Thursday, July 23, 2009

Clear Pond

Early History

In a town populated with the largest lakes in Massachusetts, little Clear Pond - an 18-plus acre kettle pond - frequently receives little notice.

There is little if any recorded association between the local native population and Clear Pond. It seems to appear initially in the historical record as a landmark on the western boundary of the enormous tract of land which was set off to Lieutenant Nathaniel Southworth (1648-1710) whose father, Constant Southworth had been instrumental in the negotiation of the Sixteen Shilling Purchase which comprised most of modern-day Lakeville. The Southworths owned the land, including a large share of acreage abutting Clear Pond, through the early 1800s when it came to be owned by Hannah (Southworth) Jackson, great-granddaughter of Lieutenant Nathaniel and wife of Samuel Jackson.

Throughout the period, the area north and south of the pond was heavily wooded, a fact which gave the vicinity of the pond (at least south of Rhode Island Road) the name Clear Pond Woods. It is likely that the area was used simply as wood lots. Certainly, the property on the west side of Clear Pond Road at Rhode Island Road was employed for this purpose as documented in various land records.

By 1800, a small portion of the western bank of the pond was owned by William Nelson while the remainder - nearly 80 percent of the pond - remained owned by Hannah Jackson in her own right. Nelson's share was sold in 1806 (at which time it was described as a wood lot) to Ephraim Ward. Ward's homestead was located to the south on what is now Stetson Street at Crooked Lane and ownership descended during the 19th century through Ward's son-in-law Sprague Stetson to his granddaughter, Jennie (Stetson) Bowen. Meanwhile, the Jackson's 275 acre property which stretched from Clear Pond to Lake Assawompsett, was divided into a number of parcels over time, four of which bordered upon the pond. By 1914, three of these four were in the hands of George Ward Stetson, Sprague Stetson's son and Jennie Bowen's brother.

Prior to the 1840s, the sole access to Clear Pond was by means of Rhode Island Road which made a large U-shaped turn just east of the pond. Clear Pond Road did not exist until 1831 or later and it likely was developed only in the 1840s when an easy connection between the Upper Four Corners (the intersection of Main and Vaughan Streets) and the Lakeville railroad station in the Haskins Neighborhood was wanted. As a result, Clear Pond Road was laid out and was known as late as 1915 as the "road leading from the Upper Four Corners to the Lakeville Station", a clear indicator of its original purpose.

Clear Pond appears to have been of little practical use historically. Covered by a growth of forest, the land surrounding Clear Pond was never cleared for agricultural use. The likely reason for this lack of development was the pond's location at the far northwestern extreme of the Southworth property which made it largely inaccessible (or at least inconvenient) to the remainder of the farm, the locus of which was situated closer to the Nemasket River along Vaughan Street. Consequently, Clear Pond Woods remained as wood lots, the primary function of which was to provide fuel for their owners.

Though of little use agriculturally, Clear Pond, however, was put to use for other purposes. Fishing was popular in the pond and was reported as having been good in December, 1914 [Middleboro Gazette, "Middleboro", January 1, 1915, p. 1]. Ice skating in winter was also a popular diversion, particularly with the children residing in the vicinity of the Upper Four Corners [French, p. 88].

Perhaps the most unusual scene witnessed at Clear Pond was a communal baptism in July, 1877, in which 43 people were said to have been baptized by Reverend L. B. Bates, a Methodist minister. According to the Middleboro Gazette, "there was a large company present" to witness the event. [Middleboro Gazette, "What the Gazette Was Saying Fifty Years Ago", July 8, 1927, p. 6]. Such numbers were perhaps not startling given the Methodist and Baptist revivals which attracted numerous new members throughout the summer and fall. [Old Colony Memorial, "Middleboro", November 8, 1877, p. 4].

Swimming Hole

Without a doubt, Clear Pond was best known prior to the mid-1920s for serving as a swimming hole for Middleborough and Lakeville children and adults.

