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Jew Pond is now set for a name change, but it wasn't easy

March 14, 2012|By Amy Hubbard

This post has been corrected.  See note below for details.

Jew Pond likely will not be Jew Pond much longer. Mont Vernon, N.H., voted Tuesday night to petition to have the moniker changed.

It was not a unanimous vote.

Feelings were mixed on the subject in the small New England town.

"Here in New England, there's a lot of history and tradition," Rich Masters, health officer for Mont Vernon, told The Times on Wednesday, "and a lot of folks highly value that." 

Masters spearheaded the effort to change the name of the small, manmade pond. The environmental engineer was an 18-year California resident who returned to the New England area with his wife and new baby to be closer to family. He first saw the name of the pond while looking through maps.

"I look at U.S. geological survey maps as part of my job," Masters said. "When looking at the USGS map for Mont Vernon, I came across this 'Jew Pond' on the map, and I was quite a bit surprised that in this day and age it was listed there and hadn't been changed."

But residents didn't go around calling the site Jew Pond.

"I never heard anyone use that name in town," Masters said. "It's been known by other names, Carleton Pond -- the pond on the way to the dump [he laughed]. This is rural New England, we have to haul our trash to the dump every Saturday."

But in summer 2010, a dangerous algae bloom forced the closure of the pond.  The local paper wrote up the story, and the headline, Masters said, was jarring: "Jew Pond ... in big, bold letters. ... That was the first time many people had known what it was called or seen it in print."

Some residents decided the name "didn't reflect well on the town," Masters said, and that it was time for a change. But the selectmen -- the town supervisory board -- were in no hurry. 

"They decided not to take any action because nobody came into their office demanding that it be changed," Masters said. So, after a year went by, Masters decided "to get the ball rolling," beginning the process for a vote to petition for a change by the U.S. Geological Survey.

In the meantime, a local woman who attends the University of New Hampshire, Katelyn Ann Dobbs, created a video, "The Story Behind Jew Pond," which drew wider attention.  The thoughtful documentary includes comments from both supporters of the name change and those who said, really, who cares?

When the video drew attention, "that's when the issue started getting some traction," Masters said, with "nonstop chatter on ... the town Facebook page. It was pretty controversial. People were saying it had been that way for 80 years so why change it. Some people didn't think it was all that offensive. Other people said, absolutely, this is offensive."

The issue was decided Tuesday night with a town meeting; everyone present got a vote, Masters said. The final tally was 104 in favor of petitioning for a name change and 33 against.  The new name is as yet undecided, Masters said, and will be considered later.

Was he satisfied with the outcome?

"I certainly would have liked to have seen a unanimous vote on it," Masters said, noting, however, the strong New England emphasis on maintaining tradition. "But it was the right thing to do.  I'm very glad it passed and very proud of the town."

[For the record, 3:20 p.m. March 17: An earlier version of this post incorrectly said Katelyn Ann Dobbs was a student at the University of Virginia.]

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