Come and follow the Turtle Trail to learn about the history and nature of Martins Pond.
- Martins Pond was formed during the last Ice Age, 11 thousand years ago. The basin the pond occupies was formed by a huge ice block left here to melt. The ice block was left here because it was wedged between two eskers on the North and East, and a small drumlin to the southwest. The flat wetlands to the south were created by outwash as the ice block melted.
- People arrived here 6,000 years ago. These nomadic Indians moved often, following fish and game. They traveled upriver to Martins Pond from the coast in log canoes made by burning and hollowing out tree trunks. Evidence of a charcoal pit, tools, and arrowheads were found at the Eaton Site near the Skug River inlet of Martins Pond. Indians also used a slash and burn agricultural system requiring them to move as fields were worn out. The Massachusetts tribe learned to use fish as fertilizer to extend the use of the fields. Indians may have grown corn, beans and pumpkins near the pond.
- In 1600 the first European settlers came to North Parish (North Reading), and described it as “a bear infested swamp.” In 1644 English settlers of Lynn chose the name Redding for the lands known as Reading, North Reading, and Wakefield. It may be no coincidence that the small inland town of Reading, England defeated the Royal Army that same year in a battle over taxes.
- The Meadow Grant of 1647 gave lots of 5 to 30 acres to early settlers. William Martin received 14 acres. Meadowlands were highly prized for their naturally growing hay. Mr. Martin, a farmer, raised grain for his livestock. He was a farmer, surveyor, and town selectman in 1653. His 188 acre farm near the pond led to the pond being called Martin’s Pond. By 1686 small pox plagues reduced the Indian tribe to less than 100. David Kunkshamooshaw then sold the remaining Indian lands for $55. Many colonists had already settled on Indian land. By 1713 North Reading’s economy was largely dairy farming. There were roughly 48 families, and 300 cows.
- From the 1700’s to 1850 the town’s population stayed around 500. The Malden-Essex turnpike (now Route 28) was laid out in 1806 as a hard packed, gravel road. It was the main highway between Boston, Lawrence and New Hampshire until Route 93 was built in the 1950’s. The Salem & Lowell Railroad along the same route was opened August 1, 1850, with “Sailor Boy” the first locomotive assigned to the route. By 1870 the town’s population doubled to 1,000. Mr. Halley built a log cabin on the North ridge, beginning a community centered around the pond.
- Martins Pond was a resource for the early settlers. Fishing and hunting provided food, natural grass growth fed livestock, and harvested winter ice kept food cold – before the electric refrigerator. Each January farmers cut ice blocks to store at the farm for the next summer. In the late 1800’s the Uptons built an Ice House at Holt’s Grove to store and sell large amounts of ice. A huge conveyor belt carried the ice from the water’s edge up to the ice house where it was packed in sawdust.
- By 1900 streetcars arrived in North Reading making it easier to visit. The 2 hour bumpy ride from Boston cost 10 cents/5 cents per child. A few built summer camps near the “Holt’s Grove” trolley stop near Batchelder Ave. MacIntire’s store opened there selling ice cream, food, and housing boats. J. D. Gowing and an American Indian named Arrow Man bought much of the land around the pond, hoping to sell house lots. Gowing bought the East side, and Arrow Man bought the West. Arrow Man set up Arrow Village with cottages named Wigwam, Buffalo and Honeybee.
- After World War I the land around Martins Pond began to sell rapidly. Mr. Gowing and the Arrow Man advertised it as a resort area. Throughout the 20’s and 30’s, clubs around the pond sponsored outings on holidays. The Kunkshamooshaw Klub had a “Horrible Parade” with people in funny costumes. Races, fishing derby’s, 4th of July fireworks, and bootleg parties were held. The Martins Pond Social Club, at the corner of Burroughs and Old Andover, held weekly dances and Sunday Catholic services. Collections started there helped build North Reading’s first Catholic church in 1931 where the K of C now stands on Rte. 28. The Pond Club was a popular dance and pouring spot at the corner of Burroughs and Lakeside. On the West side of the pond, Mrs. Anna Bryant held Sunday school in her home. The women of the area camps raised money and built and founded the Martins Pond Union Baptist Church in 1927.
- The Great Depression (1929-1935) brought an end to many of the activities on the pond. Many people who lost their jobs started to winterize and move into their summer cottages at the pond. Martins Pond became a residential community.
- The Skug River enters the pond from the North. Enough water flows through the pond to empty and fill it 20 times each year, or every 18 days. Skug is the Indian name for Skunk. The sandy land at Batchelder Avenue to the East is an old alternate route of the river.
- Wildlife around the pond include: Mammals (Otter, Raccoon, Muskrat, Fox, Woodchuck and Skunk); Reptiles (Snapping and Painted Turtles, Leopard Frogs, Black Water Snakes, and Spotted Salamanders); Birds (Green and Great Blue Heron, Kingbird, Mallard and Wood Duck); and, of course, Fish (Perch, Bluegill, Bass, Catfish, Eel, and Mussels)
- Many birds visit Martins Pond during their migration south. Common Loons, Comerants and Osprey have been sighted.
