History of the TWIN LAKES
and ISOLA BELLA
By Winfield McChord, Jr.
This account is drawn largely from the text of a pamphlet, “A History of the Twin Lakes,” published in the late 1970’s by the Twin Lakes Association. I have assumed considerable license with the Association document to bring it up to date, to clarify some of the original language (which seems to have been the work of more than one writer and represented varying levels of syntactical and grammatical skills), and to correct a number of errors, especially those pertaining to the history of the island itself.
It has been an educational and entertaining challenge to sift through this history, reorganize it to serve as a more appealing history of this beautiful region, flavor the language of this rich history which merits a greater talent than mine, and to dispel the unfortunate original description of the region by the wife of an early settler as “an impenetrable forest, dark and gloomy, into which the sun never reaches.” One wonders how this melancholy pioneer would regard the “impenetrable forest” today, with its farms, its mountains and vistas, its quaint villages, its twin lakes and its Isola Bella, our “beautiful island.”
The Twin Lakes lie in the Housatonic Valley of the Berkshires. To the west are the mountains of the Taconics, dominated by Bear Mountain, which reaches an altitude of2355 feet above sea level, the highest mountain in Connecticut. Many millions of years ago, the Berkshire Mountains were as grand as the Swiss Alps are today. They are among the oldest mountains in the world.
photo circa 1950
The two “ponds” are described in the old records as lying “very nearly close together.” It is likely that the name Twin Lakes was not coined until the channel was dammed, and the water level rose to join the two lakes.
The larger lake, which surrounds Isola Bella, lies to the east and is 562 acres in area, with a maximum depth of 80 feet and an average depth of 32 feet.
The first recorded human inhabitants in the area were Native Americans of the Mattapacook nation, small tribes which fled to the Housatonic Valley for refuge. Marauding Native Americans from the east had carried their ravages west of the Connecticut River and had burned or destroyed many towns, including Weatogue, an Indian village near Simsbury. The survivors fled to the west and settled along the banks of the Housatonic River, within the present limits of Canaan and Salisbury. They gave their new home the name of their former settlement – Weatogue.
According to the old records, the Native Americans first called the lakes Panaheconnok and Hokonamok, long before the railroad causeway was built which divided the west lake into two halves. Later the lakes were renamed: the east lake called Washining and the
west lake called Washinee – names which are still in use today – allegedly the names of the two daughters of the chief of a number of Indian tribes in the area. Washining means “Laughing Water,” and Washinee is “Smiling Water.” Legend has it that, during the tribal war, a young Indian brave was captured and brought to the shore of Lake Washining, the larger lake, to be tortured. The daughters of the chief befriended the young captive and appealed for his release. However, they were unsuccessful. On the evening before his torture and death, the two maidens paddled their canoe out onto the lake and were never seen again. Local folklore has it that, when the moon is full, their empty canoe can still be seen gliding along a shimmering path of moonlight.
Before the Colonists Came
Before Salisbury was settled, Connecticut had been a British Crown Colony for a century. During that century, the region was part of an unknown and uncharted wilderness. An early settler, living to the east, described in a letter the Berkshire view from her cabin:
“As the sun sets in the west, it drops behind an impenetrable forest, dark and gloomy, into which the sun never reaches.” This lush, foreboding forest, in which wolves and bears and savages lurked, filled her with melancholy. The unnamed forest was not yet inhabited by white settlers and was
known only as the “Western Lands.” For nearly a hundred, years, the colonists in Connecticut would hear reports of this formidable mountain region. In the early eighteenth century, scouts told stories of the thick, impassable northwestern Connecticut forests called “The Greenwoods.” Explorers reported that there was hardly enough space between the trees for a man to squeeze his shoulders.
photo circa 1950
Anyone who could struggle west through the Greenwoods would eventually descend into a lovely valley with clear blue lakes and, in the distance, the blue peaks of the Taconics. Much of the land in the valley had been cleared by the Native Americans, forming fertile fields for growing corn. From the Native Americans, early scouts learned that this beautiful area to the west of Norfolk and Goshen was called “Ousatonnuc,” which translates into “the land beyond the mountains.” While the Native Americans called the river in the valley “the Great River,” the explorers gave it the name of the land - Ousatonnuc. For the Native Americans, this land was a beautiful and fruitful refuge from their enemies. To the east were the fierce Pequot raiders and the Mohegans. To the west, in New York state, were the dreaded Mohawks. The dense forests in the east and the Taconics in the west made it difficult for these fierce tribes to reach the valley. The Native Americans apparently preferred to pitch their wigwams along the Housatonic River and, as far as is known, there were no Indian villages on the twin lakes. However, a village was reported somewhere east of Lake Washinee.
The First Settlers
The earliest recorded history of the area dates back more than 300 years ago, when, on October 12, 1671, the Connecticut General Assembly granted the Reverend John Woodbridge of Newberry, Massachusetts, 250 acres of land in Killingworth. However,
half of the Killingworth grant was being contested when Mr. Woodbridge died. His heirs petitioned the General Assembly to grant Captain John Buell 125 acres to be laid out west of the “Ousatonnuk” in exchange for the contested acreage. As it happened, the grant was located between the two lakes. When Captain Buell died, the property passed on to Samuel and David Buell. It was later surveyed by E. Lewis and was January 18, 1731 sold to T. Hezekiah and Joseph Porter for thirty pounds. Another 125 acre grant was laid out along the western shore of Lake Washinee, but, because the deed has been lost, the name of the owner is not known. Messrs. Buell, Hezekiah, and Porter, therefore, were the first landowners on the twin lakes. The first settlers of European descent were Dutch, arriving in Salisbury in the early
1720’s. Several years later, the English began arriving. One report indicates that the English soon outnumbered the Dutch, while another states that, through the summer of 1732, Salisbury was inhabited only by Native Americans and four Dutch families. At the time, Salisbury was unsurveyed and unnamed and was still a primitive wilderness.
In October, 1732, the area was surveyed and a report to the General Assembly showed some scattered land fit for plowing. At the time of the report, 3500 acres had already been laid out in land grants for the original settlers, who were farmers.
