During my life I’ve visited a lot of interesting places ranging from Vietnam to Turkey but regretfully there are many places I’ll likely never get to see, such as Greenland or Camp David. While I have traveled a lot in Old Nutfield there are still a few local places I have never seen. One example of a personally unvisited spot is Scobie Pond in Londonderry.
That sheet of water was originally called Wallace’s Pond after the family that first farmed the area. Among the members of that family were John and Anna Wallace, who in 1721 became the first couple to get married in Old Nutfield. There was also the celebrated Ocean Born Mary Wallace. In 1733, the pond was owned by linen weaver John Scobie, whose family would hold the property until the 19th century. During the rest of that century the area was allowed to grow wild, inhabited only by hundreds of free-range sheep. The town maps of 1856 and 1892 record no houses anywhere near Scobie Pond. Due to lack of use, Londonderry discontinued Scobie Pond Road -- between Wood Avenue and Brewster Road -- in 1932. Until fairly recently, the pond was officially known as Scobie’s Pond but during the 20th century the federal government ordered the removal of about 250,000 apostrophes on U.S. maps. Only six places were spared, one being Martha’s Vineyard.
In the early 20th century, the only ones who would visit the area were fishermen who considered Scobie Pond to be an angler’s paradise. The opening day of fishing season would find the shore lined with sportsmen. In 1933, the Beaver Fish and Game Club of Derry decided to “improve” the pond by killing off the so-called junk fish and replacing them with trout and salmon. To make the project more manageable, the 77-acre pond was reduced to one-third that size by selective damming and then pumping its water into Beaver Brook. After weeks of work an estimated 100 million gallons of water had been removed from the pond and its water-level brought down by 30 inches.
During the draining, seine nets were used to catch the fish in the rapidly shrinking pond. On Sunday, June 4, there were about 30 men netting fish; by mid-morning they had caught about 150 horned pout and dozens of good-sized pickerel. The local folks were suffering during the Great Depression and these fish would make appreciated meals at their supper tables. The netters had to work hard because next Sunday many gallons of the poison blue vitriol would be poured into the lake to kill every single fish, clam and frog that remained in the pond.
In about 5 feet of water, one of the men found with his feet a strangely shaped piece of wood. At first he suspected it was only some kind of old rowboat. Most of the object was covered in muck so it took hours to free it and drag it to shore. Soon they suspected that they had found a dugout canoe about 15 feet long and 2 feet wide. The club called in Dr. Wallace Nichols, a dentist from Derry and the local expert on Indians. He confirmed their hunch that it was indeed an authentic dugout canoe. The doctor further gave his belief that it was made of white pine by Indians using stone tools perhaps 200 years before.
Dr. Nichols’ analysis was confirmed by a trained government archeologist as being “unquestionable genuine.” The find was reported in newspapers across the nation and it was said that only six dugout canoes had ever been found in America; this was the third ever to be discovered in New England. The Fish and Game Club gave the boat to Nichols who in turn presented it to the Manchester Historical Association. This Native American relic is now on display at the Mill Yard Museum in the Queen City. I know of two other such canoes in New Hampshire; the one in the state museum in Concord was found in Lake Ossipee and the Derry Museum of History’s boat that was found in 1972 in Beaver Lake by the Cote brothers.
A state map in 1953 showed three houses on Scobie Pond. A recent satellite photograph shows four dwellings there now. The state puts the pond as now covering about 24 acres, down from it original size of 77 acres. Its average depth is 12 feet with some holes dropping to 26 feet. The maps indicate that Scobie Pond is one of the sources of Beaver Brook, which flows into the Merrimack River at Lowell.
There still seems to be good fishing in Scobie Pond. One modern source lists bass, pickerel, horned pout, black crappies, blue gill and perch as being there in relative abundance. These are the descendents of the fish that somehow survive the genocidal poisoning by the Derry fish and game club in 1933. This survey also failed to find survivors of the trout or salmon that the club had stocked in the pond. I did find a February 2008 mention of ice fishing on the pond. The writer, however, wasn’t too happy with his catch that day; all he caught was one bass, one blue gill and “one of the rattiest looking perch I’ve laid eyes on in a while.” All that being true, the sportsman admitted that a poor catch was better then being “skunked.” He also acknowledged that even a poor day of fishing on Scobie Pond was better then “laying the sheet rock that I have waiting for me at home.”
Maybe I should make an effort to visit Scobie Pond; it does sound like a good place to escape from my household responsibilities.
Rick Holmes is the official town historian of Derry. His office hours at the Municipal Center are Mondays from 8 a.m. to noon and Wednesdays from 4 to 7 p.m. Several of his books on local history are available at Mack’s Apples and Derry’s libraries.