Hartford Courant, May 23, 2010
Sparkling in sunlight or bathed in gauzy mist, lakes are among the most alluring elements of Connecticut’s landscape. But the waters of some of our largest lakes, created by damming river valleys for drinking, flood control or power production during the first part of the twentieth century, hide some unattractive secrets.
Colebrook River Lake; Barkhamsted, Compensating and Nepaug Reservoirs in the Farmington Valley; and the Saugatuck Reservoir and Candlewood Lake in the southwestern part of the state are among those water bodies that were made possible by drowning farms, small mills, homesteads and entire rural hamlets. Land for these impoundments, created by both public and private entities, were acquired sometimes by condemnation, but mostly by purchases made in the shadow of eminent domain powers. Taking private property for public purposes was big news then and remains controversial today as demonstrated by New London’s recent struggle for Suzette Kelo’s little pink house or Rocky Hill’s interest in seizing a former foundry site for a park along the Connecticut River.
Despite acrimonious and protracted legal battles over contemporary cases, their human impacts pale beside the development of the reservoirs, which displaced hundreds of people from their homes; closed schools, churches and stores; rerouted tens-of-miles of road; dismantled highway bridges; and even caused relocation of the dead to new cemeteries on higher ground. Tiny villages like Valley Forge in Weston and Hartland Hollow in Hartland were wiped off the map. Although some local bitterness remains today, drinking water, flood protection, electricity, recreational opportunities, and vast tracts of open space have benefited millions of people for generations.
Typically cupped among hills, these manmade impoundments are so beautiful and look so natural that it’s easy to assume they’ve always been there. Dams are the most obvious signs of human intervention, but evidence of long-lost communities abound in truncated roads that end at the waters’ edge and crumbling foundations lying in the woods or beneath the waves.