In Episode 107, Jeff Belanger and Ray Auger look for Long Pond in Glover, Vermont, because it was here in June of 1810 that miller Aaron Willson dealt with a horrible drought in a clever way. He had the brilliant idea of digging a trench from Long Pond to the nearby Barton River. What could possibly go wrong?
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*A note on the text: Please forgive punctuation, spelling, and grammar mistakes. Like us, the transcripts ain’t perfect.
RAY: Excuse me, does this road go all the way to Long Pond?
WILLSON: I’ve been standing here all day and it hasn’t gone nowhere yet.
JEFF: I’m not sure asking locals will help, Ray. Maybe we’re better off walking along Route 16 here in Glover, Vermont, until we find the pond?
RAY: I’m guessing it should be easy enough to spot. It is a pond.
JEFF: That was probably true at one point, but the legend here is about a pond that ran away.
JEFF: Hi, I’m Jeff Belanger and welcome to episode 107 of the New England Legends podcast. If you give us about ten minutes, we’ll give you something strange to talk about today.
RAY: And I’m Ray Auger. Thanks for joining us on our mission to chronicle every legend in New England one week and one story at a time. And thank you to our patreon patrons who are sponsoring this week’s episode. These are the folks who help pay for our hosting and production costs, which have been rising the longer we go. If you’d like to join them in helping the cause, go to patreon.com/newenglandlegends and for as little as $3 bucks per month you’ll get early access to new episodes, plus bonus episodes that no one else gets to hear.
JEFF: And please, if you enjoy our show, consider telling a friend or two on social media, at the bar, or scream it out loud the next time you’re someplace quiet. It helps a lot when you spread the word.
RAY: Okay, Jeff. I’ve heard of runaway trains.
RAY: Runaway brides.
JEFF: Of course.
RAY: But I’ve never heard of a runaway pond.
JEFF: It doesn’t happen often, but they say it happened in northern Vermont in the town of Glover, back in 1810. So let’s head back there and set this up.
JEFF: It’s early June of 1810, and it’s been dry around here for months now, and for people who farm or run a mill, dry can spell disaster. Let’s meet the only local miller. His name is Aaron Willson.
RAY: Hello, Mr. Wilson. Have you lived here your whole life?
WILLSON: Not yet.
JEFF: Aaron Willson runs the mill powered by the nearby Barton River. He lives there with his wife. And considering this drought? He’s got problems.
RAY: Right. Barton River is crawling along because it’s been so dry. And if the river is crawling, so too is the mill. But that’s when Aaron Willson gets an idea.
RAY: There’s a body of water about five miles north of his mill called Long Pond. It’s about one mile long, a half a mile wide, and 125 feet deep in the deepest part. No one lives around the pond, it’s mostly thick forest. The pond is located in an elevated section of land not too far from the banks of the Barton River. So the idea is simple: he wants to hire a crew of men to help him dig a trench from the banks of the Barton, right up to Long Pond. You dig the trench, create a new outlet, and Long Pond adds some much-needed water to the Barton River, and boom, Willson’s mill is back in business.
JEFF: We have to remember that everyone needs the mill. You bring your grains and things there to get them ground up. It’s a pretty critical business to any community. So when Mr. Willson puts out the word of what he’s trying to do and what he’s looking for, men respond right away from Glover, Wheelock, and Sheffield.
RAY: It’s now June 6th. The day to dig. 60 men show up with lunches and shovels in their hands.
WILLSON: I’ll pay you each a day’s wage to dig this trench.
RAY: Willson tells the assembled crew. And by 8:00 AM, they’re digging.
[SFX LOTS OF DIGGING]
RAY: The work is going quickly. By noon the trench is four feet deep, six feet wide, and more than 30 feet long. It leads from the banks of the Barton River, right up to just below the edge of Long Pond. But it’s noon, so the men break for lunch.
JEFF: A lunch well-deserved. I mean they’ve moved tons of dirt in just four hours and all that’s left to do is break through the north wall of Long Pond, and Mr. Willson is back in business.
RAY: Around 1 PM, the men are rested and well-fed. So they grab their shovels and get back to digging the last section of the trench. It’s the section that will connect Long Pond with Barton River.
[SFX DIGGING AGAIN]
JEFF: The crew digs right up to the banks of the pond, and breaks their way through the hardpan layer of clay and dirt. But then something goes horribly wrong. What no one could have known, least of all Aaron Willson, is that underneath that hardpan layer of dirt, is quicksand. Quicksand as fine as flour. As the water begins to pour through, the ground around them suddenly crumbles.
[SFX EARTHQUAKE SOUND]
JEFF: Then the situation goes from bad to worse. Long Pond, is now making a run for it.
[SFX RAGING WATERS WATERFALL MAYBE?]