When the Dutch first arrived in the area, they quickly made friends with the Native Americans and easily persuaded them to sign away their land in legal colonial deeds, for the
Native Americans did not have a concept of ownership of land. Among the Native Americans, land was not “owned;” it was for all people to use. The first white men, peacefully cleared and worked their land, not interfering with the
hunting in the undisturbed forest or the fishing in the river and lakes. The Native Americans lived in harmony, side by side, with their friendly white neighbors.
photo circa 1950
The settlement, which is now Salisbury, was first called Weatogue (“wigwam place”) after the Indian village. In 1741, the General Assembly granted a town charter and the town was renamed Salisbury, in honor of the city of the same name in England. By 1742, many surveyors had traversed the lands surrounding Salisbury, measuring off the former Indian holdings into legal rights of ownership. On the subscription of land in the town, the properties were divided into twenty-five rights. One right went to the first settled clergyman, one for the use of the ministry forever, and one for the support of the schools, the origin of the ministerial and school funds of the town. Soon, settlers, all with large families, overran the Indian hunting grounds and trespassed on their corn fields. The unfortunate Native Americans had no legal rights, because their lands were now the legal property of the King and the settlers. When the Native Americans complained, a meticulously honorable General Assembly dispatched Daniel Edwards in History of the Twin Lakes and Isola Bella 1742 to investigate their grievances and resolve the problem. Edwards was impressed with the area and promptly secured for himself a legal deed for two square miles of land in the northeastern corner of Salisbury, which had been land previously exempted. To resolve the complaint of the Native Americans, Edwards bribed their chief, Tocconuk, with a “generous” gift of two blankets. After the “settlement,” there were no further Indian complaints of injustice. No provision was made for the reservation of any of the land for the Native Americans. The more enterprising and ambitious Indian families moved away to regain their traditional way of life or to seek their fortunes where better opportunities were extended to Native Americans. Those Native Americans who remained were never persecuted by the settlers. They built their
primitive shelters on the unimproved colony lands and, adopting customs of their whith neighbors (in particular, their “fire water”), lived on for some years in a degradedcondition, until their families finally became extinct. The minutes of the town meetings for the years 1742, 1743, and 1744 yield incidental, but accurate information about the area in pre-Revolutionary War times. Wild animals, dangerous to livestock and destructive to crops, were plentiful, and bounties were voted each year to help rid the area of these pests. The selectman offered three pounds for a grown wolf killed, thirty shillings for each wolf cub, and three pence for a crow’s head or a streaked squirrel’s head. Rattlesnakes were numerous, and a bounty was set at one shilling per rattle.
In 1744, the Reverend Jonathan Lee was sent to Salisbury by the General Assembly to establish a congregation. Salisbury had just passed its first century as a colony, mostly unsettled. Jonathan Lee was minister of the Congregational Church from 1744 to 1788 and ruled his flock with an “iron hand.” Mr. Lee once fined Seth Dean, Jr., five shillings for swimming in the twin lakes for “diversion” on June 11, 1784;…it was a Sunday. More and more settlers moved into the twin lakes region. In 1748, Joshua Jewell bought property on the Woodbridge grant and settled to the west of Lake Washinee. To the northeast section of Salisbury, Jabez, Silas, and Daniel Bingham came with their families from Windham in 1750 and settled somewhere on the Undermountain Road. The Binghams acquired land between the two lakes, which was part of the Woodbridge grant. Daniel settled on what is today called the Miles’ Farm. The Between-the-Lakes Road was fist called Bingham Lane.
Between the French and Indian War and the Revolutionary War, several Bingham families in the vicinity of the twin lakes produced more daughters than sons. As a result of the daughters’ marriages, the Bingham family connections comprised half of the north end of the town. Daniel and Hannah Bingham lived on a farm purchased from the Van Dusens. The first part of the present Miles’ farmhouse was built by History of the Twin Lakes and Isola Bella Daniel’s only son, Caleb, around 1800. Caleb, born April 18, 1757, became a distinguished educator and book dealer in Boston. In 1803, Caleb Bingham established a free public library in Salisbury, which, in 1810 was supported by the Town Board through tax revenues, making Salisbury the first community in America to provide tax supported library services. After the Revolutionary War, two brothers, Eliphalet and John Whittlesey, settled west and east of the twin lakes. It was to be Joshua Jewell, the Binghams, and the Whittleseys who would first clear land around the lakes and establish working farms. In 1784, a “fever of uncommon mortality” raged in the north part of town and in the vicinity of the lakes. It was called “the pond fever,” and was believed to have been caused by the unusual accumulation of water in the lakes. Many names “which had been frequent and prominent upon the civil and ecclesiastical records ceased thereafter to be any more seen.”
From the Revolutionary War until the advent of the railroad, the twin lakes area was quiet farm land, with grain fields and pastures to graze cattle and sheep. The land was mostly cleared of trees all the way to the edge of the lakes. There was little recreation
on the lakes, except for an occasional camper and some fishing. The only change from this bucolic life was in Taconic, where several small industries were operated. These began before the Revolutionary War and grew in importance until the twentieth century.
photo circa 1950
In the 1830’s
While Eliphalet and John Whittlesey were among the original settlers in the twin lakes area, another brother had settled in Ohio. When his wife died in 1834, the brother decided to send his daughter Mary Vesta Whittlesey to live with her Uncle John in the farmhouse, which still stands today on the Cooper Hill Road, northeast of the Institute of World Affairs. Mary’s diary conveys a detailed record of her life as a teenager on the twin lakes in the 1830’s;
“There was a kitchen on the end of the carriage and woodhouse building in which was a trough and cistern for rainwater. All our large work and washing, butchering, and drying out lard was done there. It was up some stone steps and a little distance from the house. There were stone walks around it and it was my work to keep them clean. I used to scour the knives and forks besides washing the potatoes, wiping dishes, and making the boys’ bed. I always slept with the girls in a large, pleasant north chamber. Oh, but it was cold in the winter! It used to have frost (like snow) an inch thick on the wall. It was said it never was so until after they got a cook stove below. When the weather was warmer, the carpet would be wet with the melting frost over nearly the entire floor. After Maria Carney came there to work she made so much stir about it that Uncle bought a sheet iron stove and put it in the room so Maria kept enough wood and chips there to have the stove red hot on cold nights and it made it pretty nice for me when I returned from singing school. It was my lot to have a great deal of tooth and earache. Many a time Maria was kind to me, going over in the night to the kitchen fire and filling a flannel bag with hot ashes to put on my face. I was very kindly treated by her, yet it makes me tremble to call to mind her talks. She had no principal to activate her. She had no relations that she knew of, was naturally smart and wanted a home where she could earn money. She gave me many lessons “not to let the folks know.” One thing she did was to bake cake, cookies or gingerbread to eat and kept them in her trunk, being very liberal with me if I would not tell. Once, after Uncle and Aunt left for the day she had a large iron dripping pan full of lovely cookies, half- baked when, for some reason, they came back. When Aunt went to the bedroom to lay off her things, Maria took the pan out of the oven, ran to the currant bushes back of the carriage house and dumped them all out for the chickens.
We had good enough living, I guess, but wheat bread only at tea time and one kind of very plain cake. The “men” only ate with the family at breakfast and dinner. Sometimes only “your aunt” had the white bread, the rest ate rye. Uncle John was very kind to her. The friends sometimes said that she had been indulged from her earliest days and he had to keep it up. At school I passed pretty well in my studies. Beat much older ones in reading and spelling. After reading over history or other lessons I could recite pretty well, but thinking little over them soon forgot them. My cousin used to say she didn’t see when I ever studied. I guess there was little going on I didn’t see or have a hand in and I am very sorry, now, that my books did not have more of my attention.
