MONT VERNON, N.H. – Residents of a rural New Hampshire town voted Tuesday night to rename a fishing and skating spot that's been called Jew Pond since the 1920s.
The 104-33 vote allows the board of selectmen to ask the U.S. Board of Geographic Names to officially change the Jew Pond moniker, which appears on a 1968 map but not on any town signs.
Residents debated the issue at a meeting Tuesday, with some urging that the name be changed and others saying it should be kept.
"I don't know if it was meant to be offensive or not, but if people are offended by the name I don't see why we shouldn't change it," said Bill Davidson, who has lived in Mont Vernon for 13 years.
But 34-year resident Lawrence Rondo and his wife, Annette, disagreed. "Changing it is stupid. People just like to stir up trouble," Rondo said. Added his wife, "People are too sensitive today."
Mont Vernon town health officer Rich Masters pushed for the vote after the name appeared in a news report about an algae bloom at the pond.
"I, frankly, find it to be inappropriate, disrespectful to some people," he said, "and I feel it needs to be changed."
But for many long-time residents, the effort is a lot of fuss over a small, manmade body of water that no one cares much about.
"It's much ado about very little," resident Tom McKinney said Tuesday.
Over the years, the pond, near the center of town, has been called by many names, including Carleton Pond. A nearby sign says Carleton Park Recreation Area, though that refers to the land rather than the pond itself. The pond originally was named Spring Pond, said Masters, because the owners of a hotel there created it by digging up a spring to irrigate their golf course. They made clear in a brochure that Jewish guests were not welcome.
The rest of the story is a bit murky, but it's generally believed that the body of water became Jew Pond when two Jewish businessmen from Boston bought the hotel. They intended to make the pond bigger and rename it Lake Serene, town officials say.
Mont Vernon Historical Society member Zoe Fimbel, who has lived in the town for 31 years, said there's nothing bigoted about the Jew Pond name. She said it was more about longtime residents in the 1920s being annoyed by out-of-towners trying to turn the pond into something it was not.
"It's too bad it's gotten to be such an issue when it's never even referred to or portrayed in a negative way," she said. "It's more like, `It's the Jew's Pond. The new man in town."'
Still, resident Kevin Schmidlein thought the name should be changed. "If we're going to be known for something, I'd rather it be for something other than this," he said on Tuesday.
The town, about 35 miles southwest of the state capital, Concord, has Jewish residents, but census data don't indicate how many. The only synagogue Masters said he knew about is in Nashua, about 15 miles away. Proposed new names for the pond include Carleton Pond and the original Spring Pond.
No name was chosen on Tuesday. The board of selectmen expect to decide that sometime in the future.