Area residents were accustomed to enjoying the cool waters of the pond on the hottest summer days. Increasingly during the late 1800s and early 1900s, Clear Pond began attracting larger and larger crowds, principally because the other ponds in the vicinity had become municipal water supplies, and bathers were barred from them. A heat wave in mid-July, 1911, when the thermometer topped 100 degrees not surprisingly saw "the swimming pool at Clear pond ... the attraction for large numbers of local residents recently" [Middleboro Gazette, "Middleboro", July 14, 1911, p. 2, and ibid., "Heat and Drought", July 14, 1911, p. 2].

Harry Norris who grew up in Lakeville in the early 1900s recalled Clear Pond as an enclave nearly exclusive to boys. "I used to go swimming in Clear Pond, restricted to boys only. We didn't wear bathing suits. I'm not kidding. I didn't own a bathing suit. I think the girls snuck around there once in awhile." Norris' supposition was correct, for D. Evelyn Norris recalled that "we learned to swim in Clear Pond. We'd walk up the dirt road and go into the pond, and it hurt your feet when you were barefoot." [French, pp. 61, 86].

Not only was Clear Pond used for swimming, but it was also employed for bathing and washing. Again Harry Norris: "... My father would take all the boys over to Clear Pond in the wagon to have their baths, so they'd all be clean to go to church. There were four or five boys at the time and was the easiest way to wash them clean." [French, p. 86].

The 1920s saw even greater numbers of bathers patronizing the pond, now conveniently within reach by means of the automobile. Even the local Gazette in 1921 commented upon the growing popularity of the pond on particularly hot summer days, and it remarked on the then unusual sight of motorists dressed only in bathing suits passing through town destined for Clear Pond.

Clear pond has been a favorite resort for many these hot days of late. Never before have so many bathers been noticed there and were there a chance for changing clothing the pretty pond with its fine sandy bottom would be even more appreciated. During the past week many autos have been noticed with the occupants clad in bathing suits on their way to this spot. [Middleboro Gazette, "Middleboro", July 29, 1921, p. 1].

In 1925, the Gazette estimated that during hot weather in June of that year, "hundreds flocked there ... to cool off." [Middleboro Gazette, "Drowning at Clear Pond", June 12, 1925, p. 3].

Tragic Waters

While Clear Pond is small compared to Lakeville's other ponds, and has a somewhat broad bank and sand bars, the appearance of the pond is deceiving. The bank drops off quickly and the pond is deep at points, fed as it is by spring holes. In 1879, one young boy, Herbert Day "went in bathing in Clear pond and was near being drowned; in fact was drowned to all appearances. He is now doing well under a physician's care." [Middleboro Gazette, "What the Gazette Was Saying Fifty Years Ago", August 2, 1929, p. 6].

George Haskins of Lakeville, recalled the deceptive nature of Clear Pond for swimmers.

We boys used to go up to Clear Pond swimming in the nude. You could go out quite a ways before you got up to your neck and then it would be over your head. After you got out a ways beyond that there was a little island [on the bottom of the pond] so that you could touch ground again. I never had a chance to swim enough to be good, so I never went out there. [French, p. 169].

Harry Norris was also familiar with how quickly the bottom of the pond dropped off into spring holes, and experienced one nerve-wracking moment when he landed in deep water.

We used to go when we were quite young over to Clear Pond swimming and there was nobody there to supervise us. They had a raft that some of the kids built. It wasn't anchored down, so we had it over in the part of the pond where it dropped off kind of quick.