In winter, we used to slide, play fox and geese in the snow, snowball and roll snow into a fort! In summer we played “cricket” a good deal and catch ball. There was an old mill over a small stream where the water was once dammed up. The building was torn down soon after I left Conn. In that brook, we paddled, washed our slates, etc. One warm summer day, some of the girls – I wasn’t in it – made the little ones strip, hid their clothes and then told them a team was coming, scaring them all under the bridge in a hurry. There came up some trouble about using the young children so, but I escaped that time, because I always went home for my dinner and often helped about the work so my playtimes were usually short. Lucy and I often took rides together and once a month went to the townlibrary to draw books. One time Uncle and Aunt went to Danbury, but a horse was left for me to ride. Some other girl – who was not accustomed to riding – wanted to go and she had a colt to ride. I offered to let her take my horse and I would ride her colt. There were five or six girls in all. We rode downtown and had a fine time, but on our return, when almost to Chapinville, my horse started suddenly and jumped right out from under me! It was startled by a white calf that had been lying quietly, but started up just as I was alongside. My horse ran on, not very fast, and was caught just before overtaking the carriage in which Uncle and Aunt were, on their way home from their journey. I was not hurt, only a little bruised so I got on and rode to where the horse belonged and then took my own again. Uncle heard about it afterward, but only said, “you better keep your own horse next time.”
One winter there was a singing school held in the school house in Chapinville and quite a company of us attended. I may have been 14 years old when Mr. Suydam, with a two-horse wagon, called for all in our neighborhood who wanted to go. His sister, Phebe, and others went along. After the sing was over – the horse felt pretty good – as we passed the blast furnace on the way home the bright light rather blinded us all so the team ran upon some sawmill logs in the driveway and over we turned, wagon, boys, girls, wraps and all. Phebe had on a cloak so she couldn’t use her arms at all and she fell into the flume which took the water from the lake to the mill. This ran under the road and part of it was uncovered. It was full and quite deep. I was thrown against the cross pieces and might have gone in only I was quickly jerked back by someone. The wagon was broken so I went home with cousin Walter Whittlesey and his wife Emmeline – they lived on another road – and stayed overnight. It was a very cold night and they used coals in a warming pan, sprinkling brown sugar on them, to warm my bed and take the soreness from my bruises. Word was sent by the boys to tell Uncle that I would not be home that night. Phebe stayed at the miller’s in the stone house. She had been quite protected by her cloak though her hair and clothes were wet and filled with sawdust. She had held tight to her singing book under her arm and her candlestick in her hand (i.e., when she went into the water). I was taken home the next morning, but was lame for days.
There was usually a great deal of snow, winters, and it drifted badly; in some places, the road would be bare. On Park’s hill, I remember quite a distance where snow was piled up as a high wall on either side, only room enough for our team to go through. It took great labor to make even this pathway.
All hands would turn out after a bad storm to open roads with teams, shovels, and heavy log sleds. Sometimes the snow packed so hard it would freeze and, becoming glazed, people would drive anywhere to escape it, even over stone walls or fences. A large part of the division of farms was made by stone walls or fences. There was no lack of stone and men went around in gangs and hired out for that kind of work. I well remember what hearty eaters they were for the washing of potatoes fell to my lot.
There was a man who lived a good deal at Uncle Lief’s. His name was Jack Harris. He was very good to us children and often drove a double sleigh-load of us when we went off on a sleigh ride. He always wore a quilted hood in winter. One night we were invited to Mr. Hollister’s – about halfway to town – and Jack thought the sleighing would be better to go across the pond (when the snow was blown off the road or was drifted it was not unusual to go across). It was so warm that there was a dense fog or mist and around the edge of the lake it had thawed, but the horses jumped upon the firm ice and then we were sure of good sleighing. Much of the way there was water on top of the ice and there was a crackling all about us. When we had crossed the pond, we had one or two friends to cross, then we came directly to the place where we wanted to go. We arrived safely and had a joyful good time. We played “Robin’s alive and alive he shall be, if he dies in my hand you may saddlebag me,” played blindfold and other games.All this time Jack was dreading the journey home. We trusted entirely to him and as the snow was nearly off the traveled road, it was decided that we go back to way we came. The fog was thicker than when we went and no one could tell we were going in the right direction or not, there was more water on the ice and we could see no lights or shore, besides, there were air holes we might get into. When we were safely across another difficulty arose. Where were we to land? The distance from the ice to the bank, the thin edge, the steep ascent up the bank among the brush, all had to be taken into account for we could not find where we had entered the lake earlier. Jack finally found a place where he thought it was safe, told us to “hold on tight” and then gave those horses a cut with the whip and urged them to it, so they brought the sled load all safely to land. He often said nothing would get him into such a scrape again. I think our people never knew the danger we escaped.
The lake we crossed was on one of the “twin lakes,” the Washining, theWashinee was not so wide a lake and was more crooked. There was a natural road between the lakes and in one place an outlet from the one to other just where an ordinary bridge was built. In former years, there was much written about the “moving rocks” in this lake. I have been upon one or two and have seen others. The trough they left behind as they plowed toward shore was plainly visible. I believe it has been conceded that they were moved by the breaking up of the ice in the spring. Uncle Eliphalet owned the island in this lake. He cut the grass upon it and often took sheep over in boats. The lake was a resort for fishing and boating. Another interesting point near Uncle’s was Mt. Tom. Babe's hill was not so high asTom, it was barren and rocky, but very slightly. There was one lone white birch upon the southern side and it grew between two large rocks or one rock which had been split open. On Fourth of July, I had known of the rocks being drilled into, powder put in and fired off. The hill was very steep on nearly all sides and one of the sports was to run, full force, down the length of it. It was hard to stop once we started. On the northeast side we used to roll stones down. We used to take friends to the top of Babe’s hill to view the scenery. The landscape was fine and the twin lakes were in sight as well as many pleasant homes.”
photo circa 1950
For nearly a hundred years, starting shortly after the Civil War, there was a railroadalong the south shore of Lake Washining and across Lake Washinee. The railroadprovided access to the twin lakes, and its advent marked the beginning of a change inemphasis from farming to recreation.
In 1865, Egbert T. Butler of Norfolk studied the feasibility of building a railroad connecting the Hudson and Connecticut Rivers. The existing railroads ran north and south because of the difficulties of crossing the hills in an east-west direction.In 1867-68, two groups of surveyors were put in the field, one at Lakeville and the other at Winsted. The Lakeville surveyors worked from the New York State border to Winsted, while the Winsted engineers worked easterly to Collinsville and eventually to Springfield, Massachusetts. After two months of surveying, a suitable route was found which required a maximum grade of 69 feet per mile to the east and 84 feet per mile to the west.
Ground was broken to start construction of the railroad on October 29,1869, inWinsted, and the line was completed on December 7, 1871, at Canton. The first train,made up of baggage and passenger cars with twenty passengers, left Harford at 8:40a.m. on December 21 and reached Millerton, New York, at 3:30 p.m. The train crossedthe twin lakes area in the early afternoon.
