Sprawling more than 147 and a half acres, Naples Farm in Durham has been in the family since 1923. One of its key features, a source of joy for generations now, has been the pond.
Including the banks and the nearby pavilion, it takes up 3⁄4 of an acre, and is a treasure trove of memories.
The pond was built in 1957 as part of a nationwide program sponsored by the USDA. At that time there were no fire hydrants in rural America, making fire-fighting a grave concern.
To help solve that problem, in 1956 the USDA agreed to share the cost with farmers of building ponds on their property.
The Naples’ pond is fed by springs on the south side. On the north side are pipes that carry any excess water into a brook, which goes into another brook that leads to the Coginchaug River.
There’s also a dam on the north side that would take care of excess water, should the pipes get blocked up, as they occasionally do when a muskrat finds its way in.
“The pond stays at a certain level because of the pipes,” Phyllis Naples Valenti said. “They’re part of the program. The water is flowing, and as long as you get enough rain and the springs are active, the water keeps building up. The pipes take care of the excess water, so that it doesn’t go over the banks. When the water is low we just stop using the pond.”
The Naples family has found several uses for that pond. It pipes in water to their pavilion and their barn. It’s used as a sprinkler system for the gardens. It’s used to water the plants at the pavilion. It brings water through a hose to the greenhouse. It’s the home of abundant wildlife, like Canadian geese, mallard ducks, deer, and raccoons. It’s used for swimming, skating and parties.
People fish in the pond, thanks to the wide-mouthed bass and the blue gills that a neighbor stocked it with in 1958.
“We used to do some stupid things when we were kids,” Valenti said. “When we were teenagers my brother and I, when we thought the pond was frozen, would come down the hill on snowmobiles and slide onto it. We did that with toboggans, too. I would never let anyone do that now. It’s too dangerous.”
Other memories surface for Valenti, like the day kids were diving off the banks and swimming to the raft in the middle of the pond, and one went in fully clothed and with his glasses on. He couldn’t swim; he just wanted to do what everyone else was doing. He had to be fished out.
Or the time Valenti and her brother-in-law decided to raise mallard ducks. They came by mail from a wildlife preserve, and Valenti recalls the post office calling her at 6:30 in the morning, saying she had to come and get them because they were too noisy.
Since it was late September and the babies would probably not survive being outdoors in the winter, she put them in a playpen in her bedroom, caring for them until they could be put in the pond in the spring.
“The pond is gorgeous when the seasons change,” Valenti said. “I especially love it in the spring and the fall. The pond, the hill, the pavilion – it’s all so beautiful.”