MONT VERNON, N.H. – Residents of a rural New Hampshire town will have a chance to vote Tuesday night on whether to rename a fishing and skating spot that's been called Jew Pond since the 1920s.
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.
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.'"
Mont Vernon's approximately 2,400 residents will have a chance to vote at the town meeting on whether 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.
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.