From its incorporation in 1867 to its total abandonment in 1967, the railroad operated under five names: The Connecticut Western; The Hartford and Connecticut Western;The Central New England and Western; The Philadelphia, Reading, and New England; and the Central New England. It was finally merged into the New Haven System. The Taconic railroad station was located nearly a mile south of the post office, standing just to the east of the Taconic Road. This required a bridge which was quite narrow and had steep ramps leading to it.
As originally built, the railroad tracks from just east of Taconic to the east end of the lily pond were on a wooden trestle. In 1915, the trestle was filled, creating a causeway.Two bridges were built, one between Lake Washining and Lake Washinee, and the other dividing Lake Washinee in half. When the trestle was filled, there resulted apond between Lake Washining and Lake Washinee. The pond became a haven for turtles. Track men using hand cars would stop at the pond and catch turtles to take to the station to make turtle soup. The pond became known as Turtle Pond until MissHelen Miles planted water lilies, and thereafter it became known as the Lily Pond.After the railroad was built, a spur line was added, running from the Taconic station to the channel where a blast furnace was operated. Ore and limestone were transported to the furnace site and large ingots of pig iron were shipped out to be weighed on atrack scale at Taconic station for invoice purposes.
In the latter nineteenth century, camping and picnicking at the lakes were popular.The south shore camping ground was a religious meeting place. Trains provided transportation both east and west, stopping at Picnic Grove, which was located at the sandy beach half way along the south shore of Lake Washining. From 1870 to 1900 the people who camped during the summer were local, mostly from Canaan.
Picnic Grove had a boat rental dock, a store, a snack bar, and a pavilion large enough to accommodate several hundred people. The grove was operated by Captain C.L.Smith, a boat builder, who lived more than ninety years and reportedly took an annual birthday swim in the lake with his son and grandson.
The station at Taconic was an important shipping point for milk from the nearby dairy farms. To keep the milk fresh, ice, cut and stored in an ice house, located at the east end of the Lily Pond, was used for cooling. The ice-cutting tools are on display today at the Holley Williams house in Lakeville.
With the advent of the railroad, hoboes came into the community, causing no trouble but occasionally appearing at the neighborhood cottages begging for meals. At the lake, doors were never locked.
At the intersection of the railroad and the Twin Lakes Road there was a shanty, marked “Washining,” with a stop signal. The train conductor would stop the train for the raised flag of the signal at the shanty to board passengers or load milk from the dairies.
In the 1900 the Twin Lakes station, located west of the Lake Washining bridge, burned to the ground. It was replaced the same year and an addition to the station was constructed in 1911. The addition became a post office and was in use until the secondWorld War. Prior to this, the post office was in the store, under the direction ofPostmistress Kelsey, who walked to work on the railroad track from Taconic each day.Early in the twentieth century, before automobiles, residents along the south shore would arrange with Canaan merchants to fill orders for meat and groceries. The merchants would give the packages to the railroad engineer, who, as the train passed the cottages, would throttle back and drop the packages into the arms of the customers waiting along the track.
Early non-local residents came from Westchester County, New York and from Philadelphia. New York passengers took the New Haven Railroad to Canaan then transferred, while the Philadelphia passengers came on the New York Central from Grand Central Station in New York City to Millerton, New York, then transferred to the Twin Lakes. Mothers and children would move to their Twin Lakes cottages for the entire summer. On Friday evenings, working fathers would join their families for the weekend. When de-training at the Twin Lakes station, the men would be taken to their homes by launches from a special dock near the station which had individual slips for the launches.
From the first trains in 1871, steam locomotives were used. In the 1940’s the first diesel engines were introduced, and the last steam locomotive was run in 1948.When the railroad was abandoned in 1967, the bankrupt New Haven Railroad sold its right of way to abutting property owners. The result was a rerouting of the South Shore Washining Road. Today, little vestige remains of this once important road bed.
There is no mention in early history of Taconic, or Camp’s Forge, as it was known. An old cemetery in Taconic was deeded to the town of Salisbury by John Weldon in 1789.Gravestones in this cemetery bear the names of Phineas Chapin, born 1757; Abiel Chapin, born 1758; and Samuel C. Scoville, born 1804. Both of these families played important roles in the history of Taconic.
In 1738, all of the property constituting the Town of Salisbury was sold. Charles Lambwas one of the proprietors, and he managed to secure choice acreage, including controlof the streams and water available for power in the Town, except for the falls atSucconups Brook, at the outlet of the channel from Twin Lakes. However, Lamb wassuccessful in raising a vote to prohibit the assignment of any land near the fallsthrough a lottery drawing. It was to his advantage to see that this source of power wasfully protected.
In 1748, Jacob Bacon and Daniel Parke built a grist mill and a forge at the outlet of the channel. At the falls, a wooden flume picked up the water and fed it to a huge waterwheel, the source of power to turn the grinding stone of the grist mill and lift the heavy hammer of the forge. There was also a saw mill, which operated until the early 1800’s.In 1759, Deacon Hezekiah Camp became the proprietor of the forge, and the settlement became known as Camp’s Forge. The forge later passed to Phineas Chapin, and, for many years, the district was known as Chapinville. The name of the village was changed to Taconic by mandate of the United States postal authorities about 1920because of the confusion arising from so many settlement and village names ending in“ville.” The 1895 Rand McNally Atlas lists the village as Forge Pond.
In 1825, a furnace for smelting iron ore into pig iron was built near the water gateswhich today control the flow of water from the Twin Lakes channel-outlet intoSucconups Brook on its way to the Housatonic River. Fuel for the smelter wascharcoal, produced by burning wood in pits on the mountains, where trees wereplentiful. The charcoal was hauled in huge wagons from the Taconic Mountains to thefurnace. A very high-quality pig iron was produced, because charcoal is free of sulphurand the native iron ore from Lakeville and Salisbury was of excellent quality. The pigiron was used in the manufacture of cannon and cart wheels, which were subjected tofrequent hard impacts.
At the peak of industrial activities in the mid 1800’s, Taconic, or Chapinville, as it wasthen called, boasted a general store and post office, a blacksmith shop, a boardinghouse, a butcher shop, a schoolhouse, and a chapel. These are no longer standing, and all that remains of that early era is an old stone house, whose walls vary in thick nessfrom three to six feet, standing several hundred feet north of the dam, across the road.The stone used to construct the house is not native stone, and there is no record of where the stone was obtained. The house was mentioned in the girlhood memories ofMary Whittlesey in the early 1800’s as the “miller’s house,” thus probably dating back to approximately 1750 when the grist mill was built.
As the settlement thrived, there developed a need for a place of worship. In 1832, BirdFrench donated a parcel of land, and a small church was erected. The church, no longer in use in the mid-1950’s, was razed in 1959. Today, the vacant triangular church plot near the post office is maintained as a mini-park by the Town of Salisbury and contains a memorial which bears the inscription:
“On this land deeded by Bird French in 1832 the Taconic Union Chapelstood for 127 years as a public meeting house for religious workshop.”When the mills were in need of repair, the operators of the manufacturing facilities at Taconic would occasionally block the outflow of water to the water wheel, which caused flooding on lake frontage property and dried up the brook serving the farms below.Eventually, the matter was taken to court, and a settlement was reached whereby the water level was to be maintained between the two iron bolts located on the easterly side of the outlet. The legal document prescribing the terms of the agreement was drawn up on August 1, 1837, by Justice of the Peace Lemon Church.
