Nashawannuck

by Rick Teller '70, Williston Northampton Archivist

(Wish you were here, part II)

Postcard, ca. 1910, of Nashawannuck Pond by moonlight. (Click all images to enlarge.)
Postcard, ca. 1910, of Nashawannuck Pond by moonlight. (Click all images to enlarge.)

Nashawannuck.  The name is apparently Algonquian for “Valley of the Little River.”  The “Little River” was probably the Manhan — another local Native American appellation.  Ironically, the Manhan doesn’t feed Nashawannuck Pond, that large body of water that dominates the Cottage Street district of Easthampton.  Scenic it may be, but its original purpose was industrial.  Over the course of several decades of the 19th century, Samuel Williston and his associates dammed a small stream to create a power source for the complex of textile mills that sprung up around Williston’s button and elastic factories.  In what was surely an unusual idea for its time, the sluice that drove the water wheels passed directly under the factory buildings and fed a collection pond behind them, on Pleasant and Ferry Streets.

In 1847 and 1848 Samuel Williston attempted to calculate the volume of water coming over the spillway.
In 1847 and 1848 Samuel Williston attempted to calculate the volume of water coming over the spillway.

The work was accomplished in stages.  This 1873 map shows a single body of water — the “Upper Mill Pond” had not yet been named “Nashawannuck” — divided only by a railroad causeway.  A few years later a small dam was built just above the railroad, creating Williston Pond.  Williston Avenue, incorporating another dam, was built, extending across the pond from the intersection of Village Street (now Payson Avenue), Union Street, and Cottage Street, thus isolating what became known as the Rubber Thread Pond, which remains behind the modern-day City Offices.  The result was a system comprising four ponds at descending levels.  (Click for a current map.)

1873 map nashawannuck detail

The entrance to to the spillway is clearly visible right of center, in the postcard image below.

Postcard, ca. 1910. The image originated from the same photograph as a night view further down the page, with different coloring applied in the printing process.
Postcard, ca. 1910. The image originated from the same photograph as a night view further down the page, with different coloring applied in the printing process.

While Samuel Williston’s intentions in creating the pond may have been practical, recreational and scenic implications soon came to the fore.  Samuel and Emily Williston donated a large tract of land known as “Brookside” to the town.  It was mostly wooded, and abutted Nonotuck Park.  Eventually it was developed as a cemetery, but remains a lovely spot.  Boaters, including a short-lived Williston Seminary rowing team, swimmers, and fishermen used the pond.  In a town dominated by textile mills, whose employees typically worked six 12-hour days or more, it became an essential part of community culture.

The scenic nature of Nashawannuck pond was not lost on Raphael Tuck & Co., purveyors of postcards worldwide, nor on their Easthampton agent, pharmacist and photographer Charles J. Keene.  Between around 1880 and the beginning of World War One, Keene and Tuck managed to make Easthampton a featured location on hundreds of postcards, second in number of views only to New York City.  (For more Easthampton postcards, please see Wish You Were Here.)  Here are some postcard images of the pond.  The first set, of the pond and Mount Tom from Williston Avenue, demonstrates the creativity of Tuck’s color lithography designers.  The first image is the original photograph, followed by four colored and sometimes fanciful variations.

nash (13)nash (15)nash (16)nash (14)nash (17)Here are postcards of other parts of the pond, including the boathouse.

nash (9)nash (8)nash (5)nash (4)nash (7)In keeping with the Easthampton Renaissance of the last couple of decades, Nashawannuck Pond is once again a focal point for the community.  Saturday, June 13, 2015 saw the dedication of the new Nashawannuck Pond Promenade Park, featuring a boardwalk, complete with floating docks, that extends from the Cottage Street shops, around the Williston Avenue end of the pond, and into Brookside.  The ribbon-cutting, part of  the annual Easthampton CityArts+ Cultural Chaos festival, drew large crowds.

From the dedication of the Promenade, the band The National Convention. Some Williston alumni may spot former librarian Eric Poulin on lead guitar. (Patrick Brough)
From the dedication of the Promenade, the band The National Convention. Some Williston alumni may spot former librarian Eric Poulin on lead guitar. (Patrick Brough)

But more often the boardwalk is a quieter spot, drawing fishermen, boaters, families, and those just contemplating a gorgeous view.  Here’s a brief presentation from eTown Videos.

Early morning at the pond (Jane Jones)
Early morning at the pond (Jane Jones)

 

The full extent of the boardwalk, from Brookside. (R. Teller)
The full extent of the boardwalk, from Brookside. (R. Teller)

 

In memory of Debra Tautznik
Environmentalist, artist, and tireless booster of all good things Easthampton

One thought on “Nashawannuck”

  1. Thank you Rick for this wonderful compilation of images and history of the Nashawannuck Pond. Before I became an abutter to this waterway I was an admirer of its beauty. During the Fall Festival in the late 80’s I met a young man literally on the pond, piloting a pontoon boat used by the Pascommuck Conservation Trust. His boat tour of the pond was provided to enlighten the passengers of the deterioration of our pond as a result of eutrophication. (Google search). This young captain was an environmental advocate and fore founder of the Trust. His knowledge and enthusiasm inspired me to become an active member of this land trust and later a member of the Nashawannuck Pond Steering Committee. This captain and friend was to become our city’s first Mayor and husband to Debra Ann (Davis) Tautznik of whose recent departure we all mourn and miss. Thank you for this articles reference to her memory.

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