my turn to go to market, I would leave about 2:00 a.m. I used to drive a truck load of vegetables into the Boston market and sell them from the truck to wholesalers and storekeepers. Come back and load up and go in the next night.
Gordon Hutchins had a sizable dairy farm. John Lawrence had quite a few over here, he must have had 25 or 30 milking cows and big barns. That is now owned by Renfros. We might have had a dozen or so in our barn. Irving Howe had them too and Al Nelson's father worked there as herdsman. I remember on our way to school we would pick up Clarence and Al Nelson.
Chandler - Down here on the opposite side is the old Soule house where the Logans live now and I understand that at that time the Soules owned land on both sides of the street and that farm raised at one time a strange crop to me, but I was told they raised broom straw down there. What did Sammy Benson who lived at the end of Balls Hill Road raise down there in those early days?
Ray - He had his grain fields and a lot of acreage in asparagus and strawberries. This was the capital of the world in those two crops. We'd start cutting asparagus in early May and then it would go on into July.
But Sammy Benson also had some milking cows as I recall. I used to go down there and play with his nephew, Alan Reynolds.
Chandler - Sammy Benson, when he was much younger, worked for William Brewster.
Ray - I barely remember Brewster and he died in 1919. You probably remember him. Didn't he have a driver - a private chauffeur?
Gil - I remember him. He had a Model T Ford with the top down and he would sit in the back and he had a chauffeur. He did quite well.
Chandler - I was told that when he built his cabin down on the river or his shelter down there, which is still standing, that when he went down there to spend a couple of nights he wasn't roughing it too much because his cook would come down in a buckboard with all the food and it was all ready to eat. He was probably the world's most recognized field ornithologist.
Ray - He had a boat house across the river from the cabin down there. He would paddle across and the train would pick him up at the West Bedford bridge and the train would cross Monument Street when it came from Bedford and apparently would stop there. That kind of fascinated me too that he did that. Brewster must have had about five or six of those camps down there.
Gil - Each one being a separate room. The one that always fascinated me was a bathroom with a hollow log for a tub. That was there for years.
Ray - He excavated a hole in the ground and I don't know what that was used for - food or what.
We're pretty well acquainted with the area around here. A few years ago, well it was typed in 1990, have you seen this, "Early Memories of Concord" relating growing up on the Lawrence land on Monument Street. Among the memories we had was canoeing. We did a lot of that. I'll read a little of it. "Among our activities was canoeing on the rivers including a notable trip on the Assabet, Concord and Merrimack Rivers. This last terminated at Newburyport where our craft sank in heavy seas. Peanut Macone and I did that whole run. The Merrimack is over a mile wide and a big bend in it and the waves came in and they were four feet over the canoe and they filled up our canoe with water, but we got ashore. There was a surveyor along the river and he saw our problem. He went in an old station wagon to the nearest bridge and came down on the south side of the river where we went ashore. That was the end of our trip, but we had really planned to go behind Plum River and to the Annisquam River in Gloucester. It was a pretty ambitious project from Concord. We launched the canoe at Minnihasset just off Lowell Road. But we got home and survived it.
Gil -Going back a way, I recall breaking this land for conditions for agriculture, removing the stumps, removing the big stones, hand drilling the stones. One man would hold the stone and another man would hit it with a sledge hammer. Then we would have to use dynamite to break the stones to smaller sizes that we could handle. This was all done with a pair of horses. They would pull the stumps but every once in a while the big stumps would have to be blown with dynamite. That land was all cleared that way by hand.
Ray - The pond we have out here, that was dammed up after we moved back here from Chicago probably in the late ‘40s.
Gil - That was a meadow and in the middle was a big pond that those lumbermen that I previously mentioned had dug to supply the meadow with water. There were a lot of wild blueberries in there. Grandmother always made a point to gather blueberries and sell them wholesale.
Ray - That used to be called Fox Meadow before it was a pond.
Gil - Which is where the name of the farm comes from I guess. This house was built in 1878 by my grandfather Abbott I assume. He and my grandmother Sarah moved in here in the old house which was on the original lawn. It was so close to the street that they dug up the front step when they put the town water in.
I live now in this cottage and the cottage was originally up the street a couple of houses. My folks built it and lived in it while their home was being built. Six horses brought the cottage down here. We added on the kitchen and sunroom. This was at 1649 Monument Street at one time.
Ray - Where I live at 1521 Monument Street was 90% built by my father. I worked on it when I had time from work. That was about 1947. I had worked in Chicago for a few years in the steel mills before I got married and we moved back here and built that house and we've been here ever since.
