When you travel around New England, through any of the old mill towns, sooner or later will you not only pass an old mill but probably the remnants of an old mill pond as well. The mills are easy to spot, the mill ponds not so much.
Here in Southbridge arguably the biggest of the mill ponds was that belonging to the Hamilton Woolen Company. Today it is barely discernable. It has been filled in, built upon, and redefined. But if you know where to look, you can still find the bones.
The Big Pond as it was known, was owned by the Hamilton Woolen Mills. It was created by damming the Quinebaug River. There were at least three dams at this location, the last being the biggest. You can see what it looked like in this 1878 map.
The top picture provides a clue to what happened to the Big Pond. As of now, this is the only picture I have been able to find of the pump house. In the bottom picture, you can see the metail railing that went to the door.
It was Mother Nature that marked the demise of the Big Pond in 1955. Two hurricanes a week apart brought so much water to the pond the dam first began to overflow, and finally, it collapsed.
Now all that remains are rusted relics, chunks of concrete, and fading memories of the day the dam broke.
The photos of the dam come from an excellent website dealing with the flood of 1955 put together by Dick Whitney.
As you will hear in the video, Southbridge was devastated. Not only did this dam break, but another in Charlton also broke sending a separate torrent of water into the Quinebaug. Many thought Southbridge would never recover. It did and came back as strong as ever.
The people of Southbridge were strong then, and they are strong now.