Ruth Bass: Memories and history run deep in Richmond Pond and a new book chronicles it all | Columnists
RICHMOND — Who knew a pond could provide 166 pages of history? The publication this year of “The Gem of Richmond,” a voluminous book about a pond that is mostly out of sight, proves that a 218-acre body of water can do just that.
The book is a pearl. And in a time when too many people don’t volunteer for anything, it has been beautifully researched, written, edited and guided through proofreading by dedicated volunteers with sponsorship from the Richmond Pond Association and the Richmond Historical Society.
Driving this story about the lake that Richmond shares with Pittsfield is its editor, Ken Kelly of Lenox, who has had a passion for Richmond Pond since he was a child when he swam at the old Camp Bluebird, fished from the wharf at his uncle’s. cabin and attended Camp Russell. Today, he benefits from a seasonal lodging at the edge of the pond.
These volunteers had a posting deadline, but had to change it because they hadn’t finished. The book was rumored to be out last summer, but the huge undertaking, carried out under the handicaps of the coronavirus, apparently needed more time. The look of the beautiful book and the comprehensive content have been worth the wait.
The last significant page is the dedication to the memory of Dr. John Reynolds, Whitewood resident and daily kayaker until he lost his life in a kayaking accident on the pond in December. The text is accompanied by a beautiful photo he took of the sunset over the pond.
The book contains photos, old and contemporary. It has a glossy full-color cover with a diagram showing the original pond and its width today, surrounded by color photos illustrating the pond’s value for recreation – kayaking, sailing, fishing – its scenic views, a bird habitat ranging from wood ducks to eagles, with the inevitable geese, elegant and often troublesome.
Most Richmond residents know that the town was once a center of iron mining in New England. Fewer people may know that harvesting ice on Richmond Pond was a major activity here back when every farm had an icehouse and every kitchen had an icehouse.
Like mining, harvesting ice was hard work – cold and slippery. Sawing blocks of ice and lifting them from the water with tongs, the men piled them onto horse-drawn sleds, which provided transport to rail links or farms. The footings of long-gone buildings still stand on the city beach. Harvesting ice has its own chapter in “The Gem of Richmond”.
The research involved in a book like this is reflected in the text and in the photos provided by the collections of current and former residents like Holly Stover, Gladys Traver, Gloria Morse, Dick Boyce, Virginia Larkin and Clem Moore. And the pages are enriched by the many contemporary photos taken by Ken Kelly and Valerie Reynolds.
Ken Kelly was kind enough to sign me up as a contributor, but my words for the book were few. Editorial board members Kelly, Susan Abramowitz, Kerry Hamilton, Jan Hartford and Gloria Morse did much of the writing and polishing, with much written by Holly Stover and Morse, women he called his “heavy lifters”.
Published by Troy Book Makers, it is inviting in terms of layout and readability. The chapters move easily and often include a fun or intriguing anecdote. In the Camp Russell chapter, for example, it is said that the legendary Jim Mooney sometimes stayed overnight when the day campers were gone.
He slept on an old metal spring bed, it is said, and hung his metal string rosary on the headboard. When lightning struck the building one night, the charge apparently traveled through the beads of the rosary to the springs of the bed, striking hard enough to knock him off the bed. He moved the beads.
At Camp Marion White, the Girl Scouts enjoyed unusual games on Friday afternoon. Swamp the Counselor invited them to douse each Counselor’s canoe with water until it sank. No permanent loss of advisors is recorded. Another game involved a race with greased watermelons, reminiscent of the old greased pig races at country fairs.
It is possible that a number of Richmond residents have never seen the pond except from the Lenox Mountain fire tower or the lawn of Balderdash Cellars. It’s just not on the side of the road.
For our family, memories include kids learning to swim with Dawn Ratcliff at the beach, ice fishing near Eddie Zahn’s, a brief foray into sailing in a boat we wisely sold, a Girl Scout counselor, and many hours at the beach. And it was there that many caring people realized the environmental importance of these waters and worked on its health.
During the shoulder season, the beach and boat ramp are great places to read a book or just watch the resident bald eagle. Once you’ve read the book — available at Bartlett’s, Balderdash Cellars and The Bookstore in Lenox — you’ll want to. And more.