During the early years of the Massachusetts Agricultural College, a stream ran through the center of campus, forming a divide between the orchards on the east and the academic buildings and fields on the west. After the stream was dammed up by two industrious students during the winter of 1890-1891, President Henry H. Goodell lobbied the state legislature for funding to replace the temporary expedient. Work on the permanent dam began on October 1, 1892 and was completed by December 14 at a total cost of $1,750. Beyond aesthetics, the dam was justified as providing a ready source of ice for refrigeration of dairy products in the days prior to electricity, and although it was described early on as an “unsightly and odorous collection of mud, weeds, and grass,” plantings around the pond begun in 1894 by Samuel Maynard, Professor of Horticulture, gradually improved its standing.
By the turn of the century, the pond had become a center of student life. During winter, the frozen surface was used for hockey games beginning in 1909, for skating and as the site of the Winter Carnival, and every the spring, the pond served (until 1958) as the site of the rope pull, a tug of war between the freshman and sophomore classes standing on opposite banks. Unwitting freshman were not infrequently introduced to the pond through a “pond party.” When discovered “violating” unwritten, but unwavering “rules,” freshmen were called before a senate of seven senior men and four juniors, and if found improperly penitent, they ran a gauntlet of upper classmen onto a wooden platform from which they were expelled into the murky waters.
Between 1980 and 1985, the environmental sculptor George Trakas transformed the tiny island on the south side of the pond into a work of art called the “Isle of View.” Commissioned by the University Gallery with funding from the National Endowment for the Arts and the University Alumni Association, the Isle is connected to either bank by small footbridges. The Fine Arts Center was built across the south end of the pond in 1975.
Life in the pond today consists of everything from goldfish to snapping turtles, with an assortment of seasonal ducks and geese. Four swans were first added to the pond in August 1963 in order to naturally control weeds and for beautification, with a shelter added to the island. The effort in the 1980s to reintroduce a breeding pair of swans to the pond was thwarted when it was discovered that both swans were male, and later efforts were ended in 2005, when four swans were relocated to a more peaceful location.