From 1840 to 1890, the smelter was owned and operated successively by HoraceLandon and his sons, George and John. Several years later, the smelter passed to a Mr.Moorehouse, but retained the name of the Landon Iron Company.
Finally, the smelter ceased operation when new processes were developed for making steel with a lower quality of ore and when the cost of charcoal increased as a result of the surrounding land being cleared.
In 1896, Robert and Herbert Scoville converted the Nathaniel C. Scoville homestead, then occupied by themselves, four sisters and their mother, into a private estate. The farm buildings were removed to the Andrew J. Spurr property, which they had purchased for a dairy farm. An imposing English mansion, Stone House, was erected on the new site, and the farmhouse was dismantled and moved to Ashley Falls.Extensive lawns were laid out; greenhouses replaced barns; and a coach barn, which could house several spans of horses, was built. The dairy herd of purebred Guernseys was the special project of Robert Scoville and was reputed to be one of the leading dairies in the United States. Today, it was known as Grasslands Farms. In 1897,Nathaniel C. Scoville and Jonathan Scoville bought all the land surrounding the abandoned smelter and razed the smelter buildings to make way for a private hydro-generating station. The station was equipped with direct current generators which charged the wet cell batteries which supplied power to the Scoville estate. The power stations building is now a private residence standing across the road from the dam.In January, 1917, the Scoville mansion burned to the ground. Because of the national austerity imposed by the first World War, the mansion remained in ruins until Robert Scoville rebuilt it in 1930, several years after his marriage.
In the interim, Herbert Scoville had built a brick colonial home, Hill House, on a nearby hill. It burned in 1925 and was replaced by a replica of a rambling NormandyFrench farmhouse with a slate roof and tall chimney pots. In 1942, Mrs. Herbert Scoville opened Hill House as a peaceful, quiet haven for the recuperation of Britishsailors of the second World War whose ships had been torpedoed.
The history of the island in the east twin lake begins with the first owner, Eliphalet Whittlesey, who settled on the twin lakes after the Revolutionary War. The island was eventually conveyed to Derrick Franklin and Norman Spurr, with Spurr later gaining full ownership. After some years, he conveyed the island to Charles McElroy, and, onNovember 27, 1867, McElroy sold the island to Edward Rogers of Philadelphia for the sum of $500.
Sometime during this line of ownership, the island was cleared of trees. Part of the island was used to grow grain, and part of the island was a pasture for grazing sheep.The shepherds would lead their flocks back and forth from the mainland by wading across at the shallowest place, where the causeway is situated today. Because many of the trees on the island are approximately a century old, it is apparent that farming on the island was discontinued under the ownership of Edward Rogers. Arthur Woodford camped on the island in the period 1870-1875 and described the island at the time as being bare of trees.
After Edward Rogers died, his estate conveyed the island on June 8, 1891, to the TwinLakes Land and Improvement Association, a voluntary organization located inBridgeport, Connecticut, for $2000. A year later, July 5, 1892, the island, then known as Bishop Island, was purchased for $2500 by the forty members of the Camp RigaClub, also of Bridgeport. The club was organized under Tontine bylaws, which prevented the members from buying other members’ shares in ownership of the island.Under these bylaws, when only two of the original buyers survived, they would become the owners. By 1906, only two members survived, John T. Alvord and David Reed.John Alvord bought David Reed’s share on August 29, 1906, becoming the sole owner.He paid Mr. Reed $2500, twice the market value of the island. John Alvord died inMarch, 1924, passing the ownership of the island to his brother George Alvord, andGeorge conveyed it to his daughter Muriel in 1925.
The Camp Riga Club was known to spend wild weekends on the island, going between the island and the mainland in the Club’s steamboat named Jessie. One story tells ofan inebriated club member who fell into the lake. Attempting an heroic rescue, another club member, also over-imbibing, staggered down to the dock, carefully removing his expensive five dollar necktie. Only after he had fearlessly dived into the water did he remember that he had a $500 watch in his pocket.
In addition to a Club House, there were tree cottages on the island owned by club members. David Reed’s cottage later became the home of Mrs. George Alvord. At the north end of the island were the Skidmore and Ostram cottages. The Ostram cottage was later moved across the ice to the O’Hara property and is still in use today. One of the club members, a Mr. Miller, built a cottage and a barn on the mainland. The barn eventually became a roadhouse and dance hall named the Sans Souci, “Carefree,” with an all-girl orchestra. The noisy, boisterous roadhouse became such a nuisance that the Alvord's purchased the property and tore down both the house and the barn. The property now contains the caretaker’s cottage, the boathouse, and a number of outbuildings.
In 1912, shortly after John Alvord became owner of the island, he built the stone tower, commonly called the Bat Tower by the local residents. The tower was probably inspired by similar towers in Europe, perhaps a tower on the northern Italian island of Isola Bella (Beautiful Island) on Lago Maggiore. The tower was constructed by a contractor in East Canaan, and it is reported that the base required a full carload of cement, especially notable since the only access to the island in 1912 was by boat.In 1930, when George Alvord was building the large house, now called the camphouse, he contracted with a Mr. Beale of Taconic to drill a well. Mr. Beale attempted to transport the heavy drilling equipment in a large boat, but it capsized halfway across the lake, and all of the equipment was lost.
The house was heated with coal. George Alvord customarily placed an order for a railroad carload of coal with Ives and Pierce in Canaan, and a truck driver named Pozzeta would deliver 1 1/2 tons by boat each day until the order was filled.After Muriel Alvord became the owner, she built the boathouse on the eastern shore of the island and a second floating boathouse, which was anchored seasonally in the cove of the tower. The boathouses were used to berth her Chris-Craft launch, which was named after the island, Isola Bella.
In the mid-1930’s, Miss Alvord developed plans to build a causeway to the island, despite considerable opposition from the lake community. She secured an opinion from the Attorney General of Connecticut that, because the Alvord family owned the island and the mainland property on the shore opposite the island, the family also owned the corresponding portion of the lake. The original design called for a drawbridge, but the plans were abandoned when it was discovered that the bridge would freeze in the winter. The construction began in the spring of 1935 and was completed before the summer residents returned to their cottages for the season. Even today, there is still a strong resentment among the residents for the causeway, many residents feeling that the causeway, by reducing the natural flow and tide of the lake, is damaging the ecosystem and hastening a cycle of general stagnation in the lake.
Miss Alvord, an accomplished landscape artist, built the second house in 1940 as a refuge where she could indulge herself in her avocation of painting landscapes. The house floor plan reflects a sporadic, random construction history, indicating that the architectural plans were changed or expanded a number of times throughout construction and giving credence to the belief that, although she did not marry him,Miss Alvord may have had a romantic infatuation with the architect and secured his companionship through frequent alteration of the blueprints.
