The Spoonwood Saga, Part I

A Pristine Pond

An aerial view of Spoonwood Pond in autumn. (photo © Eric Aldrich)

A bird’s-eye view of Spoonwood in Autumn.
(photo © Eric Aldrich)

In 1982, Spoonwood was a pristine, 159-acre, deep-water pond reached via Lake Nubanusit. The scenic shoreline had nary a house, cabin, or structure of any kind, except for Janet Tolman’s small rustic studio set back from the shore on a point near the south end. Early that summer, Jan McClure, then with the Forest Society, suggested the Harris Center and the Society co-sponsor an end-of-summer paddle across the pond.

The trip was advertised for September 18, and I figured we’d get at least a dozen takers. Jan and I were both surprised when 70 people showed up with canoe paddles in hand (no kayaks back in those days…)! It was a very enjoyable cruise with lunch on Janet’s point. When we returned across Nubanusit to the Hancock town landing, however, we encountered “Land for Sale” posters tacked to shoreline trees — obviously meant for our eyes.

Spoonwood for Sale?!

A 1982 paddle on Spoonwood Pond. (photo © Meade Cadot)

A Spoonwood Pond canoe trip — with enough boats to qualify it as a regatta — in September 1982.
(photo © Meade Cadot)

A 45-acre shorefront woodlot had recently been subdivided and a Boston real estate firm was commissioned to make the sale. The posters were scary for sure: LOCATION 20 miles KEENE & airport; 15 miles PETERBOROUGH & golf course; & 270 miles NEW YORK. And on the back side: Located in the popular Lake Nubanusit area of the Monadnock Region, this rare 20+-acre offering includes 1,117 feet of lake frontage on Spoonwood Pond.

What should we do? Having never run a fundraising campaign, I thought it best to team with a seasoned pro, Ash Hallet of the Forest Society, and together we ran a joint campaign to fundraise the negotiated purchase price. This also turned out to be my first experience with using leverage as an ally.

More than once I’d visited with Newt Tolman, for decades the owner of the largest unprotected property with frontage on the pond, known as Greengate. His house stood high on the shoulder of Osgood Hill and offered sweeping views of Nubanusit and Spoonwood, as well as most of the region’s mountains over 2,000 feet high, including Bald, Skatutakee, Thumb, Crotched, North and South Pack Monadnock, and the Grand Monadnock herself.

A Forward-Thinking Deed

A view of Spoonwood Pond from Greengate. (photo © Carolyn Rainer)

A view of Spoonwood Pond from Greengate.
(photo © Carolyn Rainer)

The porch was a great venue for entertaining and talking land protection — and Newt loved to string this novice along without committing to anything. However, he did show me the deed to Greengate, designed and once owned by Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., son of the famed landscape architect of New York City’s Central Park! The deed was way ahead of its time for the 1950s because of a clause stipulating that if all the other Spoonwood shorefront owners would agree in writing, then no one would be permitted to build within 300 feet of the pond. Well, beside Newt and the property that was up for sale, there were only three other landowners: Harris Center founder Eleanor Briggs, John Colony Jr., and Keene State College, who had been given — deed-restricted by the Nature Conservancy —the 400-acre peninsula between Spoonwood and Nubanusit called the Louis Cabot Preserve.

By late July of 1983, those three had all signed the necessary binding covenant. John Colony went even further, offering to give us his property within 400 feet of the shore — our very first gift of land aside from the original Harris Center 7-acre house lot. The signed covenant meant we could tout that, if our campaign to buy the 45-acre lot were successful, the entire shoreline of Spoonwood would also be protected. So in just the first two months of the campaign, we were 85 percent of the way to our goal. And by autumn, we had closed on the property and covered all our and the Forest Society’s expenses.

Time to celebrate? No, not yet. Stay tuned for Part II of the Spoonwood Pond Saga…

—Meade Cadot