JEFF: The pond is pouring out its contents in a mighty torrent. It’s now clear, this is going to be a disaster. Willson sees the raging waters overflowing the Barton River. He knows people and buildings down river are in serious danger. People like Mrs. Willson.
WILLSON: What will become of my wife?!
JEFF: Mr. Willson yells. She’s back at the mill, right in harm’s way. So Aaron Willson starts running the five miles toward his home.
RAY: But the men can see there’s no way Willson will make it in time. They need a faster runner.
WORKER: He will never get there! Chamberlain, you are the one that can reach the mill, if anyone can. Run, Chamberlain, run!
RAY: And with that, the tall, 24-year-old Spencer Chamberlain is in a full sprint, passing Aaron Willson and losing both his hat and coat in the chase against a river that’s swelling and growing angrier by the second.
JEFF: Long Pond is still pouring its contents into the river and beyond, and now the flood is tearing down trees and anything else in its way. At times, some temporary dams are formed by all the debris, which gives Chamberlain the chance to stay just ahead of the devastation.
[SFX HUFF HUFF HUFF/RUNNING]
JEFF: The five miles between Long Pond and Mrs. Willson’s fate are closing fast for Chamberlain.
RAY: But Long Pond is still dumping its two billion gallons of water into the river. And those temporary dams only hold a few minutes until enough water backs up and breaks through. In the valley, some claim the raging waters reach 75 feet in height and are ravaging everything in their path. Houses are blown away. Barns. Fences. Cattle. Horses. None of them stand a chance against the violent flood.
JEFF: Still Chamberlain keeps running.
[SFX HUFF HUFF HUFF/RUNNING]
JEFF: And he’s staying ahead of the devastation too. Chamberlain sees the mill ahead, the home stretch, he races inside, finds Mrs. Willson, and escorts her to safety far from the river’s edge. And just minutes later…
[SFX RAGING WATERS AND A CRUNCH/EXPLOSION]
JEFF: The devastation hits the mill and destroys the building. Mrs. Willson would have been lost if not for the fast feet of Spencer Chamberlain. The man who outran a river.
RAY: It takes only 90 minutes for Long Pond to pour itself into the river and valley below. In a period of six hours, all of that water and carnage tears a scar 23 miles down the valley until Lake Memphremagog swallows up what’s left of Long Pond.
JEFF: The devastation is brutal. There are many houses and barns that have been wiped away. Plus the loss of livestock. It’s nothing short of a miracle that no people are killed during this disaster.
RAY: What in the world was Aaron Willson thinking?! What do you expect when you break through the walls of a pond. You’re not going to be able to control what happens next.
JEFF: I hear you, Ray. Let’s ask him.
RAY: Aaron Willson, you’re not too far from a fool, are you?
RAY: (LOUDER) I said, you’re not very far from a fool, are you?
WILLSON: No, that’s right. Just this shovel here between us.
RAY: Yeah, he’s hopeless.
JEFF: And not well-liked after this incident. There are lawsuits that follow, and a cleanup effort that will take years to clear out the tangled, fallen trees and destruction.
RAY: Still, there’s some good that comes from this disaster. First, the raging water basically tilled and then soaked miles of soil creating some pretty epic farmland. And second, the water tore through the valley leaving behind a bed for a road that will go on to become Route 16. And that brings us back to today.
JEFF: After the lawsuits and initial cleanup, Aaron Willson and his wife left for New Hampshire.
RAY: I’m sure it can’t be easy living in a town you practically destroyed.
JEFF: No it can’t. And old Spencer Chamberlain never was the same again. He lived in Glover for 40 more years and they say he never quite recovered from his sprint against nature.
RAY: The town of Glover has never forgotten this even, either. In 1910 on the centennial of the original disaster they had a town-wide party, and placed a monument. In 2010, the two hundred year anniversary, the town held a three-day party. And each July for the last 20 years, Glover has held its annual “Run, Chamberlain, Run” road race for runners and walkers.
JEFF: It’s kind of awesome when a town turns a bone-head mistake, and a heroic run into an annual event.
RAY: I agree. So I’m guessing we’re not going to find a pond here along Route 16 today, because it’s gone.
JEFF: Right. It ran away over 200 years ago. But they town did have the sense to rename it.
RAY: What’s it called now?
JEFF: Dry Pond.
RAY: That seems fitting.
JEFF: It does. And it would be fitting if you guys would consider posting a review of our show on Itunes. Those reviews go a long way in helping others find us in a crowded sea of podcasts. The more listeners we have, the more people contact us with stories. The more tales you hear.
RAY: You can also visit our Web site at ournewenglandlegends.com where you can hear our entire archive of shows, see dates for Jeff’s on-going story tour, and see clips from the New England Legends television series on PBS and Amazon Prime.
JEFF: We’d like to thank Michael Legge and Dustin Pari for lending their voice acting talents this week. And our theme music is by John Judd.
RAY: Until next time remember… the bizarre is closer than you think.
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