By Larry Minear[part 1 of a 2 part series]   ;
Uncle Harvey’s Pond, a six-acre gem nestled between Pochet and Barley Neck roads, is one of Orleans’ best-kept secrets. This article explores the pond’s history and current condition; next month’s illuminates how the problems, created largely by human factors, can also be improved by human action.
Uncle Harvey’s last name was Sparrow. He and his wife Betsey lived on the uphill side of Pochet Road overlooking the pond to the south. “They were uncle and aunt to everyone and loved by all,” recalls a contemporary, Capt. Elmer Smith. Harvey’s life spanned virtually an entire century, from 1795 to 1893. Betsey (1799 – 1883) was almost as long-lived. As with other small ponds, naming rights seem to have gone to friends and neighbors. Such was also the case for Boland Pond, subject of an earlier article, named for the blacksmith who plied his trade just west of “his” pond.
Harvey was the sixth of nine children born to Josiah Sparrow of Orleans and Mary Smith of Eastham. Harvey served in the Massachusetts militia and fought in the Battle of Rock Harbor in the War of 1812. (Earlier this month in an event in the Orleans cemetery, Harvey’s father Josiah was honored by the Sons of the American Revolution for service in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812.)
In the days before refrigeration and global warming, Uncle Harvey’s Pond supplied the area with ice. Its ice house (pictured in photo) was later used to store hay for Elmer Taylor’s hundred-head herd of dairy cattle that grazed on his 18 acre farm nearby. Taylor’s grandson, Alan Chace, a current Orleans resident, recalls fishing in Uncle Harvey’s Pond for perch and pickerel as “the main excitement” in growing up in the neighborhood.
Long-time resident Vince Ollivier remembers the ice-house in its hay-days. “We would jump on our bikes and ride over from my home on Great Oak Road,” he recalls nostalgically. The hay barn was “a great place to play.” Some recall the pond was an annual destination for eels and herring from Meetinghouse Pond in search of fresh water spawning grounds. It also provided the volunteer fire brigade’s pumper with water to extinguish fires.
Uncle Harvey’s Pond gets only limited use today. Two town landings provide access. The quietness of the place attracts the occasional kayaker and angler. The herring, if any, are a distant memory. Eels that swam up a narrow stream from Meetinghouse Pond into Uncle Harvey’s Pond no longer find access. Today there are about 15 properties with frontage on the pond. Three tracts enjoy conservation status with the Orleans Conservation Trust. Harvey’s landing, a parcel at the north edge of the pond given to the town half a century ago, offers the best public access and views. It is one element in the extensive patchwork of surface water or wetlands.
What is the current state of the pond? Carolyn Kennedy, who heads the town’s Marine and Freshwater Quality Task Force, has been monitoring the scene since 2003. A biologist by training, she keeps a watchful eye on birds and animals as well as on water quality. Her notes are straight out of John James Audubon. In the years 2003-2006, sightings included tree swallows, green heron, dragonflies, damselflies, painted turtles, green frogs, belted kingfishers, red-tailed hawks, and osprey.
In recent years her observations have become less lyrical and more alarming. Minimum state standards for water quality are no longer met. In 2005, Kennedy recorded “floating bright green Algae blobs.” From 2008 onwards, the increasing level of nutrients in the pond’s water has caused algae blooms. “As of April 27,” she says, “there was already evidence of an algae bloom.” Eruptions of cyanobacteria may result in closure of ponds and, in the words of the health authorities, can cause “neurological symptoms, including drooling, weakness, staggering, convulsions, and death.” Residents share Kennedy’s concern about what the coming summer has in store.
Next month, part 2 of this series looks at how Uncle Harvey’s Pond and other such ponds are affected by human activity.
-Larry Minear is an Orleans resident, is a board member of the Orleans Pond Coalition and its Pond Protection Committee. Contributions to this article from Bonnie Snow, Liz deLima, Robert Cunningham and Betsy Furtney are gratefully acknowledged.