Many of the names and some of the descriptions in this blog have been changed to protect the guilty.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

A Sixteen Acres Pond Suddenly Vanishes, Part 1

Photo: Dam(n), how time passes bytrees have grown (left) where there was a pond 26 years ago.


I was sitting in the dentist’s chair in February of 1982 when I received news that would hurt me more than any dentist’s drill. “Springfield is minus one pond now,” said the voice on WSPR. “The dam at the pond known as Putnam’s Puddle was breached yesterday, and all the pond’s water rushed downstream, knocking down several trees. Fortunately, officials say, it happened late at night—apparently no one was injured at one of the city’s most popular ice skating areas.”

“Good thing we weren’t down there,” I mumbled in gibberish as the dentist cleaned my teeth.


“Uh, nothing.”

Although this happened when I was home during my holiday break in my freshman year at college, it wasn’t farfetched that we would have been hanging around at the pond that night. Granted, I was a little too old—and it was a little too cold—for boozing in the woods. But hell, the drinking age in Massachusetts was 20, I was 19, I didn’t have a fake ID to get into a bar, and this pond was conveniently located several houses away from my home on Maebeth Street. My friends and I, who called ourselves the Maebeth Womblies, had done plenty of partying over the years at our two big gathering spots there: The Pothole and The Dam, and now the latter was gone.

Rich Davis (not his real name) and I grabbed a couple of beers from my fridge and we walked down the ravine that day to see the devastation: the thick layer of ice had collapsed in huge sheets throughout the pond. “DO NOT CROSS” police tape surrounded The Dam area. At first glance the structure looked intact, but upon closer inspection we could see that there was a gaping hole in the foundation.

“Damn,” said Rich.

“Not any more,” I replied
“Good one,” he said.

“Let’s go to The Pothole.”

We trudged up the path and downed our beer at The Pothole, where we hadn’t been since the fall. The Womblies usually didn’t party there much during the winter, although we did build a fire in the woods once in a while if there was nowhere else to go. But Rich and I felt we had to have a drink in tribute to Putnam’s Puddle. We caught our first fish there when we were kids, and the 50 acres of woods that surrounded the pond had an “OK Corral” kind of wildness about it when we were growing up: no adults there to monitor our every move, to tell us to stop blowing stuff up with M-80s or to stop throwing crab apples at cars speeding by on Sunrise Terrace. We lived a Lord of the Flies existence. When we encountered neighborhood bullies at the pond, or when my friend Rick Riccardi stepped on a wasp’s nest and was stung about 30 times, we were on our own.

There were two kinds of kids at Putnam’s Puddle: us and the “kids on the other side of the pond.” With a body of polluted water separating us, there were the inevitable screaming matches and threats, usually prompted by either side lobbing rocks or shooting bottle rockets across the pond when the other gang was fishing. These missiles created huge splashes and scared the fish away.

“Who threw that? We’re coming over there! We’re gonna kick your ass!”

WE'RE gonna kick YOUR ass! We’re heading down to The Dam RIGHT NOW!”

“Good! We’ll see you at The Dam, motherfucker!”

Of course, neither group would go to The Dam (pictured again below from our side) to engage in mortal combat. At least we didn’t.

The Pothole was the ideal hangout: we had dug a foundation and we had grandiose plans to build the ultimate party palace with scrap wood. That plan was abandoned due to laziness, but we did affix a large plywood sheet atop one side of the hole, which gave us shelter when it rained.

Putnam’s Puddle was a man-made pond, hand-dug by the Works Progress Administration laborers during the Depression and named after Roger L. Putnam, mayor of Springfield from 1938 to 1943. It was once a popular swimming hole, but it was polluted with sewage runoff by the time the Womblies started going down there. The pond was overrun with algae and leeches, but it wasn’t a bad fishing spot, where you could catch lots of pumpkinseed, smallmouth bass, and the occasional perch.

In the 1980s and 1990s the city had plans to fix The Dam and refill the pond. After all, for 45 years the structure had prevented sedimentation downstream. But ever since the concrete behemoth broke, Breckwood Pond, which Putnam’s Puddle emptied into, was filling with more and more silt every year. In 1992 nearly half a million dollars was set aside from a Parks Department account to repair the dams at Putnam’s Puddle and Mill Pond in Sixteen Acres Center, but nothing ever came of the projects. Four years later, Springfield was supposed to receive state money from an open space bond to restore Putnam’s Puddle and dredge the rapidly shrinking Breckwood Pond. But nothing happened. Now Breckwood is half the size it was a quarter-century ago, and Putnam’s Puddle is now a piddling stream.

Where did the money go? You got me. The Putnam’s Puddle area, choked with brush, reeds, and other vegetation, is now practically bone dry. The ravine is in its pre-Depression primeval state, with The Dam a Stonehenge-like reminder of another time, when it was a prime recreation area in Sixteen Acres—and the hangout of the Maebeth Womblies.

Photo: Judging from the leaf buildup, the absence of party debris, and the lack of a well-trod pathway, it's obvious that no one meets at The Pothole (pictured above) any more. In my recent visit down there I did find, closer to The Dam, some clothes hanging on a branch, and next to it a roll of toilet paper secured inside a zip-lock plastic baggie. So someone is evidently spending a lot of time in the Putnam's Puddle ravine, but not at The Pothole.

Here is some video I shot of The Pothole as it exists today. Much of it is caved in. In its heyday, it was the perfect "fort," nearly invisible from Sunrise Terrace and from the pathway below.

Read Part 2!


mick3b1g said...

