Pine Island

From the Mansfield Historical Society Newsletter, Vol. 37, No. 2, April 2001

As remembered by Grace Wyman Homer

In 1685, the first 21 house lots were laid out in the area now known as Mansfield Center. The new settlement was first called Ponde Place, a translation of the Native American word “Naubesatuck”. The body of water for which it was named was known as the Town Pond until it was later renamed Echo Lake. Pine Island arose from its midst and was a favorite recreational site for generations of Mansfielders. Today the popular island is no more. It was joined to the mainland in the 1950s and the resulting peninsula is now the site of a housing development (Edgewood Extension).

In 1986, Grace Wyman Homer recorded these memories of Pine Island and The Lodge that once stood there. If anyone has a photograph of The Lodge we would love to copy it for our collection. For now we will have to rely on Grace Homer’s vivid descriptions. 

The first time I visited Pine Island, my father took me there in a rowboat to see the pink lady slippers growing wild on one slope. This was about 1905, and Echo Lake and its environs became my playground growing up in Mansfield Center. There was a fairy-tale quality to this island haven.

Pine Island
View of Echo Lake from Pine Island

On the island there was the Pavilion, a popular dance hall romantically situated within a stand of tall trees, mostly pines, and high on a steep bank. This was a large one-room structure, owned by Mr. Weeks, the storekeeper in the nearby village. The grove of trees extended toward the lake to lower ground, where there was a shelter near the water covering two or three picnic tables with benches.

It was possible to row completely around the island, on which there were abundant growths of laurel, blueberries, pitcher plant, and arethusa. White water lilies adorned the pond as they do now, but the wild flowers are scarce.

My home was on the pond, across from the island, where the Hamill family now lives.

Soon after my introduction to the island, it was sold to the Bigelow family of seven. The Pavilion was transformed into The Lodge as a summer home, as their main residence was in suburban Buffalo.

The Lodge was Mecca for me. Their youngest son, Seymour, and I were playmates, being about the same age. Sitting on the big canvas hammock on the porch, we read many childhood books together, provided by Mother Bigelow.

Behind us was the room that had been the original Pavilion. Newly installed was a massive stone fireplace, on the far wall. On each of the side walls were doors opening to bedrooms. Above these bedrooms were second-story bedrooms with dormer windows.

On each side of the fireplace there were steps down to a large dining room. The table seated twelve, since there always seemed to be guests.

Behind the dining room was the kitchen. Seymour and I had a habit of checking early what was planned for dinner at each of our houses, before deciding where we would eat.

Half a flight down the stairs behind the kitchen were the servants’ quarters for the cook and the coachman. There was a sturdy rustic bridge leading to the mainland where stables housed the horses and carriage. Usually there were two coach horses and two riding horses, and ponies and a cart for children.

There was a steep drop to the boathouse, which was under the footbridge that went to the knoll. The icehouse was on the other side of the island. It had a flat roof that was used as an outdoor living room.

 A large wooden water tank stored water pumped from the spring-fed lake, and supplied water liberally to the basins in the bedrooms as well as to the kitchen. Acetylene gas provided hot water and light.

The Bigelow family put their individual stamp on the village. Father Bigelow [Lucius Storrs Bigelow] was a military man and was said to have ridden with Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders. He was a fine horseman, as was his daughter Katherine, who rode astride her horse wearing a divided skirt. Father Bigelow ran his house like a military outpost. Sundays they were martialed to church in the village; meals had to be on time, with everyone at their places.

Harris was the same age as my brother Allan; Caryl was the brother who became a military man like his father. A second girl was Esther, who was two years older than I.

Mother Bigelow stood tall and always wore a tight corset. She was more lenient, and fun to be with. When Father was away, the attitude of the whole household changed. Then my brother and Harris rode their motorcycles on the footbridge. Mrs. Bigelow was a wonderful story-teller, and she dramatized everything. When Seymour and I were silently reading the same book together, she taught us not to talk but to put our thumb on the right-hand corner of the page when ready to turn the page.

Seymour and I made paper dolls together, cutting pictures out of the paper and coloring them. Mother Bigelow made tissue-paper clothes for the dolls. There was an elaborate Meccano set from which we built things and carried them back and forth to each other’s homes. We made a small outdoor fireplace of cobblestones and mud, and cooked fish and scrambled eggs.

These memorable summers together were enjoyed from 1910 to 1920, when I moved away.

POSTSCRIPT

It is still possible to see one of the two entrance posts marked “1910” that served as the approach to Pine Island. Each winter the Bigelow family returned to their home in suburban Buffalo, although occasionally they stayed in Mansfield or Willimantic. The beloved Lodge was sold during the Great Depression of the Twenties. The family bought the Aspinwall house on Centre Street, living there briefly. They retained ownership until Seymour and his family took up residence.

The demise of Pine Island happened gradually. There were various owners who enjoyed the Lodge until the debacle of 1938, when the hurricane destroyed the trees and much of the Lodge as well. The structure stood alone atop its hill of sand, its windows broken, its glory forgotten. In 1952, the Lodge was demolished; the sand from the knoll was used as fill to connect the Island with the mainland. Town trucks carried quantities of it for road-building. The Island as such is now a memory.

Wilma Keyes

September 1986

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