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Henningsen: The Farm Pond

The most common body of water in Vermont is probably the farm pond, built for a practical purpose. Ours used to water livestock, but it really was built purely for fun.Our land was part of a hill farm run by a local character with the wonderful name of O’Honory Messier – known by all as Norry. Although Norry passed on in 1960, he remains a vivid memory. When people of a certain vintage inquire where I live, I ask if they remember Norry Messier, which evokes delighted laughter and a flood of stories. During the 1940’s and 50’s he seems to have employed every teenaged male in town, mostly to look after his animals while he pursued his true love – sugaring.

When he wasn’t sugaring, getting ready for sugaring, cleaning up after sugaring, or dreaming about sugaring, Norry sold syrup or, more often, gave it away to neighbors and friends. And when he wasn’t doing that he liked grand projects.

So did his friend Herb Malmquist – another character who supposedly ran the local mill, but whose passion was building earth dams to plug wet areas and create ponds. You can’t do this today, but he built a bunch of them and, according to one local expert, they’re unmistakable. You can see his masterpiece at the Podunk Wildlife Management Area in Strafford.

Sometime in the 1950’s Norry and Herb built our pond in a marshy area separating the farmhouse from a hillside pasture.
Using a long rock ledge as the foundation of an earth dam, they reinforced it with stones taken from walls bounding the road to Norry’s house. The result was a three acre cold-water pond, which Norry stocked with trout. Yes, his cows drank there but, as one old-timer said, “Norry just liked looking at it.”

It’s smaller now: silt’s brought three acres down to less than two; bass have replaced trout; and we don’t water livestock there. But we, too, just like looking at it.

When we read about the origins of Vermont’s lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams, we learn about geology and glacial action. But I’ll bet I’m not the only one around here whose pond exists because two old guys were looking for a project.

Vic Henningsen is a teacher and historian.
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