I was jumping on and off the raft and the first thing I know, it was over my head and I couldn't swim, so I was bobbing up and down. Finally , somebody saw me there and pulled me out. It was kind of scary. [French, p. 89]

Not all were as fortunate as Norris. In the 13 years between 1912 and 1925, five deaths occurred in the pond, acquiring for it a grim notoriety. Newspaper accounts at the time of each incident tell the tale:

CHARLES W. O'CONNOR, ae 17, June 24, 1912
The second drowning accident of the season in Lakeville occurred Monday night. Clear pond was the scene of the accident, and Charles W. O'Connor of Long Grove, Iowa, was the victim. He had recently come to Middleboro and worked for E. E. Cole for a time at his silver factory, and later at a shoe factory. O'Connor was 17. He went swimming Monday night and later the body was found [by another group of bathers]. There were stories of alleged foul play, but these do not seem to be substantiated, and Dr. A. V. Smith, assistant medical examiner, pronounced it a case of accidental drowning. The boy's mother in Iowa was notified of the accident by Chief [of Police] Swift, and she wired Monday to have the body sent there. [Middleboro Gazette, "Carver" [sic], June 28, 1912, p. 1; see also Brockton Daily Enterprise, "Boy Drowned in Clear Pond", June 25, 1912, which gives the same facts].

JOHN McISAAC, ae 16, July 23, 1917
John McIsaac, the 16-year-old son of Stephen McIsaac of Centre street, lost his life by drowning at Clear pond, Monday afternoon. Young McIsaac had been employed at Leonard & Barrows' factory and in the afternoon walked to Clear pond for a swim. He is said to have been a good swimmer and he walked right into the water on a sand bar which breaks abruptly into deep water. There were a number of lily pads in that section and the youth sank almost immediately. There were several boys about and as soon as they realized what had happened they went to the nearest home and telephoned for assistance. Dr. Alfred Elliott came to the lake and walking out where he was directed located and recovered the body. Medical examiner Charles E. Morse of Wareham was summoned and viewed the remains later in the evening. McIsaac was a member of the Catholic Club. The funeral was held in Sacred Heart church, Thursday morning in charge of Rev. Fr. T. A. Curtin, and burial was in St. Mary's cemetery. [Middleboro Gazette, "Drowned in Clear Pond", July 27, 1917, p. 1]

WILLIAM HIGGINS, ae 12, and CHARLES LAWRENCE, ae 12, April 18, 1922
Two more names were added to the already long list of drownings in this section this week when two boys came to their death in the waters of Clear pond Tuesday. William, the 12-year old son of Mr. and Mrs. P. Henry Higgins and Charles, the son of Herbert Lawrence of the same age, were the victims. Both families reside in Lakeville, near the Upper Four Corners. The two boys, in company with Robert Higgins, a younger brother of William, went to Clear pond about 9.30 o'clock, riding a part of the way with Maurice Washburn. They had constructed a raft and they went to have some sport with this. No really definite story of the actual happenings is available, but it is evident that the raft began to tip. The younger Higgins boy managed to retain his hold and finally, after taking off his shoes and stockings, secured a plank and made his way to the shore. The Lakeville authorities were notified and assistance was obtained from the Middleboro police. Chief Sisson and officer Rogers, with selectman Fred A. Shockley of Lakeville, took charge of affairs. The younger Higgins told the searchers where he had last seen his companions. There were no boats in Clear pond available and finally one was secured from Middleboro and another from another pond in Lakeville. Late in the afternoon the body of the Lawrence boy was found, standing upright in the water. Although search was made for the Higgins boy the body was not found until about 7.30 the following morning. This was but a few feet from where the first body was located. [Middleboro Gazette, "Two Drowned in Clear Pond", April 21, 1922, p. 9].

[At the time of the accident, there was allegedly still ice in the pond. Lakeville residents at the time attributed the deaths partly to the heavy boots the boys had worn. (D. Evelyn Norris and Wallace Wilkie in French, pp. 62 and 97)].

RONALD LaPOINTE, ae 10, June 7, 1925
Ronald LaPointe, the ten-year-old son of Paul LaPointe of East Taunton, was drowned in Clear pond Sunday shortly after noon where he had gone with several of his boy chums to get cooled off from the sultry weather. He was walking from one sand bar to another when he stepped into one of the deep spring holes and sank, being seized with cramps. Although there were several in the water at the time all attempts to rescue the boy were futile. Dragging the pond was soon begun with all kinds of improvised implements and the water became so roiled that it was hard work to carry on the work for a long time. The body was located a short distance from where he was last seen and brought ashore. Assistant medical examiner A. V. Smith viewed the remains and made a finding of accidental drowning. The remains were later taken to the parents' home. [Middleboro Gazette, "Drowning at Clear Pond", June 12, 1925, p. 3].