Muriel Alvord did not wed until relatively late in life. Her husband, Ferrari Ward, a native of Hartford, was an only child, raised by his mother. He was exceptionally intelligent, educated at the Kingswood School and Pomfred Academy, then Yale University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Self-employed as an independent mechanical developer, Mr. Ward lived on Prospect Avenue in West Hartford near a brother of Muriel Alvord, when he and Muriel met. Muriel was tall, attractive, and very shy. It was primarily through her talent in painting that she would leave the comfort and security of her island retreat to take part in such social activities as the Connecticut Women Painters organization. And it was through her husband’s friendship with Dr. Edmund Burke Boatner, an engineer and the Headmaster of the American School for the Deaf, that Muriel and Ferrari Ward took an active interest in the school.
In 1956, Mrs. Ward was elected as a corporator of the school, and, in 1959, she was thefirst woman to be elected to the school’s board of directors. Sadly, that same year, after only a few years of marriage, Muriel Alvord Ward passed away.
Her will provided that Mr. Ward would have life use of the island. Her wish was to convey all of the property to the American Humane Education Society of Boston,Massachusetts, unless the society refused to maintain and operate the property. In that event, the will directed Mr. Ward to designate a tax-exempt corporation to receive the island after his death. In January, 1962, as the executor of her will, Ferrari Ward entered into an agreement with the American School for the Deaf that, upon is death, the island would be conveyed to the school. The American School for the Deaf, under the conditions of the agreement, would operate and maintain the property for the uses and purposes for which the school is organized; maintain the property in its present condition as a wild life refuge, so far as is consistent with its greatest usefulness for the education of the deaf, which may include the construction of educational facilities appropriate to the location; and, if the maintenance and operation of the property is impractical, convey the property to the state, the Town of Salisbury, or to a responsible tax-exempt corporation organized for the purpose of protecting wild life and promotingthe conservation of nature.
In a separate contract, the school agreed to continue the employment of Mr. Primo Zucco as caretaker until this seventieth birthday, including annual salary increments; to permit him the use of the house on the mainland, rent free, for the remainder of his lifetime; to arrange for Mr. Zucco’s retirement and the payment of retirement and pension benefits on the same basis as are available to other school employees; and to supplement his retirement benefits to the extent necessary to a sum not less than his salary at retirement.
Ferrari Wards died six months later, July 5, 1963, at sixty-one years of age, after a long illness. He left a second wife, Virginia, but no children.
Since 1963, after the conveyance of the island property to the school, and, subsequent to the approval by the town planning and zoning board, the American School for theDeaf has operated a summer camp for hearing impaired children.
The island contains a “new house,” a two story residence, with a partial basement andcrawl space, constructed in 1940, to serve as Muriel Alvord’s studio. It has gable-styled roofs and is sided with a combination of stone and cedar materials. The house has a drawing room, a studio, a dining room, a laundry, a butler’s pantry, a kitchen, six bedrooms, six bathrooms, a patio, a large attic and three screened porches.The “camp house” was built in 1930, and the school has 16mm home movies of the Alvord family showing the house under construction. It is a two-story stone and cedar-sided structure with a roof of pitched copper shingles which are still in excellent condition. The architecture is characterized by a forty foot tower and a number of dramatic interior appointments, including alfresco paintings in the foyer and dining room; large fireplaces and a window niche, with a stained glass reproduction of the Alvord family crest, in the dining room; a bath tub surrounded in its nautical nook by goldfish meticulously painted on the wall; a cathedral ceiling in the dining room; and two bedrooms with their own fireplaces. The building has a large kitchen, a large basement, three bathrooms, a screened porch, a large patio with an in operative reflecting pool, and seven bedrooms.
There is a gray cottage on the east side of the island near the garden. It is a one-story, two-room, wood frame building constructed on concrete piers.
The wood shop, situated to the north of the camp house, is a one-story un-insulatedwood frame structure set on piers. The gable styled roofs are covered with asphalt shingles.
There are six student cabins located along the northwest side of the island, used to house the children who attend the summer camp. Built in 1969, four of the cabins are used for sleeping, and two serve as shower houses.
The island boathouse, located on the east shore of the island, is structurally sound andis used solely for storage of camp and waterfront equipment.
The mainland boathouse, used as the storage site for the summer camp’s power boat, isan ornate, attractive wood frame structure set on a concrete/masonry foundation. Alongwith the impressive stone tower on the island, it is considered one the attractions of thelake.
The garage on the mainland, near the caretaker’s cottage, is an L-shaped wood frame structure with the capacity to store four vehicles. George Alvord kept a Pierce Arrow in the garage at the ready, before the causeway was built. The garage on the island is a wood frame and stone masonry structure with an ornate cupola and weather vane on the roof. It can house four vehicles, and serves as the arts and crafts room during the camp session.
New England’s largest and most extensive underground caverns are located on the face of the hill to the south of Lake Washinee. Legend has it that a man looking for his lost dog discovered the caves in the 1860’s. The hound had chased an animal into a hole and had not come out. The owner, in searching for the lost dog, stumbled into the largest of several caverns, all of which are very close together.
The Twin Lakes caves soon became sufficiently attractive that the owner of theproperty is said to have established a ticket booth and charged admission fees forexploring the caves.
For many years, the Twin Lakes caves were thought to extend toward Lake Washinee and run beneath the lake. The early explorers described the eerie sensation of seeing the water dripping from the ceiling of the cave, wondering if it would give way, allowing the lake water to rush in. However, barometric readings have established that all of the negotiable passages are above water level. It is possible, however, that some of the small tunnels at the deep end of the longest cavern may actually reach below the lake.
The largest of the caves, the longest in New England, is a double-barreled limestone tunnel with a main traveled way six hundred twelve feet in length, filled with formations which have been described as the most marvelous and grotesque in NewEngland. It may be entered at one end and exited by another, IF the way can be found.This long cave is called the Cave of the Bashful Lady because of a stalagmite/stalactite formation which resembles a woman, draped in flowing robes, with her face averted toward the wall.
More than a dozen smaller passages lead off from the large cave, and anyone enteringthese are advised to unwind a ball of strings in order to trace their way back safely.The cave has been mapped, but the map may not be accurate because the interior is abewildering maze.
Ned K. Anderson led several explorations in the caves, resulting in a number of exciting discoveries. One of Anderson’s young explorers, intrigued by the view through the “Keyhole”, took advantage of his slight physique and wormed through the slit to find himself amid stalactites and beautiful formations of the stone curtain and flows tone variety. One formation was called the Cherub by its slim discoverer. The SecretRoom, or Bluebeard’s Room, with good head room, many never be seen at close rang eby other than slender spelunkers, for the Keyhole is so solidify fortified with crystalline limestone that it will not chip and cannot be enlarged without significant damage to the cavern.