- The pond used to be nearly overgrown with water lilies and floating moss beds. The Hurricane of 1938 greatly changed the pond, throwing the floating moss beds onto dry land. Motor boats have since helped to keep water lilies to the edges. Turtle island is actually a “Quaking Bog,” or floating land. The Indians called the Ipswich River “Agawam” meaning “Land beneath water.”
- In the 1950’s there was a revival of social activity around the pond. The Pond Club, at the corner of Lakeside Blvd. and Burroughs Rd. in the Southwest corner of the pond and hosted activities. The Pine Tree Inn at Sandy Beach on Burroughs Road had picnics and swimming and boating parties. On the West side the Community Club held dances, as did Don’s Café (formerly MacIntire’s). These clubs fizzled out in the 60’s.
- Bedrock is the rock that lies beneath the topsoil, sand, and gravel left behind by the glaciers. Bedrock is often split or fractured. These fractures can contain large amounts of water. Wells are drilled deep into the soil to collect this water for us to drink. Aerial photography and satellite imagery are used to locate bedrock fractures and potential water sources. North Reading has piped water to residents since1936. Water was purchased from Wilmington until 1954 when the Central Street wellfield was developed. In 1956 the1st Lakeside Boulevard well was drilled. A 2nd was drilled in 1959, a 3rd in 1979, and a 4th in 1984. Wells 2, 3 and 4 are still in operation and are 45, 38, and 59 feet deep. The Lakeside wells can produce 900,000 gallons of water per day, about half of the entire Town’s potential water production of 1.9 million gallons per day. A fifth well at Lakeside may be in the works. The Lakeside Blvd. Treatment Plant treats the water from these and the Route 125 well.
- Much of the area around Martins Pond is wetlands. Some are acrid bogs with Pitcher Plants and Sundews. Some are vernal pools – dry in Summer, but brimming with life on the vernal equinox Spring and Fall. To the North is a large Red Maple Swamp that meets the pond with a quaking bog.
- Many interesting plants surround Martins Pond. The Yellow Pond Lilly, is nicknamed “Brandy Bottle Lilly” because its seedpod looks like a colonial brandy bottle floating in the water in the Fall. It even smells like brandy! The Cattail’s seedpod looks like a scared cat! The Indians used the Cattail’s roots for flour, and its fluff for pillows. The Duck Potato Arrow Root has arrow shaped leaves and is used for babies’ cookies. The Canada Rush is the crunchy water chestnut used in Chinese cooking.
- WHY IS THE WATER SO MURKY? In April 1984, an environmental company performed a year-long study of Martins Pond. They found 3 major reasons for the cloudiness of the pond. 1-High amounts of phosphates in the water which feed algae. Phosphates are introduced by: nearby old septic systems, use of high phosphate detergents (now illegal), and lawn fertilizer runoff. 2-The pond is shallow. Its deepest point at only 7.25 feet with as much as 10 feet of sediment (muck) below that. The sediment occupies 70% of the original basin. 3-The fast movement of the water stirs up sediment. By the way, Oak leaves in the water give it a brownish color.
- WHAT CAN BE DONE? Alum treatments were tried in 1985, but with the fast water flow, the chemicals were soon gone and the algae returned. The recent statewide ban on phosphate detergents should improve the water’s clarity. Improved septic systems or a sewerage system would also help starve the algae that cloud the water. A sewer system would reduce phosphate loading by 30%. A sewer system’s cost in 1984 was estimated at $1.8 Million dollars, plus $13.5 thousand per year to maintain it. Dredging the pond would deepen it and remove the sediment that is stirred up by the fast water flow. The cost of dredging was estimated at $13 Million, or $1.2 to $1.4 Million for the pond’s edge.
- In the 1980’s the Martins Pond Booster’s Club formed and began to hold pond activities. Picnics and winter gatherings were held at Clarke Park. When the park came into disrepair the Martins Pond Association and Playground Committee formed in 1992. The group holds 3 fundraising events per year to improve the park, and has members of the Mass. Congress of Lake and Pond Associations. As of October 2001, the group has raised over $25,000 for park improvements.
- Martins Brook is the outlet of Martins Pond. In the days before the railroads, hay had to be cut close to the farm. The naturally growing Blue-Joint Grass Swales at the pond’s outlet provided free hay for early farmers. Each Fall farmers would come to Martins Pond to harvest hay from the adjoining meadows. The water flows out Martins Brook and joins the Ipswich River near the intersection of Park and Winter Streets. The Ipswich then flows out to sea by Plum Island in Ipswich, Massachusetts.
Major funding for the Turtle Trail project was provided by the Martins Pond Association. Special thanks to the North Reading Business Association and the North Reading Park and Recreation Department. This project was made possible in part by a grant from the Lake and Pond Grant Program administered by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Management.