In the geographic heart of the city of Newton lies Bullough’s Pond, which was created when John Spring flooded a meadow around 1647. More than any other body of water in the city, Bullough’s Pond has a unique history of human manipulation through flooding, filling, and recreation; beneath its placid surface is a history deeper than the pond itself.
According to Henry K. Rowe’s Tercentary History of Newton, 1630-1930, “John Spring was a substantial citizen. He not only ground the grain of the farmers, but he held town offices and was representative to the General Court.” Although John Spring created the pond by flooding some of his meadowland, its name comes from John Bullough, a miller who owned a great deal of the land to the west of the pond in the nineteenth century.
There was a mill on Bullough’s Pond from the eighteenth century until 1886, when it was burnt down by young boys. Memories of the mill are recorded in oral histories collected by F.C. Alexander from elderly Newtonians in the 1950s.
Mrs. Hovenden was 86 years old in 1952 when she recalled that as “a very young girl, she used to go to the old mill with her father when he took his rye to be ground into flour for brown bread. This rye was raised on their farm in West Newton, where the now stands.” She remembered how the pond used to be “larger at the North end, [and] took in all of the land where City Hall now stands.”
Harnessing the power of the waters of Bullough’s Pond, the mill served an important purpose in the early, more agrarian days in Newton. As the years passed, land in Newton became more valuable as real estate than as farmland, and the use of Bullough’s Pond changed. The mill was never rebuilt after the fire of 1886, and real estate developers saw the pond as a recreational attraction for people who wanted to build homes in the burgeoning suburb of Newton.
Shortly after the mill burned down, much of Bullough’s Pond was filled during the construction of Commonwealth Avenue. Real estate developers were hoping for a major boom in the area, but that did not come until the early twentieth century.
Historian Peter Konde stated that “during the late 1910s and early 1920s upwards of 400 to 500 houses a year were built in Newton.” This new influx of residents used Bullough’s Pond for recreation. During the winter months, ice skating was popular, and it was continually used for skating through the 1970s. By that time, runoff from city streets and nearby hillsides had decreased the depth of the pond, which did not allow it to freeze during winter months.
Bullough’s Pond has a history of human interaction more pronounced than any other pond in the city. No doubt this will continue, but until the next period of change, residents can enjoy a peaceful stroll by its shores and enjoy it in its current, beautiful state.