Leroy Foote, a member of the American Speculating Society, and his party entered themaze in 1945 and found a sizable stream which he suspected could have been theoutlet of a long, underground river originating in Vermont and extending toConnecticut. He maintained that the water of the Twin Lakes cavern “tasted likeVermont water.”
Near the Cave of the Bashful Lady is the Jack-in-the-Pulpit Cave, a marble hall with aroof approximately fifty feet high. In one lofty corner is an inverted stone rockflowformation resembling a giant Jack-in-the-Pulpit flower. It is very difficult to enter, forits perpendicular portal is so small that a person must wedge himself in, feet and legsdangling, until he has wriggled down ten or twelve feet. There are numerous reports ofnovices getting lost and spending anxious, dripping hours inside the caverns, awaitingtheir rescuers. The number of ropes and strings which lie in the cavern at one entrancespeak of many expeditions of careful explorers.
The Last One Hundred Years
Late in the nineteenth century, other families moved into the area, playing a role, withthe Scovilles and Alvords, in shaping the history of the Twin Lakes.
In 1849, Alberto T. Roraback purchased 600 acres of land on the east shore of LakeWashining for $600. The terms of the contract permitted the seller to continue cuttingtimber on the land, but, in the interim, the trees have grown back.
The families of John O’Hara and William Miles were also responsible for providing the access to the lake by greater numbers of people.
John O’Hara, who had migrated to Massachusetts after serving in the British Army,purchased land in March, 1888, along the north section of the east shore of LakeWashining, extending northward and encompassing fields and pastures which wereideal for farming. O’Hara travelled from New York to inspect his new property only tobe thwarted by the blizzard of March 11, which left deep drifts on the hillsides untilJune of that year. Part of his purchase is now the Institute of World Affairs, and thefarmhouse on the Institute was the home of John O’Hara.
Upon establishing his farm, John O’Hara built a complex of villas and lodges on hislake property where visitors could get food and lodging and enjoy the recreation of thelake area. In the early 1900’s, the O’Hara’s operated the only boarding house at TwinLakes. The clientele, generally vacationing for an entire month each year, consisted offamilies of congressman, noted surgeons, and the head chef of the old Waldorf Hotel inNew York City. To accommodate his guests and the general public, John O’Haraopened a beach for public swimming, rented boats, and rented horses for those whowished to explore the primitive roads and trails.
One day, John O’Hara was sawing lumber on a big saw which was driven by a horse on a treadmill. Suddenly something caught in the saw. O’Hara shouted at the mantending the horses to pull the brake, but, in the din of the saw mill, the man did not hear. O’Hara leaned into the saw, and his hand was cut off.
Another tragedy befell the O’Hara family in 1936 when James O’Hara, educated at Hotchkiss School and Yale University, returned to the family farm to help his sisters.He ventured into a pasture where a bull charged, gored, and killed him.
When the railroads opened the lakes for recreation, it was inevitable that more cottages would be built, for a great many people were not content with picnicking for one day or camping for a few days. Something more substantial and more lasting was desired. So, in the latter part of the nineteenth century, a few cottages and rustic summer homes began to appear.
Between 1900 and 1909, William Miles began acquiring property along the south shore and part of the east and west shores of Lake Washining and a major portion of the shore of Lake Washinee. Although approached by a number of prospective buyers,Miles stubbornly refused to part with his land. He was willing, however, to grant leasesto land on which cottages could be built. Miles felt strongly that the natural beauty of the lakes should be maintained, with the shore front uncut of trees and brush. Withsuch protection, the cottages along the shore could not be seen from the lake. When Mr.Miles’ daughter Helen inherited the property, she carried on the tradition of discouraging the cutting of trees or the clearing of brush. It was not until 1910 that William Miles finally agreed to sell some land to the Pechin and Milford families.Before the sale, however, the buyer had to promise not to cut trees or brush.By 1911, there were almost sixty cottages or camps on or near the lakes. There were twenty along the east shore of Lake Washining, eighteen on the south shore, and twenty on the west. There were six dwellings on Lake Washinee, including theimpressive Miles farmhouse.
Prior to 1920, there was no road along the south shore. Access to the camps was by water only. During the summer, when families were in residence, milk from Grasslands Farm was delivered by a power launch called the Washining Cow.Residents traditionally left a milk can at the end of the dock with a note telling how much milk was needed. If the rich Guernsey milk was allowed to stand for day, the cream that rose to the top was so rich it could be whipped.
Until electrical power lines were installed in the mid-1920’s, kerosene lamps were theonly source of illumination after sunset.
Although the lake water was probably safe for drinking at the turn of the century,many residents preferred well or spring water. There was a well with hand pump onthe Loder property which served some of the south shore camps. The pump, which isstill in place, could not be used before 9:00 a.m. because of the noise.
There was a spring near the Woodford camp on the south shore of Lake Washining and another on the shore of Lake Washinee on what is now Salisbury School property.Residents paddled canoes from Lake Washining to the Lake Washinee spring to fill jugs. After automobiles reached the lake community, it was a common practice to fill bottles at the fountain which fed the watering trough in Salisbury.
By 1920 the first primitive automobiles were traveling the dirt roads in the area. One such road extended along the south shore of East Twin Lake, paralleling the railroad, and was accessed by driving up the Miles’ farmhouse driveway to their barn, then travelling toward the lake and across the railroad tracks. There were four gates on theMiles’ farm that had to be opened and closed to gain access to the south shore road.Because parts of the road were swampy, the saw mill provided slabs of wood, still visible today at the easterly part of the road, which served as a base. The main road into the Twin Lakes from Canaan came over the Roraback property into the O’Hara area.
During the 1920’s, William Miles sold more shorefront lots on Lake Washining. However, he retained a right of way from his farm property to the shoreline of Lake Washining. On the right of way were a well and a windmill which pumped water to the farm buildings. Cows would be herded down the right of way to the lake where they would wade out into the water to cool off in the heat of summer and to quench their thirst. The right of way was located on what is now the May property, next to theHamber property line.
In the early 1920’s George Mather became an institution in the area. He was associated with the Parsons Grocery in Canaan, and each Thursday he would go from house to house at the lakes taking orders for groceries and kerosene for illumination and cooking. The orders would be delivered on Friday, along with laundry and mail.The Parson’s Grocery later became Mather and O’Neil.
By the 1920’s the style of living for many of the summer residents had changed from camping in tents or living in primitive cottages to having more comfortable summer homes. A number of the families arriving for the summer season brought along a maid to help with the cooking and cleaning. The Barnum family, which stayed in the substantial white house on the west hill, came from New Haven with Walter, the chauffeur; Alice, the cook; and Marie, the French maid. They also had a pony named Sweetheart, five Cocker Spaniels, and three Marmon cars.
At the end of the season, many of the servants employed by families around the lakes were given a week of vacation, and the families themselves promptly moved toO’Hara’s boarding house.
