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Where Is Silver Lake?

"Nonantum," Algonkian for "the place of rejoicing," was what the first band of "Praying Indians" converted to Christianity by the Reverend John Eliot chose to call their village in the vicinity of the Chestnut Hill Golf course. Though the settlement was there for less than half a dozen years, the name persisted, and became attached, at various times, to what is now Farlow Hill, to an early commercial block on Washington Street in Newton Corner, and to a textile manufacturing concern.

The Nonantum Worsted Company bought the Dalby Mills on Chapel Street in the late 1860s and, for the subsequent two decades, provided employment for almost six hundred residents of the "North Village." Small wonder the neighborhood became known as "Nonantum." At the heart of Nonantum lay Silver Lake. Two descriptions from the 1880s attest to its charm, mention the absence of a "visible outlet" and comment on the cutting of ice. More recently, local residents have remembered skating in winter and at least one drowning in summer.

While an exhibition at The Jackson Homestead, Nonantum: A Community Scrapbook, was in preparation, the question arose of how and when Silver Lake came into being. According to Nevada Street resident Don Cedrone, who now owns all that is left of the lake, it is possible that it dates back to the 1840s at the earliest. Many years ago, he was told by his then elderly neighbor, Jeanette Grant, the daughter of John Grant who came to Nonantum in the 1870s, that the pond owed its existence to the removal of several layers of peat by Irish immigrants who used it for fuel.

The presence of peat is confirmed by a 1926 soils map of Middlesex County. Though on too small a scale to be site-specific, it does show peat in the general area, which is consistent with the recollections of a current resident whose grandfather described digging on the site of the Hawthorn Playground for peat that was sent to the Mr. Boston Whiskey Company.

If the lake had been there in the early 1800s, it seems strange that Francis Jackson, who lived less than a mile away, did not mention it when describing the town in his History of Newton, on which he worked for many years before it was published in 1854. In addition, the lake has not been found on any map before 1855: not on that surveyed by local residents William F. Ward and Elijah F. Woodward in 1831, neither on the revision of 1848, nor on the map Seth Davis included in his Appeal to the Citizens of Newton, which appeared in 1847. (On the other hand, the smaller Morocco Factory pond, in what is now the Newton Cemetery, is shown on all three.)

Possibly the omission of Silver Lake was a measure of its lack of relevance to the Town at large: the area, though not remote, was swampy and virtually uninhabited; the lake was small when compared to Newton's three major bodies of water (Hammond Pond, and what are now called Crystal Lake and Bulloughs Pond); and, during Newton's so-called "Industrial Period," Silver Lake was not put to any profitable use.

The answer may very well be buried in the Registry of Deeds, where further research remains to be done. So far the earliest known mention of "the pond" is in a deed of 1853, two years before H. F. Wallings' map of Newton, the first to resemble those we know today and the first to show Silver Lake east of Nevada Street, extending from Watertown Street almost to California Street. Further questions that need to be answered are: had enough time elapsed since the arrival of the first immigrants from Ireland, and were there enough of them, to have made the excavation of this area possible?

At its greatest extent, Silver Lake covered a little more than nine acres, just short of the ten that would have qualified it for protection under state law as a Great Pond. Thus, even before the last major subdivision, the bed of the pond had multiple owners who were not legally obliged to refrain from dumping on the shoreline or in the water that belonged to them. There is no record of major pollution by the Silver Lake Cordage Company or its successors, or of any official decision to fill the lake, but debris from the 1938 hurricane, spoil from the construction of Storrow Drive, and private dumping all contributed to the Lake's demise. Its loss was one of the most potent arguments put forward in favor of the citys first Flood Plain and Watershed Protection Ordinance, passed in 1971.