Another day, another Twitter question to answer. This one came from Adam Gaffin over at Universal Hub. He asked if the proper name for the pond on the Boston Common was "Frog Pond" or "The Frog Pond." I went to the city's web page on the facility that uses "Boston Common Frog Pond," and to the group that manages it which refers to "The Boston Common Frog Pond."
Then I wondered about what term was used historically to name this spot. As you can see, this postcard (circa 1901-1907) from the Boston Public Library's print collection says, Frog Pond.
Leslie Jones titled this photo (circa 1918 - 1920) Frog Pond Boston Common. (Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection.)
This 1900 postcard from the New York Public Library's Collection uses The Frog Pond, Boston Common.
Next I turned to books on the topic to see what those editors decided was the correct term. And it was here I began to find interesting bits of history and lore about the Frog Pond. Some are repeated in a few sources and others can't be verified.
In his 1903 "Boston A Guide Book," Edwin M. Bacon writes, “Near by lies the historic “Frog Pond,” so called, as the town wits have it, because it was never known to harbor a frog. The real frog pond was the Horse or Cow Pond, a shallow pool where the cows slaked their thirst or cooled their legs, which lay in the lowlands about the present band stand. The present pond is the survivor of three marshy bogs originally within the Common. It was the scene of the formal introduction of the public water system in 1848, for which celebration James Russell Lowell wrote his Ode on Water.”
We do know that in early days, the Boston Common was used to pasture animals and many sources describe three ponds and four hills on the site. Reports vary as to the source of the Frog Pond's water source. Some say it was spring fed, while others say it was just a muddy puddle at the bottom of Flagstaff Hill where the Soldiers & Sailors Monument now stands.
There are tales of women lighting fires under the great elm that once stood near the Frog Pond to do their laundry on the site. And forbidding smoking by the Frog Pond seems to have a long history. One book notes that in the mid-1800s people could smoke on the Common, only on weekdays and only near the Frog Pond. A later book cites that a law was passed forbidding smoking on the streets or on the Common. And, of course, today smoking is prohibited in all parks in Boston.
In an upcoming post, we'll tell you a bit more about the arrival of municipal water in Boston and the celebrations that took place at the Frog Pond.
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Words: Penny Cherubino
Photography: © 2016 Penny Cherubino and as noted in historic images.