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Great Pond

There is a place in Simsbury where regardless of season or weather one can experience the incredible natural beauty that is unique to this community. Here one can walk noiselessly along a path thick with a carpet of pine needles through towering white pines and imagine the footfalls of long-ago moccasins before the European settlement of Simsbury. Cresting the hill, a vast pond spreads out below with small island sanctuaries for migrating birds. Two beaver lodges are establishing themselves on the earth dam that serves as a walkway to the other side of the pond.

There are perfect days when the temperature reaches a certain equilibrium that makes it difficult to tell where one’s skin ends and the air begins. In the fall a flock of nearly two dozen wild turkeys passing through sends a dog into a state of alert that makes the uninitiated reconsider the wisdom walking alone in the late afternoon. The mid-summer covering of blossoming water lilies brings images of the Monet’s Giverny to life.

Whether you are a birder or simply looking for a place to walk the family dog, the Great Pond offers a new experience each time it is visited. The various trails take walkers around the pond or through the forest paths. The paths seem to have existed for centuries. Certainly the pond has been there since the arrival of the first settlers from Windsor. But, the woodland oasis surrounding it exists because of the vision of one man, James L. Goodwin.

In 1930, Goodwin, a forester and conservationist, purchased the Great Pond from Sherman W. Eddy of Avon, CT. Those 25 acres of pond and 75 acres of adjacent woodland were just the beginning. Over the next thirty years he added various additional tracts to his original purchase. By the time James Goodwin deeded the site to the State of Connecticut in 1967, it totaled 280 acres.

The woodland lushness is the work of a carefully planned forestry program. In 1931 twenty-acres of Red Pine was planted. Then a nursery was established to produce the planting stock for both Great Pond Forest and James L. Goodwin State Forest in Hampton. It was decided to dedicate the forest to White Pine timber. The first American Tree Farm in Connecticut was established here in 1956. A plan was drawn up to establish stands of White Pine by thinning the existing hardwood and encouraging the growth of both the pine seedlings and larger, older trees. Establishing the stand that includes trees from one to one hundred years of age took about twenty-five years. Cutting cycles of eight to ten years assure the continuation of these stands.

In the past few years, logging and storm damage left the forest scarred and visitors unhappy. But as has happened in the woodlands since the beginning of time, nature continues on and the balances of the area’s natural beauty have been restored. Once again the sylvan wonderland provides an outdoor classroom for children and adults.

The actual Great Pond is no more than a shallow depression believed to have been left behind by glacial activity. Mr. Eddy had attempted to drain the pond and convert the peaty soil underneath to grow celery. The project proved too great and was abandoned. Mr. Goodwin, upon acquiring the property, attempted to improve the pond. He had the bog, which consisted of a “floating” two-foot thick mat of turf over three feet of water with two to twenty-five feet of peat beneath that, gathered together and three islands built. The six-foot earthen dam at the south end of the pond was constructed. The idea that the pond would then fill with water and run over the concrete spillway appeared to be a poor one. Since only underground springs and rainwater feed the pond, there was not enough feed to keep it filled. The natural evaporation that occurs caused the pond to remain at a low level.

It is an attractive spot for waterfowl and wildlife. Migrating birds make this one of their stops. Some nest here each year and raise their young. The year-round incursion of Canadian geese has driven off some species. But the avid and patient birdwatcher can still see ducks, egrets, herons and various woodland birds. Since the forest has become a dog-walking haven, it a bit more difficult to see those birds that scatter or hide at the sound of a dog barking. Early morning and evening provides a quiet time to observe the permanent occupants.

In mid-March when the days turn warm and the last of the ice breaks up on the pond and the surrounding swampy bogs, an event takes place that can be very disconcerting to the uninitiated. The amphibious residents make their way to the surface calling out to acknowledge the onset of another spring. The cacophony resembles the sound of wagons being driven over plank roads. One expects to see construction equipment crash through the woods. However, after a day or two it subsides to be replaced by the sound of “peepers”.

In 1942, the pond made news when a box turtle was found with the initials C.E.B 1877 carved in its shell by John Flamig. Inquiries led to the carver, Clayton E. Bacon who had indeed carved the initials some 65 years earlier in 1877. Mr. Bacon was 83 at the time of the discovery. The turtle was left at the Great Pond but no records of any further sightings remain.

James Goodwin’s gift to the citizens of Simsbury and Connecticut is commemorated in a marker placed in the chapel area of the forest where numerous outdoor weddings have occurred. But the true spirit of the gift exists in the pine stands, rhododendron and mountain laurel walkways and the ever-changing seasons of the Great Pond.





Simsbury Historical Society
800 Hopmeadow Street
Simsbury, CT 06070