- Staff photo by Bob Hammerstrom
Jew Pond in Mont Vernon is created by the small dam at left. Voters decided Tuesday night to rename the pond, but left it up to selectmen to decide on a name.
- Staff photo by Dean Shalhoup
The rustic sign at the entrance to George Carleton Park doesn't bear the name of the tiny pond in the background, which has been known as Jew Pond for years.
- This shows a portion of a map printed in the "The Golden Days", a history of Mont Vernon's summer-hotel era that ended in 1933. It shows names have been associated with Jew Pond over the years.
Mont Vernon voters decide Jew Pond will be renamed
MONT VERNON – Mont Vernon voters approved changing the name of Jew Pond late Tuesday night, although they haven’t yet decided what to change it to.
After a long evening that included a badly timed fire alarm, the town voted by secret ballot to petition the U.S. Geological Survey to rename tiny Jew Pond, and charge the Board of Selectmen to determine the process by which the name will be changed.
The proposal to rename the pond drew national attention.
The article, amended from an original proposal to rename the pond “Grand Hill Pond,” was approved 104-33, by secret ballot. Raucous cheers met the announcement of the vote at 10:40 p.m.
That vote came after a three-hour Town Meeting, which started by racing through the budget and other warrant articles before bogging down on the high-profile question of Jew Pond. The name debate was halted for more than a half hour when a fire alarm went off just as discussion began.
Nearly all seats in the Village School were filled ahead of the 7:30 start Tuesday night, not to mention the several media crews that set up side-by-side along a wall. Their target: Article 12 of the town warrant, which asked voters whether the town should do away with “Jew Pond” as the name of the little fire pond that kids sometimes use for fishing.
“It’s crazy, isn’t it?” said selectmen’s Chairman Jack Esposito, as he watched TV camera tripods spring up on the side of the school all-purpose room.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen TV cameras at Town Meeting before,” said Rich Masters, town welfare officer. Masters’ name-change suggestion a year and a half ago snowballed into the controversy that was played out Tuesday night.
“To be honest, I don’t care either way,” Wally Hooper, a longtime resident, said of the pond, when asked outside the polling station Tuesday. “To me, it’s a mud hole anyway.”
Earlier in the evening, the $1.8 million town budget was passed, with little change.
On Article 6, voters OK’d an amendment that would allow the town to use $33,065 in grant money, to purchase the requested hydraulic rescue tools for the Fire Department. The rest, roughly $1,900, would come from tax dollars.
After turning down a request to add $30,000 to the fire truck capital reserve fund, voters passed almost unanimously a $5,000 request to repair or replace a dry hydrant on Old Milford Road at Trow’s fire pond. Chief Jay Wilson called the hydrant a vital water supply for firefighters.
Voters also approved, by a considerable margin, spending $40,000 to repair and maintain the town’s historic McCollom Building. The article is a special two-year, non-lapsing article.
Article 10, which asked for $80,000 to reconstruct town roads, was also passed.
Among the high-profile people who expressed opinions on the Jew Pond issue were U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who called the name “inappropriate” and said it “should be changed” in a letter, and the Roman Catholic Bishop of New Hampshire, Peter Libasci, who wrote in a letter to the Milford Cabinet that “it’s a small pond but anti-Semitism is a big deal.”
Reaction in town has been varied, with some supporting a change and others thinking there’s no need to disturb a name that has been around for 80 years. Many expressed irritation at outsiders’ interference in a local matter.
Masters submitted an initial proposal to change Jew Pond’s name in the summer of 2010, after becoming aware of the pond’s name when it was closed due to an algae outbreak. The name Jew Pond is not found on any signs in town or on most maps.
The name arose from the fact that three Jewish men – Boston-area brothers Nymen H. and Myer Z. Kolodny and Maine hotelier J.M. Levenson – purchased The Grand in 1927, after it ran into hard times.
They ran the hotel for two years, catering to Jewish clientele who were often turned away from other hotels. They sold it back a year before it burned to the ground in 1930.
While they owned the hotel, they renamed the pond Lake Serene. Locals, amused by the presumption, gave it the unofficial moniker Jew Pond, and as years passed, the name stuck. It didn’t show up officially until decades later; the earliest recorded copy is a 1961 zoning map.
After learning of the name, Masters sent a proposal to state officials to adopt the name “Frog Pond,” after learning that responsibility for making an official name change rests with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Board on Geographic Names.
Also in the equation are descendants of the late George O. Carleton, a longtime resident. Forty years ago, he donated to the town acreage that includes Jew Pond, an area now known as Carleton Park.
His family and many others in town think that if the name is changed, it should become “Carleton Pond” in honor of the family patriarch.
Dean Shalhoup can be reached at email@example.com.