by Robert Spencer, Over the Dam
On August 11, 2022, at 2:00 p.m., a walking path along South Waterford’s City Brook will be dedicated to the memory of the late William “Dood” Haynes. Bill, a lifelong resident of “the lower village,” first came up with the idea of a trail back in the 1980s. His goal was to commemorate the many industrial sites along the Brook during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The event will take place at Werner Park Playground as part of The Waterford Historical Society’s (WHS) 2022 schedule. Other neighborhood groups participating will be Western Foothills Land Trust, Friends of City Brook, Keoka Lake Association, Bear Mountain Music Hall, and Waterford Community. All are welcome.
During an average year, when precipitation levels are normal, City Brook runs south from the dam and spillway, exiting Keoka Lake as a noisy little stream. Even in the dampest years, the water is reduced to a pleasant rill from June through October. One might assume this seasonal variation in flow has been continuous for centuries. Long before the colonial settlers, indigenous Wabanaki people traveled, camped, fished, and hunted along the eastern shore of Bear Pond, likely also using the brook as a source for food and for irrigation.
When the early settlers arrived from Massachusetts, one of the first things they did to anchor themselves to the land was to create dams to control flow rates and capture the water. Numerous mills were built over the years to harness the waterpower needed to make lumber, grind corn and grain, tan leather, etc. Granted, it was much easier to use the flow during the wet time of year, but even in summer, a dam would collect water in a pond until a sufficient quantity was stored to turn the turbines. Remnants of these dams and mills remain along City Brook and relics can be seen year-round. These numerous foundations clearly document the many efforts to also channel the water during the dry season.
According to the WHS “History of Waterford 1775-1875” the mill sites, running from Keoka south toward Bear Pond are as follows:
Saw and Grist mill first erected by Abram Whitney in 1810, where Keoka Dam access road crosses the brook.
Foundry operated by Miller & Cummings in 1847, at the former site of Grover’s Garage, where a gazebo is now located.
Plaster mill built by Josiah Monroe in 1848, located below the Wesleyan Chapel.
Saw and Grist mill, built c.1790 by Ezra Jewell, now at the junction of Waterford and Sweden Roads. (WHS sign location)
Sawmill owned by Isaac Smith, built c.1795 at Watson’s Falls on Back Street. (WHS sign location)
Blacksmith Shop built by Timothy Bisbee in 1809, opposite Werner Park on Park Street.
The Oliver Hapgood carding mill, built c.1810 on Park Street, across from the Brookside House. In 1963 it was carefully disassembled piece by piece, then moved and reconstructed at Old Sturbridge Village, reopening in 1970. (WHS sign location)
Leather tannery built by William Monroe in 1802. Located below the former Corn Shop site near where Robbie Plummer Brook joins City Brook.
First sawmill in town was operated by Jacob Gibson c.1790, “within a few rods of the outlet of Bear Brook” (City Brook/Mutiny Brook) into Bear Pond.
With the exception of #9, each site may be identified by remnants such as split granite foundation stones, metal gear wheels, and other evidence of industrial debris. #1 was last used to generate electric power. The turbine housing, spill, and raceways are prominent. #5 is a private residence next to the last remaining split granite dam.
On August 11, visitors will get maps to explore the route from the Mason Dam on Keoka Lake to Plummer Brook south of Cross Street. The Trail is approximately one mile in length, and an easy to moderate walk. The three WHS commemorative signs are located along Sweden Road and Park Street and are accessible to all.