Vintage Views: The Great Concord Lake

  • Historic Turkey Pond Area memorial recognizing the Hurricane of 1938. N.H. Department of Transportation

  • The Turkey Ponds and River offer peaceful solitude to the people of Concord and a sanctuary to our wildlife. James W. Spain / For the Monitor

For the Monitor
Published: 10/18/2019 6:11:20 PM

Our historic community has been fortunate to enjoy many wonderful lakes, ponds, streams and rivers here in Concord. The very first settlers of record were the Abenaki Native Americans and they referred to this area as Pennacook or “Bottom of the Hill.” The water sustained life, both wildlife and the life of the first people that lived here. The water ran clean and with this the Merrimack River was abundant with salmon, providing summers of fishing and foraging along the shores. The Penacook Tribe would camp near the present-day Blossom Hill Cemetery in Concord and preserve their summer bounty of salmon for the cold winter months ahead. The water not only provided nourishment for the Native Americans, it also provided transportation when needed via their primitive canoes.

Today we enjoy the preserved natural resources that our ancestors relied upon for survival, the Great Turkey Pond, Little Turkey Pond and Turkey River in particular are marvels that provide not only recreation but habitats for wildlife. Prior to the assignment of both of the Turkey Pond names the first settlers referred to this area by their Native American name “Tahanto,” the great Sagamore of the Tribe of the Penacook’s.

As our ancestors settled this area and they referred to Great Turkey Pond, Little Turkey Pond and the Turkey River by name for there was a strong resemblance to a native turkey. When the early settlers viewed these bodies of water, they saw Great Turkey Pond as the body of the turkey, the stream flowing from it resembled the neck of the turkey with the stream flowing into Little Turkey Pond being the head of the turkey. As this area was modernized the details have now been lost to time.

For many years the area surrounding these ponds was sacred to the locals, people would hunt, fish and enjoy a simple day of boating. There were Victorian hikes along the shores and primitive bird watching too. Recreation continued to grow as the years progressed and a keen interest was peaked during the years following the great depression. People enjoyed this area so much that they thought they might be able to make a great recreation area even greater. So it was that in September, 1945 the Board of Aldermen in Concord voted for the Turkey Pond area for development and the creation of the future great Concord Lake.

There were people that were very pleased to see this vote and the opportunities that would be created by developing Concord Lake in the coming years. This new lake would stretch for five miles and boast a twenty-five-mile shoreline. The people knew that this would be a magnificent incentive for people to travel to Concord and the profits from tourism in the following years would just exceed everyone’s expectations. The plan presented by the city involved the Turkey River being dammed west of St. Paul’s School and both Great Turkey Pond and Little Turkey Pond being joined with Turee Pond in Bow. This would flood the entire 2290 acres of wetlands creating the tenth largest lake in the state of New Hampshire. The good citizens of Concord would be able to drive along the new shoreline on Clinton Street as far as Stickney Hill Road and enjoy a public beach. Yes, this plan was indeed grand and very desired by many people within our community.

The Army Corps of Engineers supported the plan and developed various drawings to visualize the new Concord Lake, the Legislature authorized a referendum on the Concord Lake development in the 1947 Concord elections. With many supporters voting on election day there were also people that were very opposed to the new Concord Lake. In particular, St. Paul’s School organized opposition to combat this plan citing the danger of flooding and need to support wildlife. On election day in 1947 the voters of Concord approached the polls and casts their preference for the Concord Lake concept, the results being 2371 in favor of the lake with 4686 opposing the lake. There would be no Concord Lake to greet the men and woman that had recently returned to Concord after serving their country in World War II.

Several years passed and talk continued around Concord. The diners, the barbershops and the law office water coolers provided opportunity to weigh in on the defeated Concord Lake. The people imagined themselves enjoying their meals on the Clinton Street sandy shores with thoughts of buying that big sail boat to cruise away a lazy Saturday afternoon. Yes, the people still held that keen interest and the thought of the lake continued to be discussed by our preceding generations.

In February, 1955 the City Planning Board once again brought the subject to the front, a proposed legislation before the New Hampshire General Court was in the making. In April 1955, nearly three hundred people attended legislative hearings in search of a solution to the ongoing Concord Lake discussion. The Concord Lake was once again turned down that day in April 1955, perhaps being destined for the history books once and for all.

As the 1960s, approached and the need for water to fill the drought stricken Long Pond necessitated the construction of a pipeline from Turkey Pond to Long Pond we find the discussion once again surfacing in 1963, with more support for the development of Concord Lake. For the next two years the Concord city officials offered support, some suggesting it would be the best way to keep plenty of water in our water supply system during future droughts.

As late as 1972 there was discussion within the city of Concord about the Concord Lake. In modern society we have learned more about the importance of ecology and protecting our wildlife friends. We have survived many droughts and enjoyed the peaceful tranquility that Big Turkey Pond, Little Turkey Pond and the Turkey River offer us on a quiet Sunday afternoon.

Yes, the images of the turkey head, body and neck have changed over the years. The first inhabitants of this area might not recognize “Tahanto” for the shores have indeed shifted. Perhaps Concord Lake could have been very grand and faded photographs of our early years at Concord Lake might very well be stored away in old photo albums.

There was a famous poet names Nathaniel Carter that lived on the banks of Turkey River over a century ago. He made his home at Moreland Farm. He was a prolific writer and well known during his day – he found inspiration on the Turkey River. One of his classic poems tells us about the Turkey River and Ponds of his era. This poem is called “To My Native Stream.”

We no longer discuss what could have been but embrace what will be. Yes, we still have our native stream. Many of us have fond memories of days spent on the beautiful Turkey Ponds and Turkey River. We hold these memories sacred within our hearts just like our earliest ancestors did. I’m sure Nathaniel Carter would like what we have and what will be.

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