I just went to find the damn Took a while I went to the end of Maebeth, walked in but went to the right. I did find about every 25 yards a city manhole and also found an old broken down spillway. I thought this was it but maybe this is what you call Putnam puddle so i was going to leave but thought to walk the opposite way and I did find it. its more at the end of Pineview. Anyways i took some pics.


Thanks for this blog again Its got me out on these treasure hunts and i use your blog to find new spots. Ive been taking alot of pics of places you write about


mick3b1g said...

Hi Ive made some comments on your awesome Blog. My name is Mick i have lived in Springfield all my life (41 now) and Im on a quest to take pictures..alot are from reading your blog. Hope you like them Any ideas for pictures let me know


Hell's Acres said...

Hey Mick,

Great shots-so much better than my phone camera's images!

Glad you found the dam, and I hope you didn't go ALL THE WAY across-that gap is a tricky little hop, with not much landing room on the other side, and it's a long way down.

Very impressive shots of the oak tree where the Circle Gang hung out. It's a majestic tree, and its soaring branches beg for photos.

Kids used to actually jump off that train trestle at Watershops Pond.

As for ideas, have you ever heard of the lost fountain of forest park?

In the early '80s my friend and I found this, and although I didn't take any pix, we took it upon ourselves to take rocks and chisel out the "bowl," which had been filled with cement, and returned it to its original state.

Glad you like the blog.

mick3b1g said...

I have and its on my list :) As for me i used to cross that train tresle as a kid. We used to jump on the train from my friends house which was on Spencer st and ride it. the train had to slow to cross Allen. Im trying to get access to the top of the Campanile but so far its a no go.


Anonymous said...

I remember right after the dam broke. It was cold and the water froze before it could run through the small pipe going under the road. Sheets of ice 15 feet of the ground attached to the trees.

Anonymous said...

I remember the ice Around the trees! That truly would have been a good picture. I apprechiate this blog....ty. I grew up on what you call the other side of the pond. Lol. I was the guy on the other side yelling back at you usually from the boat ramp at the end of Meadow lark Ln(middle of the pond)! From 1978 to 1981 I crossed this dam every day to catch the bus on Pineview Dr. for High school.I favored this bus stop instead of Meadowlark Ln because of my crush on Loretta B. In 1980 she graduated so I went to Meadowlark with friends. I remember the flood when the pipe at North Branch clogged. Mike S. was canoeing on North Brook rd. I drive by this forgotten place place often during work and think of some of the times here. It seems all forgotten so I enjoyed this blog. I know I probaly played Hockey w you at some point because for a time I was down there all the time. When my son is trying to explode something I am brought back to the hollow tree at the end of Pidgeon dr. where we blew the shit out of that tree. I have an idea who "pumkinhead" is to. I hit favorite and I will read more over time. Thanks again

Tim.R said...

I hung around with some people on the other side.like I said in a earlier post I got around the area..and any way I can post without having to deal with the real person shit...I can never make out one of the words

Hell's Acres said...

Hey Tim,

Thanks for commenting. I tried to take away the real-person "verification" for a time, because I know it's annoying, but I was bombarded with spam. There was an avalanche every day, so I put the screening back on.

However, I know how frustrating the screening can be. If you can't read the verifications, don't give up: email your comment to hellsacres@gmail.com and I'll post it.

Buzzy said...

Such a great blog, and so many great memories from those days. From what I'm reading, I'm a bit younger than some of you (50), but spent so much time fishing and hanging out at Putnam's Puddle when I was 12 or 13 years old. I grew up on Sunnybrook, but had many friends in the Sunrise Terrace, Lumae and Prouty street areas. We would hang out on the Sunrise side and get harassed by the burnouts on the other side by the boat launch (who were 4-5 years older than us) . One day we got so sick of their shit, we waited for them to get on that stupid raft, and we bombed them with rocks and bottles, called them pussies and dared them to come do something about it (knowing all the while that we could easily get away long before they had time to navigate to shore). Plus we knew they were way to stoned to matter anyway. So we'd wait a week before coming back, then repeat the attack. LOL. They never caught up with us. Great stuff!

Hell's Acres said...

Hey Buzzy,

I'm 51--you're not that much younger than me! Don't forget to read Part 2 of "A Sixteen Acres Pond Suddenly Vanishes" at http://hellsacres.blogspot.com/2012/02/sixteen-acres-pond-suddenly-vanishes.html.

There is also more about the tension between kids from our side of the pond and the "Other Siders" on this post: http://hellsacres.blogspot.com/2014/01/shitting-to-all-fields-part-5.html.

tenlum said...

I grew up on sparrow dr but never heard of the pothole where was it? and btw don't even call me an other sider our side was all that mattered lol.

Hell's Acres said...

Hey tenlum,

Sorry, I didn't see your comment until now.

If you walk down the path at the end of Maebeth it was in the woods on the left (on a rise on the hill). Don't forget to read part 2 at http://hellsacres.blogspot.com/2012/02/sixteen-acres-pond-suddenly-vanishes.html and more on the pond at http://hellsacres.blogspot.com/2014/01/shitting-to-all-fields-part-5.html.

Anonymous said...

I grew up on Juniper Drive. The dam was right at the end of our street. In the winter we all went down with shovels to clean off the snow so we could play hockey and skate. Had some really good whips on the ice with a dozen or more kids. We called you guys from Sunset the Glickman kids. Yeah, we had a few dare you to meet me at the dam moments...those were good times.

Hell's Acres said...

Thanks for writing, Juniper guy. I'd love to have that pond back.

Anonymous said...

I grew up on Sunrise so ice skating and fishing there was a big part of my life. I also learned about catch and release when I brought home a bunch of pumpkin seeds and my dad made me clean everyone and then bury them in our garden. Oh the memories!