A Private Water Supply

In 1925, the Lakeville State Sanatorium, which had previously relied upon water wells located west of the Nemasket River near Bridge Street to supply it with water for domestic purposes, began searching for a new source. At the start of that year, Eugene R. Kelley, Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health petitioned for legislation which would authorize the sanatorium to acquire an additional supply. Though no source was made specific in Kelley's petition, local residents understood is object. The petition "is taken to mean that the institution wants to get Clear pond on Rhode Island road for its supply, only a short distance away. This would give a supply of exceptionally pure water." Having well documented the pond's growing summertime popularity with Lakeville and Middleborough residents, however, the newspaper admitted that "objections are liable from the large number who use this pond for bathing purposes during the season." [Middleboro Gazette, "Middleboro", March 13, 1925, p. 1].

Notwithstanding the possibility of protests by Lakeville residents, the commonwealth dispatched engineers to the pond to investigate its suitability as a water supply. The men were engaged during the summer in drilling wells with little initial success. "They have found too great a per cent of iron in most of these wells." By mid-August, however, the engineers apparently "succeeded in getting the quality desired", and chemical testing later confirmed this. Accordingly, in 1925, the Department of Public Health was authorized to take the pond and the necessary land:

This property is taken for the purpose of supplying the Lakeville State Sanatorium with pure water for domestic and other purposes and for collecting, storing, holding and preserving the purity of the water supply and conveying the same to said Sanatorium and for constructing and maintaining a pumping station and electric power lines to supply such power thereto. [Plymouth Deeds 1504:83, April 13, 1926].

Six parcels and portions of three others from five different owners (George W. Stetson, Jennie (Stetson) Bowen, Serena E. (Haskins) Bernhardt, Everett T. Lincoln and Frank A. Hackett), as well as Clear Pond itself, were taken by the commonwealth to create a nearly 40 acre preserve. To connect the pond with the sanatorium grounds, a 40 foot wide tract extending eastwards and immediately south of Rush Pond to the rear of the sanatorium property on Main Street was also taken from owners John G. Paun, Sarah I. and Grace I. Paun, Ezra Fillmore's heirs and Abraham L. Shockley.

A pumping station was constructed on the east side of the pond, powered by electricity carried through a transmission line from the sanatorium. To convey the water to the sanatorium, a pipeline was laid between the pond and the hospital.

On July 26, 1926, the Middleboro Gazette carried the headline "Closed to Bathers" which announced the fate of the pond.

Clear pond, the last of the bathing places within easy reach of the town, has been closed to bathers and has been taken over by the state for a water supply for the lakeville Sanatorium. Work has been started there towards the erection of a pumping station that will supply the above institution and later a pipe line will be installed through the woods to the sanatorium which will afford that place the best drinking water in this section. For the past few years, after Taunton and New Bedford gained control of Assawampsett and Pocksha and tabooed bathing, Clear pond has been the only place to take a dip and hundreds went there during the summer afternoons to cool off. A fence has now been built around the pond and trespassing is forbidden. It is expected that as soon as the new system is in operation, the wells near the Nemasket river that now supply the sanatorium will be discontinued.

The state has been working for some time in the matter of the acquisition of this pond and the location close by the institution made it an ideal proposition and solved the question of a good water supply. [Middleboro Gazette, "Closed to Bathers", July 26, 1927, p. 1].

A Public Park for Lakeville

By the 1950s, Clear Pond had outlived its usefulness as a water supply. By that time, Middleborough had extended its water line to Lakeville in order to accommodate the sanatorium. The seemingly inevitable abandonment of Clear Pond as a water supply prompted Lakeville residents to action who saw in the site an ideal public park.

