Wed March 14, 2012
Mont Vernon Votes to Rename "Jew Pond"
Mont Vernon voters approved changing the controversial name of a pond at its town meeting Tuesday night.
Whether or not to rename Jew Pond, which many consider offensive, garnered national attention in this small town.
But voters still don’t know what the new name of the pond will be.
A packed crowd of about 250 residents filled the gymnasium in the Mont Vernon Village Schoolhouse.
The turnout was impressive for a town whose population is less than 2400.
The town meeting began as it does every year with the pledge and a prayer.
Two and a half hours later, residents were almost through voting on over 200 line items on its one-point-eight million dollar budget.
But minutes before getting to the renaming of Jew Pond —a fire alarm sounded.
Voters evacuated the building. But instead of going home, they huddled in the parking lot under the glare of national TV cameras.
The unexpected intermission gave them more time to talk about the most controversial article on the warrant.
More a waterlogged piece of parcel than pond, the tiny fishing spot has no markers designating its title.
Most people never realized that government maps labeled it Jew Pond — until a town inspector announced he was closing the pond because of toxic levels of algae.
When a public notice went up, it triggered a litany of complaints among residents who often got testy.
"Robert Naber, longtime resident of Mont Vernon for 60 years."
Sheryl : What do you think about the request for a name change?
Naber: "It should stay the same. Keep the old name. Who cared? Until it showed up on a map that nobody reads. How about Christian Hill? We ought to rename that then. I don’t think it’s offensive. "
Once back inside, several residents lined up to air their views:
" Bill Archibald, Bachelor Road, Mont Vernon. I had mixed emotions about changing the name of the pond. Because I’m originally from, I grew up here in Mont Vernon. But I talked to people who were Jewish this morning. To them, they said it sounds like the N-word. I didn’t realize how much it offended them. So I think renaming the pond is a good idea. "
"Mollie Straub, Cortland Road. I’m Jewish. Because the name Jew Pond is a remnant from a discriminatory period in the history of our town and because it is clear that some residents and visitors find it offensive, I support changing the name of the pond as an outward demonstration of Mont Vernon’s commitment to being a welcoming and inclusive community. Thank you."
The history Straub referred to surrounds a large hotel. In the 1920s, it sat on a panoramic perch, not far from the pond.
At one time, a couple of Jewish attorneys from Boston ran the hotel, and some residents think the name Jew Pond got its foothold then, as a derogatory remark.
A previous hotel owner did not allow Jewish people to become guests.
That type of discrimination wasn’t unusual for its time.
But more than eighty years later, most Mont Vernon residents want to put any history of bigotry behind them.
In a secret ballot, the majority voted to petition the United States Geological Survey to change the name.
It might become Carleton Pond. Frog Pond. Serene Lake.
Ideas are up for grabs. The Board of Selectmen will decide later how to come up with a suitable name.
Now this rural enclave of New Hampshire can settle back into its natural rhythm of barn dances, spaghetti suppers and Christmas socials.
And keep its private affairs private.