My father and John Lawrence were always swapping land back and forth. I think they were about third cousins but in any event some of the land down there along the river I think they owned jointly. Henry Laughlin bought the land from John Lawrence so my father and Henry Laughlin owned a big strip of river meadow on the edge of the river there jointly. Henry bought that land in 1938.
Chandler - 1938 was the year of the big hurricane and I think I am correct in saying that where William Brewster owned all his property which was the old October Farm, 400 acres, that some of that land eventually ended up in the Buttrick family. There were several heirs who owned that. I heard the Buttricks brought in horses and the CCC or one of those programs to clean up the woods after the hurricane.
Ray - I don't recall that our woods was severely damaged in the hurricane. I think it had been lumbered off.
Gil - All the big trees had been lumbered as I mentioned. There was some down but not a lot.
When I was a young kid my dad did the farming with a pair of horses for cultivating. Then he got an old, old tractor which was quite the thing. That was a modern approach to cultivating.
Ray - The barn across the street belonged to John Lawrence. There was a second barn, the original barn was across the street directly in front of the house.
For quite a few years my father got involved in cabinet making and carpentry work. He was on vacation when he wasn't farming I guess. It was a busy time for sure. He had about a dozen milk cows.
Chandler - I know further down Monument Street toward Concord where Warren Jenning used to live there was an old Buttrick house, and they had quite a lot of cattle there at one time.
Ray - That was the Howes. There were three Howes, Warner, Irving and Florence. Warner had one daughter, Elizabeth or Betty.
Chandler - You can still see the trails that are laid along the glacial moraine down back there near the pond that is in front of the Pierce Brown house, because on the down hill side of the slope he put cedar logs along to keep the ground from eroding. That is still visible to this day in many locations.
To explain the Concord Land Trust. The purpose is to preserve open space and the rural character of the town and to preserve the beauty that all that involves. We are very lucky in Concord because there have been several large parcels of land that have been kept open and when the time came to try to preserve them, they were still intact. One of the things that we are very concerned about over the years is not only preserving the land and preserving the rural character of the town, but also it is a very important wildlife corridor. You could start at the Concord River down below Peverill Petersen's where Willie Petersen and Richard live and on the other side of the river is the Great Meadow Wildlife Preserve which involved many thousands of acres. You come across the river and there is the Petersen and the Brewster land which is all around Balls Hill Road and consisted of about 400 acres that he put together. Then as you continue on across Monument Street, you go past where I live and where the Emersons live and Punkatasset Hill - Gordon Hutchins and you're into the Estabrook Woods which can go clear across to Lowell Road and Middlesex School. When you get to Lowell Road you cross the road and come to Spencer Brook Valley which goes all the way over to Strawberry Hill Road. So you have a great swath of protected open space, fields, woods, streams, brooks, ponds and everything else. Fortunately Harvard College owns some 760 acres in there. It is a very important habitat.
So the Concord Land Conservation Trust is very anxious to protect that entire area and other areas in all parts of Concord that would help us keep the town in the character that we always think of it for future generations. If we don't do that, it will lose its flavor. People come here to see Concord as the old historical town that it was.
Recently Gil was very generous and gave 13 acres in back of his house and we were able to get it into conservation restriction permanently and ensure that it will stay open space, but it was also put into not only a conservation restriction but it was qualified and put into an agricultural conservation restriction so that Gil and Sarah's husband can continue to farm it and use it for agricultural purposes. That was a wonderful acquisition because it helped to protect the buffer of the Estabrook Woods. It was a very generous and nice contribution for us to receive. This is known as the Lawrence agricultural conservation restriction.
Gil - I wanted to see that it was kept open. We talked about it for a long while before we did anything.
Chandler - There are many steps to this kind of acquisition. The first step is the landowner has to have the desire to want to do it. Then we have to put boundaries on it and know exactly what the parcel consists of. The third thing would be that we would have to have it written up as a conservation restriction so that it can be known what it involves and what the use of it can be in future years, then it has to go before the Natural Resources Commission in Concord and from there, after they approve it, to the Board of Selectmen for their approval, and after that it has to be approved by the state of Massachusetts Department of Environmental Management. When they approve it, it becomes a fait accompli so to speak. What happens is that it has to go through those steps because when you put it into a conservation restriction like that it precludes any future building, and you are giving it a different standing from a tax standpoint. From the time we began to think about it, it probably took a dozen years.