A stroll around our Ell Pond

... a delightful park surrounds a dying kettlepond

from Don and Lorry Norris

This photo is several years old, taken when a team of SilverStringer
photographers got up at 5a.m. to catch the dawn light over Ell Pond. It fits this
reproduction, however, since Melrose has come to be recognized by that lovely
pond right in the middle of town. It is often taken for granted that the pond
will be there today, tomorrow and perhaps forever -- but not so. The fact is that
it has been dying -- filling in -- ever since its creation some ten or fifteen
thousand years ago, a product of the last of four major ice ages.

A haven for all sorts of wildlife -- ducks, gulls, swans, geese, turtles, fish
-- Ell Pond has survived in spite of an encroaching population of human beings.
Gradually, year after year, the water level gets thinner and thinner, and in the
past few years we have seen an island of mud break through its glassy surface.

Ell Pond was probably fifty feet deep at its beginning, created by melting ice
a mile thick. It, and several other kettleponds in this area -- the three Mount
Hood ponds, Crystal Lake, Spot Pond -- were gouged out by the slow but incessant
movement of the ice cap -- which stretched a hundred miles out to sea. Bedrock,
much like the bedrock-knob that forms The Knoll, is some fifty feet down. The
problem is the silt and earth that has flowed into this valley over the thousands
of years. More so with the growth of human population over the past 300 years.

It still remains a placid place, but the water you see in this photo is barely
deep enough to discourage the shallow-water lilies. Wherever you see those
lilypads, the bottom is only two or three feet down. When you see the swans and
geese bottom-feeding, you know there's not much water there.

On the bright side, the town fathers, over the past three or four hundred
years, saw fit to preserve the lake area as a small park. Today the area is
filled with recreational facilities: Starting on Tremont Street, we can list a
nice swimming pool, a skate-board park, a carefully manicured Little League park,
a well-kept tennis facility, a couple of acres of well-maintained athletic
fields, the Knoll which serves as a memorial to fallen soldiers from Melrose. And
now, on the east side of the Knoll are more practice fields, a newly established
dog run, and at the corner of Lynn Fells Parkway and Crystal Street, yet another
facility for tennis -- and a small, restful park along the water, as a tribute to
the family of the late Dr. Joseph Fay. For years this was the site of a fan-built
neighborhood hockey rink.

Trees and brush have grown thick along the north shore, through which the
people had established a lovely trail, following the waters edge. It is a
delightful walk, if only too short. It starts by the swimming pool on Tremont,
winds around behind the Knoll, skirts the new dog run, turns to sidewalk by the
Parkway, then cuts back into the woods by the corner tennis court, near Crystal  

The photo at the left looks down through five inches of lake water; note the
obvious line of green that marks the normal high-water line. Those white specks
are reflections on the surface. Swimming in Ell Pond is no longer condoned and
the beachhouse was torn down around 1950. From personal experience, swimming in
Ell Pond was not fun.

To orient our walk, we pass the Little League outfield fence, festooned with
the banners of commercial supporters. At the left are athletic fields, used by
both school groups and local leagues.

No snake here, but one aggressive tree seeking support of another, causing the
latter's demise. The site is a small but dense forest southwest of the Parkway and
Crystal Street. This bottom leg of the "ell" is very shallow, and home to such as
swans, ducks, geese, and lots of turtles.

There are two basic inlets to Ell Pond. This one crosses the Parkway near
Crystal Street, originating in the valley marked by the railroad tracks. A second
inlet is adjacent to the MDC swimming pool, draining from the western heights and
Stoneham. Major drainage and sewer lines run under the low streets of the valley
-- on occasion leaking and seeping into the pond.

The municipal park gives way to several private homes along Crystal Street --
whose back windows produce lovely views, especially in the late afternoon. At one
time there was an old version of a variety store on Main Street, just north of
the hospital, that rented rowboats and canoes. It went out of business in the
late '40s, and the site is now a private residence.

Adjacent to that last house is the continuation of the municipal park -- a narrow
bank of steep land between Main Street and Ell Pond -- a beautiful place with
huge shade trees and a fine view of the pond itself. Below the retaining wall the
pond has filled in, which thus provides nesting places for swans and ducks. It is
a delightful park.

The sole outlet to Ell Pond is on Main Street, opposite the nursing home at the
junction with Lebanon Street.  Nearby is the memorial stone to those Melrose
people who served -- and died -- in the Vietnam War.

Just beyond that outlet is a lovely continuation of the park system, which
follows the pond's bank as it turns westward. In this small park is a Victorian
gazebo where an occasional wedding takes place, and a little further on is the
old path, running north and south between the homes, that was once the overflow
drain from Dix Pond. Dix was a small pond that was filled in over the years, and
disappeared in 1912 with the construction of Memorial Hall. Dix Pond is now a
municipal parking lot.

The south edge of Ell Pond is basically private property, as some two dozen
beautiful homes line the curving bank, along West Emerson and Lake Avenues. Most
of those places were built with the advent of the railroad, established in 1845.
A tall moraine was created by the diminished ice age; tons of fine gravel were
released as the ice melted.

Wild life in Ell Pond. Look closely and watch as three turtles ride one small
stick -- as a fourth struggles to catch up.

Actually this is the top half of the turtle photo (above) -- I was looking at the
swans, but when I put the card into the computer, I found my picture had a bonus.

The neighborhood on the south bank -- both on West Emerson and Lake Avenue, provides  
fine examples of Victorian-style homes.

As for our walk/photo-tour around Ell Pond, with all the dilly-dallying along the
route, it took us a hour and a half to get back to the car on Tremont Street. We
were both pleased and disappointed with our venture: The exercise and the scenery
were both fine, but the continuing demise of the pond itself is disheartening.  
I'll bet, that somewhere in the near future, the city will negotiate with
the Feds to restore our dissipating pond. It almost came about in the 1960s --
but the bill to get the Army Engineers out here was too much for the city to
bear. Maybe we can try again -- soon as we get done fighting in the Middle East.

July 6, 2012

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