Despite the fact that we are surrounded by lakes, and, we have within our bounds tthe largest natural body of water in the state the finding of an area adequate for our needs has proved difficult. It was thought that Clear Pond, which has been used by the Lakeville State Sanitarium as a water supply for a number of years might be the answer to our problem, especially in view of the fact that the Sanitarium had been successful in securing the extension of the Middleboro water line to the Sanitarium grounds. [One Hundred Third Annual Town Report of the Town Officers of the Town of Lakeville for the Year 1955].

The transition from private water supply to public park, however, was not without difficulty. A bill (S-444) which would have transferred the pond and surrounding land to the Town of Lakeville as a recreational area failed when Paul Anderson of the Middleborough Board of Selectmen indicated at the public hearing on the matter that the Town of Middleborough "might not be able to guarantee an adequate supply of water at all times [to the Lakeville State Sanatorium] and on this basis the bill was turned down." With this unsuccessful outcome, the committee charged with developing a suitable recreational area for Lakeville suggested that the community look towards Long Pond.

Nonetheless, more diehard adherents of the proposal prevailed. In 1956, another bill passed permitting the land and pond to be transferred on condition that it "be maintained as a public park for the benefit of the inhabitants of the Town of Lakeville." Helping allay fears which the commonwealth might have regarding the uncertainty of the Middleborough water supply was the provision that the Department of Health be permitted "to maintain its pumping station, pipe line and power line, and to draw on the waters of said Clear Pond for the purposes of emergency water supply at Lakeville State Sanatorium." [Plymouth Deeds 2552:462, September 11, 1956].

Clear Pond Park

Clear Pond and its surrounding acreage was officially transferred from the commonwealth to Lakeville on September 11, 1956, but ironically, no one benefitted from the waters of Clear Pond in 1957. A drought in Massachusetts prevented the park from being opened.

Nonetheless, work was immediately undertaken in 1957 to create a park at the site. The Lakeville town meeting of March 11 of that year appropriated $5,000 for the improvement of the property. The largest task, though one little mentioned, was the creation of the beach itself which involved grading the pond bank and the importation of tons of sand to create a 300 foot long sandy shoreline for bathers. At the time, a parking area was created as well to accommodate those arriving by car. In 1958, a wooden bath house and toilet was constructed, new gates and a water supply installed, and 20 picnic tables purchased and put in place. Additionally, "water safety, life saving and training equipment, such as the life guard tower, boat, ring buoys and wharf were purchased and installed."

C. Mansfield Whitney, the original staff director of the park wrote of its inaugural season in 1958: .
Clear Pond Park was opened on June 23rd with what I feel were very adequate facilities for the first year. The physical properties at the beach consist of a bath house for the changing of clothes, rest rooms, an excellent parking area for automobiles, a 16-foot pyramidal tent on loan from Thomas Sena [which served as a first-aid station], a lifeguard tower, a small section of wharf, a well with water pump and 500 gallon storage tank, and life saving equipment. [One Hundred Sixth Annual Report of the Town Officers of the Town of Lakeville for the Year 1958].

During the first year, American Red Cross courses in swimming for both adults and children, as well as life saving classes, were conducted.

Improvements continued throughout the period. In 1959, a 14 by 14-foot combined administration, first-aid and storage building was erected to replace the previous year's tent, and 150 feet of the beach was widened. The following year, two additional life guards stands were built. "Another convenience established for the first time [in 1960] was a refreshment stand operated by Robert Mann. This facility was enthusiastically accepted by the bathers and eliminated the vending machines which presented many problems in past seasons." In 1961, the beach was rebuilt and resanded, a continual priorty need at the park.

Clear Pond Park was an immediate success. So much so that its early popularity began creating challenges. By 1962, the park was so crowded on warm weekends that the picnic tables had to be relocated to a less congested area in the pines "with notice that they were not to be moved, and their use was restricted to two hours. These restrictions were stenciled on each table." At the close of the 1963 season, a decision was taken by the Lakeville Park Commissioners to close the park to all but Lakeville residents and non-residential property owners.

