Jew Pond is no longer Jew Pond

September 07, 2012|By Amy Hubbard
  • The small New Hampshire pond drew national attention with an effort to change its name from Jew Pond.
The small New Hampshire pond drew national attention with an effort to change… (Garrett Brnger / Associated…)

Jew Pond, an unassuming human-made body of water in New Hampshire that nonetheless became a center of controversy, will henceforth be known as Carleton Pond.

"It's a good day here in Mont Vernon," said Rich Masters, a proponent of the  change who became concerned about the pond's name after discovering it on a U.S. Geological Survey map.

But when the name change first came before the citizenry of this small New England town earlier this year, not all were in favor.

The feeling, for some, seemed to be: Why bother at this late date?  

"Here in New England, there's a lot of history and tradition," Masters said at the time, "and a lot of folks highly value that."

The Jew Pond name had been around for decades, after all. Masters, an environmental engineer and former California resident, told the Los Angeles Times in an interview Friday that the original name was Spring Pond.

That name was bestowed in the early 1900s by the owner of the nearby Grand Hotel, who dug a spring to create the pond for irrigating a golf course.

"When he sold the hotel and pond in the 1920s to two Jewish businessmen from Boston," Masters said, "the name Jew Pond was unofficially given to the pond by locals, as an obvious pejorative."

This was an era, he said, when Jews weren't welcomed at all hotels, and the new owners were attempting to establish the site as open to all, including Jewish people.

Later, the pond was known as Carleton Pond, the Fire Pond -- as a source of water for firetrucks -- "the pond on the way to the dump" and other nicknames. But it was Jew Pond that made its way onto the USGS maps.

It wasn't as though the name was tossed about casually all over town.  In fact, many didn't even know that the small body of water had that name until the summer of 2010, when a dangerous algae bloom forced the pond's closure.  Local news media, reporting on the incident, referred in the headline to Jew Pond, which was an eye-opener for some, Masters said.

"Jew Pond ... in big, bold letters," Masters said in an interview in March. "That was the first time many people had known what it was called or seen it in print."

At that point, there were rumblings about the name. Some felt it "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. After a year went by, Masters got the ball rolling himself, beginning the process for a vote to petition for a change by the USGS.

From there, the issue gained public attention, according to a report in the New Hampshire Union Leader. 

The pond and the name-change effort captured the attention of local and national media, religious organizations and even some neo-Nazis, according to the news outlet. 

Residents voted in March to rename the pond, but it took several more months to decide on a name. Carleton Pond was the winner, for the family that donated the land to the town.

At that point, it was up to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names to give an official stamp of approval. Its members were in no great hurry, either.

The board was formed in the 1890s, according to the Union Leader, and given final say on the names of "every feature on the landscape."  Members meet monthly, but they don't go looking for names to change.

The board doesn't want to dictate, said staff researcher Jennifer Runyon, according to the Union Leader. "We wait for them to come to us."

Now it's a done deal, and future maps will feature Carleton Pond. 

As for Masters, he was given a Stand Up for Justice Award by the Jewish Federation of New Hampshire for his efforts. He said he'd like to build an information kiosk at the pond so visitors can read about the town's history and natural history, as well as the story of how Jew Pond got -- and lost -- its name.


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