The Lake of Many Names
Crystal Lake has been a permanent fixture of Newton's landscape, but its name and function has changed many times throughout history.
In 1634, 1,000 acres and a great pond were granted to John Haynes. We now know this "great pond" as Crystal Lake, but the name and the function of it has changed many times since the 17th century.
Although Haynes owned the lake and the property surrounding it, he never really settled in the area of the lake before he moved to Connecticut in the late 1630s. The first settler in the area was Thomas Wiswall. In 1654, he built a house on the south side of the lake beside the Dedham Trail, which we now know as Centre Street. His house was the only house that was near the lake, which was surrounded by forests at the time. For nearly 150 years, Crystal Lake bore the name of its earliest inhabitant; it was called Wiswall's Pond.
The next resident in the area was Jonathan Hyde, who received a land grant on the north side of the lake. The father of 21 children, Hyde also laid out a road running from Newton Centre to the lake "to bring hemp or flax to the pond, and sheep to washing," according to the Tercentary History of Newton. This road is now named Blanden Lane.
Time brought more people and more diversity to Newton. According to local historian Lucy Caldwell-Stair, in 1795, Newtonians of the Baptist faith built their own church on land near the pond that was given to them by Noah Wiswall, a descendent of Thomas. Because of the Baptist church's proximity to the pond, it became known as "Baptist Pond" for a period of time.
In the early 1800s, the name changed to Crystal Lake. Ice harvesting was a big business in New England, and Crystal Lake was a great source for ice that could be used by people to keep their food cold. The name "Crystal Lake" implied fresh, clean water, and that is why you can find many "Crystal" lakes throughout New England, as they were used for the same purpose and subject to the same marketing ploy.
By the first quarter of the 20th century, the ice harvesting business had died out. According to Caldwell-Stair, "1915 was the year that the electric household refrigerator was invented, dooming the ice business." With the lake thus freed of industry, it became the domain of Newtonians seeking recreation. Ice skating was a hugely popular winter pastime at Crystal Lake. In her research, Stair discovered that the lake hosted approximately 80,000 skaters in the winter of 1930 alone. Although ice skating on the lake is forbidden today, at one time it provided a practice space for Tenley Albright, who went on to win an Olympic gold medal in figure skating in 1956.
Today, Crystal Lake is an aquatic jewel in the center of the city. A stroll along its banks can clear the mind and exercise the body, and a refreshing summer swim can provide much- needed relief from the heat without having to leave the city. Recreation, relaxation, and rejuvenation can all be found at Crystal Lake today. Thankfully, the lake itself has much more staying power than its name.