Since 1958, Clear Pond Park has catered to the needs of local residents and continues to fulfill its historic role as an important summertime recreation area.


The surface area of Clear Pond as historically recorded varies greatly, ranging from 18 and one-quarter acres to as high as 28 acres. Complicating matters somewhat is the fact that Clear Pond is a spring-fed pond, and height levels (and consequently its surficial area) has varied over time.


Brockton Daily Enterprise, "Boy Drowned in Clear Pond", June 25, 1912.

French, Susan Ashley. Toys in the Sand: Recovering Childhood Memories in Lakeville, Massachusetts (East Freetown, MA: Susan Ashley French, 1989).

Lakeville Town Reports, 1955-present

Middleboro Gazette, "Heat and Drought", July 14, 1911, p. 2; Middleboro", July 14, 1911, p. 2; "Carver", June 28, 1912, p. 1; "Middleboro", January 1, 1915, p. 1; "Drowned in Clear Pond", July 27, 1917, p. 1; "Middleboro", July 29, 1921, p. 1; "Two Drowned in Clear Pond", April 21, 1922, p. 9; "Middleboro", March 13, 1925, p. 1; "Drowining at Clear Pond", June 12, 1925, p. 3; "What the Gazette was Saying Fifty Years Ago", July 8, 1927, p. 6; "Closed to Bathers", July 26, 1927, p. 1; "What the Gazette was Saying Fifty Years Ago", August 2, 1929, p. 6

Old Colony Memorial, "Middleboro", November 8, 1877, p. 1

Plymouth County Registry of Deeds, Deeds: 104:6 (Nelson to Ward), 120:10 (Jackson et al. to Jackson), 130:131 (Jackson to Leach), 143:152 (Jackson et al. to Jackson), 144:151 (Division), 163:211 (Cole to Haskins), 164:188 (Southworth to Jackson), 187:198 (Leach et al. to Harlow), 229:73 (Haskins to Pratt et al.), 288:194 (Jackson to Richmond), 331:127 (J. Haskins to G. Haskins), 401:184 (Pratt to Richmond et al.), 460:41 (Harlow to Elwell), 621:494 (Richmond et al. to Smith), 861:70 (Smith to Davis), 901:363 (Davis to Baker), 989:311 (Stetson to Bowen et al.), 1040:401 (Baker to Paun), 1048:80 (Paun to Stetson), 1203:341 (Elwell to Conway), 1203:342 (Conway to Anderson); 1203:508 (Anderson to Paun), 1214:118 (Paun to Stetson), 1214:119 (Stetson to Bowen), 1504:83 (Order of Taking), 1518:413 (Bernhardt et al. to Commonwealth), 2552:462 (Commonwealth to Lakeville), Plans: 4:106 ("Plan Showing Land Taking for the Water Supply of the Lakeville State Sanatorium - Lakeville, Mass. Chapter 277 Acts of 1925 April 1926").


Map of Middleborough, Mass. Drawn by S. Bourne, 1831. Detail.
The detail of this map shows the heavily wooded area which historically surrounded Clear Pond and was known as Clear Pond Woods. The neighborhood served as wood lots for early settlers and Lakeville residents through the early 1900s.

Map of Plymouth County, 1857. Detail.

Map of Clear Pond Land Takings, Lakeville, 1925-26 by Michael J. Maddigan, 2009
This map shows the various parcels which abutted Clear Pond at the time that they were taken by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for the establishment of a domestic water supply for the Lakeville State Sanatorium on Main Street. Additionally, a forty foot-wide strip was also taken linking the Clear Pond water reserve with the rear of the sanatorium grounds.

"Closed to Bathers", headline, Middleboro Gazette, July 26, 1927, page 1.

Clear Pond, Google Earth, July 13, 2009
The limits of Clear Pond Park are readily visible in this aerial view. The lighter-colored vegetation consisting largely of white pine trees contrasts markedly with the darker areas which are mixed hardwoods. The park's eastern boundaries and the former layout of Rhode Island Road may be seen.


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