There is a pond to the south of Keene that comes with a lot of historical baggage. It’s called Wilson Pond and it’s one of my favorite places to swim and kayak, so I thought that it was time I told you about it. Though I’ve done a bit of research I haven’t been able to find out who the Wilson was that the pond is named after, but I do know that Wilsons are mentioned as living in the area as far back as the mid-1700s. I’m not going that far back though; I’ll start at about 1900.
Once upon a time, back at the turn of the century, Keene had an electric railway. One of the places the railway went was south to what is now North Swanzey, but was then called Factory Village because of all of the mills that used to be there.
The Keene Electric Railway company seems to have had financial problems from the beginning, mostly due to the lack of passengers, so in 1911 the company bought a large piece of land on the shore of Wilson Pond in Swanzey near the end of the trolley line. To entice customers to ride the trolley the company built a large recreational park on the property. It was about 15 minutes from Keene by trolley and was called the “rec” by locals. A six cent trolley ride would take you to a place where you could go bowling, shooting, roller skating, swimming, boating, attend a band concert, dance in a dance hall, and even watch a movie at an outdoor theater. On the fourth of July the town’s fireworks celebration were held there and by all accounts it was a very popular spot.
Though it was a popular playground for the people of Keene most of them visited the rec center only on weekends, so the Railway Company still lost money and continued doing so until in 1926 when the rail lines were finally abandoned. Busses took the place of the trolleys and people still went to the rec center until it fell out of favor and finally closed down. On December 21st, 1965 it burned until there was little left. The above photo is of the large outdoor theater. One local said that it would have been a great idea except for one thing: mosquitoes.
The remains of the outdoor theater can still be seen today if you know where to look, but it looks considerably different now. Nature is slowly reclaiming the land.
I’m guessing that the old building that once housed the movie projectors lost its roof in the fire. Nature is having its way with what is left.
Swamp roses (Rosa palustris) now grow where the rowboats and canoes were once moored.
Back in the days of the recreation center this land must have been treeless but now it is almost jungle like and many species of birds sing from the trees. I love kayaking through here because there are many canals and small islets to explore. There’s no telling what you might find in the way of plants and I’m often surprised by what I see.
On this trip I was surprised by the marsh St. John’s wort (Hypericum virginicum,) the only St. John’s wort I know of with pink instead of yellow flowers. It was a beautiful little thing but I had quite a lot of trouble getting a photo of it because of the bright sunshine. When I went back a second time when the sun wasn’t shining on it all of its flowers were closed, so I’m guessing that they only open on sunny days. As its common name implies it prefers wet areas and is considered a wetland indicator, so if you see it you’ll know that you’re in a wetland. This is the only time I’ve ever seen it and the only way I can get to see it again is by kayak.
Skullcap (Scutellaria) is another marsh plant that does well here. The cheery little blue and white flowers can be seen by the hundreds growing on the grassy hummocks.
There are many aquatic plants here too including one of my favorites, arrowheads (Sagittaria latifolia.) This plant is also called duck potato because ducks love to eat the potato like tuberous roots. On this day I saw many ducks in the area, and I wondered if they were waiting for me to leave so they could get at them. Native Americans also held thee roots in high regard as a food source.
This old hand colored postcard shows the pond’s island and the factories that once stood at its southern end. The factories produced mostly woodenware like boxes, pails, barrel staves, and chairs but there was also a grist mill and sawmill there. At one time the entire 72 acre pond was owned by the Keene Gas Company and a dam and hydro power turbine produced electricity.
This is a view of the island from near the same spot today, and I’m happy to say that there isn’t a factory to be seen. There used to also be a floating island in the pond but it was deemed a hazard to navigation and was towed to shore by a 33 horsepower motorboat, and then a steam shovel picked it out of the water piece by piece and it was hauled away by truck.
The island is known today for its bountiful blueberry bushes. In fact you can walk the shores of just about any lake or pond in New Hampshire and find blueberry bushes lining their shores. Though they are also fund on dry ground the shrubs seem to love growing near water. With a kayak and some patience you can pick them by the pail full.
Nowadays there is a different kind of recreation going on at Wilson Pond than there once was; now nature seems to be what draws he crowds. And the crowds still come; on any given summer day you can find them swimming by the boat landing near where the factories once stood, fishing from the pond’s shores, or floating along in kayaks like I do. All in all it’s a peaceful, serene place, and maybe that is what the real attraction has been all along.
Time takes it all, whether you want it to or not. ~Stephen King,
Thanks for coming by.