NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

December 12, 2013

Frog Pond in bygone days

As I See It
Joe Callahan

---- — Let me start this article by saying that it is not in any way to be taken as criticism of the Bartlet Mall Commission as they work to overcome the serious pollution problems with the water in Frog Pond at the Mall. These people deserve credit for their diligent efforts to solve this problem. It will cost some money but they will succeed.

I grew up out in the Back Bay section. In the 1940s I crossed the mall four times a day going to and coming from school. I played all the games there were to play there, summer and winter.

In all of those years the water was quite clean. The pond was full of fish, hornpout, kibbies and goldfish. On a sunny day you could stand atop the double banking on Greenleaf Street and see the sun reflecting off the goldfish. There was always an abundance of turtles that were well adapted to the exceptionally muddy bottom. Of course, frogs also thrived there. From early spring until late fall there was a flock of white ducks. They were fed daily by kids and adults alike. The ducks wintered in a barn on Merrimac Street owned by Harold K. “Goat” Walton, the longtime city dog catcher. It was a big event in the fall when “Goat” and a team of helpers came to round up the ducks before the ice set in. It always took a few days to catch the last one. We kids always rooted for the ducks. In the summer kids and some adults fished and many kids sailed model boats. There was never any vegetation such as pond lilies or other plants growing in the water.

Now in those days another event occurred every two or three years that was believed to be beneficial to the water quality. Because of Frog Pond being the source of water for an old system of reservoirs for firefighting purposes located in the center and South End of the city, the water level of the pond could be lowered, leaving much of the East End void of water. Crews from the Highway Department could then move in and do a good cleaning by removal of debris. They also dumped and spread sand in much of the exposed areas. I can remember this being done several times and I know it had been done for many years prior.

The reservoir near the foot of Federal Street was the one usually used. Retired fire Chief Jack Cutter remembers as a young boy going there with his father to check on the flow and then stopping at the Mall to check on the receding level of the water in the pond. Chief Cutter’s father was at the time the most knowledgeable person on the reservoir system and he oversaw its operation and maintenance for years before his retirement as deputy fire chief.

Unfortunately for present-day purposes, this alternative is no longer available. The retired chief told me recently that the reservoir system has been out of service for at least two decades, a victim of old age, and is no longer usable. Many of the reservoirs have been filled in.

As I stated at the beginning, those working on the problem will eventually find success and the fish, ducks and the turtles and frogs will hopefully return, along with the canoe tilters on future Olde Fashioned Sundays.

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Joe Callahan is a former fire chief of Salisbury who is interested in historical accounts of the area.