The following is the first in a two-part series looking at Manchester’s urban ponds.
By Jen Drociak
There are six ponds in Manchester. Do you know their names or where they are located? If you do, have you visited them lately?
They are: Crystal Lake, Dorrs Pond, McQuesten Pond, Nutts Pond, Pine Island Pond, and Stevens Pond. The dam was removed from Maxwell Pond in 2009 restoring a now free-flowing Black Brook, so we’ll certainly count that too!
Do you remember swimming or fishing at any of these waterbodies? Perhaps your parents or grandparents have talked about it. The sad news is, over the past 60 years, these waterbodies have severely degraded by means of increased stormwater runoff and other pollutants, eroded shorelines/inadequate shoreline vegetation, invasive aquatic and terrestrial plants, illegal trash dumping, graffiti and vandalism, and other issues. In the 12 years I have been coordinating the Manchester Urban Ponds Restoration Program, I have yet to see someone swimming in Nutts Pond, however, a few years ago I did see one brave soul swimming in Dorrs Pond. Coincidentally, I happened to have my camera, so I have tangible proof! The fact is the only “swimmable” pond in Manchester today remains Crystal Lake.
A Few Fun Facts:
Do you know of the “hermit of Mosquito Pond?” Charles Alan Lambert came to Manchester in the 1840s after several heartbreaks (poor guy!), and retreated to the woods to live a quiet life of self-sufficiency. He purchased approximately 40 acres near Crystal Lake, built his own hut, and grew most of his own food and herbs. In spite of his choice of a reclusive life, hundreds of people would visit him in the summer months. Mr. Lambert lived at his homestead for over 60 years. He died in 1914 and his body now lies in St. Joseph’s Cemetery marked by a plain white tombstone, inscribed “The Hermit.” Today, Crystal Lake is home to a public swimming beach, and an adjacent park with covered pavilion and children’s playground. For over 60 years, Crystal Lake has also been home to Melody Pines Day Camp. So this spring and summer, be sure to picnic, swim, and enjoy!
Do you know that the parcel of land John Stark inherited encompassed the area of Ray Brook and what is now Dorrs Pond? It was on Ray Brook that John Stark ran a sawmill for many years, presumably constructed by his father. Various historical accounts say that Stark was working at the Ray Brook mill when he heard of the fight at Lexington in April of 1775. General Stark immediately left to fight the British and went on to become one of the leading figures of the Revolutionary War. Today, Dorrs Pond has a great wooded trail and boardwalk system, so go ahead and walk, run, or bike it! It is also has a car-top boat ramp, so be sure to paddle around the fragrant water lilies in your canoe or kayak. You will likely meet up with a family of Mallards and perhaps a Great Blue Heron while you are there!
Black Brook (formerly Maxwell Pond)
Do you know that Maxwell Pond was named for A.D. Maxwell, who owned the Amoskeag Ice Company? Ice harvesting began shortly after the dam was created in 1900 and Maxwell Pond was considered Manchester’s best source of pure ice. Since the dam was removed and the brook restored, it is now a healthy ecosystem also surrounded by a largely wooded park. I encourage you to visit as you’d never know you were in downtown Manchester!
And here comes my favorite piece of local pond history! Since colonial times Nutts Pond has been known by several names. It came to be known as Nutts Pond, named for a popular local circus performer. Commodore George Washington Morrison Nutt (Commodore Nutt) was born in Manchester in 1884. He stood twenty-nine inches tall and weighed twenty-four pounds. Like Tom Thumb, he was discovered by P.T. Barnum, and in fact because of the resemblance between the two, many people suspected that Nutt was in fact Thumb posing under a different name. To exploit the situation, Barnum began to show them, billing them as “The Two Smallest Men and Greatest Curiosities Living.” They were reported as being graceful, intelligent, witty, educated and refined, exhibiting the most polished manners, and yet only the size of three year old children. They performed songs, duets, dances, pantomimes, orations and military exercises. And if you haven’t been to Nutts Pond recently, there is a great rail-to-trail on the pond’s west side so go check it out!
Pine Island Pond
Oh, and how about Pine Island Pond? Did you know there was an amusement park there? Pine Island Park, opened in 1902 was an amusement park with rides, games, a roller rink and dance hall. In addition, swimming, canoe and swan boat rentals were available. Patrons from as far away as Boston would visit the park. And if you don’t know the story of the person who lived in the Moxie Bottle House, that’s a good one, so look that one up too! Today, Pine Island Park sports a few trails and a children’s playground. The park can be found off of Brown Ave on the western portion of the pond.
For more information on the history of our urban ponds visit: http://www.manchesternh.gov/website/Departments/EnvironmentalProtection/SEPP/PondRestoration/Publications/tabid/1037/Default.aspx
Jen Drociak is the acting Urban Ponds Restoration Program Coordinator with the City of Manchester and also coordinates the New Hampshire Volunteer River Assessment Program at the state Department of Environmental Services.