The Mast-Head: On Town Pond

I had had my doubts that the cheap Chinese remote-controlled boat that Ellis ordered from Amazon would work as advertised. But after it arrived on Monday and we charged its battery and took it to Town Pond and worlds collided, I changed my mind.

Unlike previous disappointing RC toys of one sort or another, the boat moved at a satisfying clip. Ellis, his sister Evvy, and the cousins took turns sending it skittering over the pond’s surface, cranking and screeching hairpin turns at a speed that I was certain would sink the thing.

A lone swan, who had hung around menacingly the day before when we had gone to the pond piloting a plodding plastic warship of an earlier vintage, lit out wisely for the far end. The muskrat that spends its days crossing from one side to the other took a break from its rounds.

Town Pond was not always a pond, and I have long been fascinated by this bit of historical trivia. When the English colonial settlement was plotted out in what would eventually become East Hampton, the first 34 allotments and the church and burying ground were on lots around the low, wet marsh that we know today as Town Pond. Parcels were from 8 to 12 acres each, some running all the way to Hook Pond.

Fresh water was critical for home uses and livestock, and it was clear early on that the marsh needed to be more accessible. The town fathers ordered the pond “diged at the Spring Eastward” in June 1653, just five years after the colonists arrived. Today, the Gardiner Home Lot on James Lane, purchased by the village three years ago with money from the community preservation fund, is the last remaining more-or-less complete example of one of these 17th-century allotments.

Town Pond has had a long tradition as a kind of catcher’s mitt for errant vehicles, though the row of trees now grown large along Main Street may have cut down on the frequency of these incidents. One notable plunge, reported in The Star in 1927, ascribed the cause to a New York City driver being handed a sandwich by someone in the back seat. It is pleasing to see that the tradition of amiable lunatics who write for The Star has early antecedents. According to its report, “The goldfish of Town Pond were indignant at this intrusion, and it is understood that they have prepared a petition to the Village Board demanding that the ‘No Bathing in Town Pond’ ordinance be enforced.”

One would not think of going for a swim in the pond today. Nor would anyone have done so even in the days when fertilizers that helped turn it an otherworldly green in hot weather were limited. In recent years, the village has tried with some success to trap pollutants coursing over the Village Green and into the pond, but bathing is not in the cards.

Today, Town Pond is mostly there for passing motorists to admire and to provide a fond “welcome home” for those who have been away. It also is there for skating when the winter is cold enough, and it is utterly perfectly suited for cheap Chinese boats.