1907 marked the first Twin Lakes Day. It was originally held on the west shore near the Miles farmhouse, today owned by the Peterson family. The activities were organized by Albert Roraback, and J. Clinton Roraback, an All-American center in football for Yale, was the official starter, sporting a white sweater with a large blue “Y.”A Mr. Riecks provided the prizes, handsome bronze loving cups, which later proved to be too elaborate. It was decided to omit the celebration of Twin Lake Day for the next two years, but, in 1910, the celebration was resumed and was held at the sandy beach owned by the Pechins and presently owned by the Atmores. Twin Lakes Day has been an annual event ever since, except for 1955, when a hurricane caused major flooding and the lakes were closed, and 1979, following a tornado. During the second WorldWar, with so many younger men away, Twin Lakes Day floundered. However, theReverend Mr. Albert Roraback stepped in, took control, and ran the entire event almost s ingle–handedly. Some of the early Twin Lakes celebrations included boat illumination contests in the evening. One year, one of the south shore residents employed a professional decorator to illuminate his boat, but, to his great chagrin, his entry did not even place in the winning of the coveted prizes.
In 1925, a corn roast for people from the west shore was held at the Rorabacks’ tennis courts by the ladies of the east and the south shores. The event was considered so successful that it was decided to form a club, and, after it was agreed to meet Mr.Miles’ condition that there be no intoxicating liquor on the premises, a house near theTwin Lakes station was converted to a club house. Almost everyone on the lake belonged to the new organization. There were two tennis courts and tournaments were arranged. During the summer season, there was supper and dancing every Saturday night. On Sunday mornings, there were softball games. The club became a gathering place for teenagers who could buy ice cream and soft drinks and listen to the records of the big bands of the era. There was also an annual hayride for the younger people.During the second World War, the ladies met at the club house for Red Cross work.Finally, with so many young men in the service, the club was disbanded, and the house became the Roberts Grocery Store; later the Satre property. After the war, a group of residents banded together and formed a new club, the Twin Lakes Beach Club. The members purchased land and a boarding house next to the O’Hara marina, converting it to a club house. The water front was improved with a beach for swimming, and later tennis courts were built.
For hundreds of years, the lakes provided an abundance of fish, first to the Native Americans, and later to the settlers. During the last one hundred years, fishing became the major sport on the lakes both in the summer and, through the ice, in the winter. The native species include largemouth bass, pickerel, perch, catfish, sunfish, and rock bass. The pickerel is not a native, having been introduced into the lakes from Bantam Pond in Litchfield in 1812. One fisherman, enjoying the confidence of the community, reported in 1890 having three lines out and being kept busy pulling in bass and pickerel weighing five and six pounds. Fifty years ago, with the number of fisherman increasing, the schools of fish began to decline.
In the 1960’s, the state determined that the water and depth of Lake Washining were ideal for trout. Since that time, trout have been stocked annually. Landlocked salmon have also been stocked annually. In the fall, the salmon go up the channel between the lakes, turn red, and die, but it is doubtful that they have spawned here.
In the late fall each year, the Fish and Game Department of Connecticut sends a team to set out nets between the O’Hara marina and the island to catch red salmon and milk them of eggs and sperm for the state’s fish hatchery.
For many years, vesper services were held on Sunday evenings, usually at a cottage or camp where a piano could be found. The Reverend Mr. Roraback presided at the services, which were sponsored by the Twin Lakes Association. During these years, motor boats were not allowed on the lakes after 4:00 p.m. on Sundays.
The Twin Lakes Association was established shortly after the turn of the century originally as an informal group of men from the lakes area concerned mainly with organizing events for the benefit of the property owners. For many years, a major topic at the annual meeting, besides Twin Lakes Day planning, was the water level in the lakes; some thought it was too high and was eroding the shoreline, while others felt it was too low and was spoiling the swimming. More recently, the Association has begun to take an active role in protecting the purity of the lake water, assisting Town officials in the regulation of boating and fishing practices, recommending zoning regulations, and improving the general area. Its most recent efforts have concentrated on the control and balance of red, green and blue algae in the lake water. In addition to Twin Lakes Day, the Association sponsors sailboat races during the summer. The Association membership represents more than 150 families and was incorporated in 1977 as the Twin Lakes Association of Salisbury.
The Institute of World Affairs, located to the northeast of Lake Washining, was established by Alexander and Maude Hadden in 1924 to educate foreign students in the ways of American democracy. Originally, the Institute was affiliated with the League of Nations in Geneva, but, as the danger of a second World War increased, the Institute was moved to Taconic. Through Mrs. Hadden’s efforts, considerable property and financial support, especially from the prosperous cigar manufacturing Schulte family, were donated to the Institute. After Mrs. Hadden’s death, a portion of the property was sold to meet expenses, and the Institute fell on hard times. In recent years, a number of changes in administrative and fiscal policy has resulted in the restoration of financial health to the Institute.
While the image of the Twin Lakes is one of recreation and good times, there have also been tragedies: drownings, fires, and fierce storms. In June, 1946, a family in two canoes paddled out onto Lake Washining only to be surprised by a sudden, vicious storm. Before they could reach shore, both canoes capsized, downing all five membersof the family. Only three bodies were recovered.
In August, 1955, a powerful hurricane swept through New England, bringing torrential rains. On the east shore, above the Twin Lakes Road, the persistent rains softened the ground on the steep hillside. An early morning muddiest flowed over the road and struck a cottage on the lake shore. The cottage disintegrated, and the wreckage was thrown into the lake. A young lady, who had been asleep in the cottage, suffered a broken back. The hurricane caused the lakes to flood, raising the water level almost four feet. The Between-the-Lakes Road was impassable. The water became contaminated, and the lakes were closed to swimming for the reminder of the season.Conclusion
Since Native Americans and animals reserved the area for themselves almost four hundred years ago, the Twin Lakes region has persistently been an object of attention and curiosity.The white settlers braved the wilds and the impenetrable forest to reach the shores; the first families cleared the land for farming; the streams and mountains ideally accommodated manufacturing; the caves attracted explorers; and the lakes appealed to the vacationers who brought with them the phenomena of railroads, boarding houses, religious, recreational, and philanthropic organizations, and the special ambience that pervades this pastoral, bucolic region even today.
The Twin Lakes region, with its history of tragedy, comedy, legend, and drama, still retains the surrounding beauty of the forest and the hills and offers an idyllic setting for boating, fishing, swimming, cave exploring, hiking, and water skiing. It is an ideal environment for summer camps, conference centers, musical and artistic events, and quaint bed-and–breakfast inns.
The role of Isola Bella in this setting has been one of significantly contributing to the lakes, as well as substantially deriving a benefit from them. And it behooves the school to ensure that the island that will guarantee an effective and efficient use of this valuable property and simultaneously uphold the civic responsibility of the AmericanSchool for the Deaf as a pillar of the Twin Lakes community, along with the Buells, the Hezekiahs, the Porters, the Whittleseys, the Binghams, the Smiths, the Chapins, the Scovilles, the Spurrs, the O’Haras, the Rorabacks, the Alvolds, the Haddens, and the Miles.