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Were Cities' Ponds
an Asset or a Liability?
an article from The Providence Sunday Journal

October 15, 1922
(including four photos from the original)

Regarded as Blots on Landscape, Picturesque Sheets of Water Such as Other Communities Have Changed into Beauty Spots Have Been Filled In and Made Building Lots or Roads in Providence.
Benedict Pond is Last to Go

__For a city of its size, growing from a town that for years clung closely to the river front and extending out over a wide stretch of veritable country terrain, including many valleys, Providence is singularly short on ponds. Other communities have regarded ponded water as a great civic asset, jealously guarding each sheet, large and small, and making it a charming waterscape feature. Here, the few ponds that existed were filled in, with the exception of two at the North End district, so-called Wanskuck and Leonard ponds, both privately owned and utilized in textile manufactory. Benedict Pond, the last remaining on the West Side, is now (October,1922) receiving its final attention from the city and soon the last vestige of it will disappear.

__There never were any ponds on the East Side - only the swamp that bisected what is now Brook Street, with the stream that took its waters down to the river, between Fox and India Points. The swamp was between Hope Street and the rear of the middle campus at Brown University, extending westerly to a point immediately back of where Sayles and Wilson Halls now stand; northerly, it reached nearly to Waterman Street. When Brook Street was laid out the old brook bed was excavated necessitating the removal of numerous large boulders.

__But for many years there were sizable ponds on the West Side, and they are well remembered by the men and women of today who were schoolboys and girls, 60 - odd years ago (approx.1860). They were Long, Dexter and Benedict ponds, and of the three the latter alone remains and is now being filled in, three-quarters of its area having disappeared during the dumping process there which has been going on for the last 40 years (since 1882).


__Dexter pond, the first one to be filled, originally began a short distance easterly of the Grace Church Cemetery, although it did not amount to much until it reached a point between what is now Somerset and Portland streets, and between Pine and Broad streets. Its greatest area appears to have been between Pearl street, on the west, and Meadow street, close to Summer street, on the east, and from Pine street on the south to Hayward street on the north.

__From the Pine street side the pond was approached by a broad pathway, at the foot of which was a graceful willow tree overhanging the water, and it was down this hill that the more timorous of the small boys coasted on their frame and clipper sleds. Those of the boys who sought thrills found them by coasting down the steep hill on the northerly side of the pond. Half way down the face of that hill a path had been worn in a cut, over which the sleds jumped for at least six feet, to the continuance of the declivity. With a firm grip on the side of the sled the venturesome coaster received a big jolt, and was taken with increased speed to the pond and carried across to Meadow street.

__Dexter pond was a favorite spot with skaters, and moonlit nights its surface was covered with merry crowds. In summer time there was pretty good fishing there, the catch being mostly bullpouts, perch and roach. The pond was fed with springs, the more freely running ones being under Central street, and that the surplus water might be run off there was a large stone drain, extending form a short distance westerly of the intersection of Pine and Pearl streets to a little to the east of the Friendship street schoolhouse, where the water emptied into the so-called first swamp. That drain, built of chip-stone, was so high and broad that the boys could walk through it, and a favorite "stump" was to dare one to make the trip through it, as many a boy did, with no greater consequences of getting wet feet, plus a trouncing at home if the fact of the escapade became known there.


__The first swamp was between Blackstone street and Willard avenue. The second swamp took in the Plain street section, extending pretty well up to what is now Bogman street, embracing in its area the pond now included in the Rhode Island Hospital grounds. From there the water overflowed to the third swamp, easterly of Eddy street, where it was utilized by Butterworth's dyeing and finishing plant because of its purity, and eventually reached the Providence river at an opening known as the first spout. Between the latter and the second spout, to the easterly of Willard Hill, was a fine sandy beach where the boys went in wading and took their first swimming lessons. But there came a time in the late 60's when the springs began to dry up. Dexter pond was filled with rank, ill-smelling vegetation, and the city filled it in. The first highway built across the pond was that portion of Lockwood street between Pine and Broad streets and, as all sorts of refuse was utilized, the foundation of the street was not very stable. However, an enterprising citizen erected a long, wooden block on the westerly side of the new street, and pretty soon he and the city were involved in a suit for damages, growing out of the decided settling of the building which had buckled quite a bit in its center. The outcome of the suit was in favor of the city.


__The next pond to go, and the largest of the three, was Long pond, which extended from Whitmarsh street on the south to near the Daboll Iron Works, a short distance in from Sprague street on the north, lying between two hills, one of which ran parallel with Elmwood avenue, while the other was where Dexter street was continued southerly from Cromwell street.

__About the center of the pond were points of land that jutted toward each other, and it was near the one on the east shore that the rite of baptism was every summer observed by several of the churches adhering to the doctrine of immersion.

__Long pond was the favorite skating place for the people of both sided of the city because it was easily reached, as compared with the long distance one had to travel to get to Mashapaug pond. Later, when the horse car service came in, it was crowded every winter afternoon and evening. In the summer time it was a great fishing place, big pickerel, as well as the ordinary kind of smaller fish being caught in good numbers. Also, it was much frequented by bathers, who were perfectly safe at either of the two promontories, for there the bottom was sandy, and the water shallow. To the south of those points the pond was fed with cold springs, and several drowning accidents resulted from attempts to swim from shore to shore, one of which involved the loss of the life of a son of Jabez Gorham, who, calling upon a friend with whom he was the next day to start upon a vacation, suggested one more dip in the "ol' swimmin' hole."

__Fifty years or so ago (approx. 1872) the filling in of that pond was begun, and today broad streets, fine building sites and the Bucklin Playground mark its former site. The filling in program proceeded painfully slow, and the pond was little less than a noisome dump, therefore a neighborhood nuisance, until the city took a hand at the job, covered up the old junk, refuse and ash piles, and closed in the last stretch, covering the whole with clean earth. The last of the filling was done prior to 1891, as in that year the Dexter Street sewer was built. Not until quite a while after that, however, was the area graded by the city and the Bucklin Playground provided for.


__Benedict pond is perhaps as little known as any one of the three water areas of the city, mainly for the reason that it is close to the Providence-Cranston line, sets quite a way back from Cranston street between Anthony and Wadsworth Streets and is bounded on one side by Huntington Avenue.

__Fed by very cold springs, it has been the scene of many drownings, chiefly of small boys who did not realize its depth and the suddenness with which its shore and bottom sloped off into deep holes - often of larger boys and men who risked the perils of the springs that sent currents near to the surface and were the cause of cramps. There was pretty fair fishing, but the pond was most valued on account of the solid character of ice that was made and harvested upon it.

__The filling of Benedict pond has progressed very slowly, possibly because the haul to it is longer than the ashmen and refuse gatherers have cared to make, but people riding along Huntington Avenue have observed that what was deposited will prove extremely discouraging to whoever seeks to do any excavating.

__Benedict pond is now three-quarters filled in, but in a short while it will be completely so, for the city is now making an effort to finish the job the public has been on for the last 40 or more years.

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