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Out in the Woods: Deering Pond History

Deering pond with skim ice

Skim ice on Deering Pond
Photo credit: Lee Burnett

By Kevin McKeon, Director, Mousam Way Land Trust. Adapted from The Natural History of Deering Pond 1 by Gordon “Bud” Johnston.  

Tombegewoc, an Abenaki word meaning “place of the rocky reef in the pond,” describes Deering Pond in Springvale on early maps of the area. John Deering of Old Kittery inherited the land surrounding the pond from his grandfather, John Lydston, who in 1744 was granted the land by the Crown for his services—including breaking his thigh in in the French-Indian War of 1693. William and Gideon Deering, sons of John, settled about one mile northwest of the pond around 1789. Hence, the pond, Deering Ridge, and the Deering Neighborhood are named for his family. Evidence suggests that this land was probably used as pastureland and occasionally logged.  The Mast Trade was said to have harvested the largest pines in the state west of the pond.  

Glacial actions carved a basin into ancient bedrock. About 13,500 years ago during glacial melting, very fine “rock flour” silt—made from the glaciers grinding away at the bedrock—settled into this basin as the water pooled. As plants colonized the area, acidic minerals in the glacial till both encouraged growth of acid-loving plants and slowed decay of organic matter. This resulted in the formation of both a spongy peat bog notable along the west shoreline, and a 75-foot-deep layer of mucky organic soil under the pond. The water is 15 feet deep at its deepest point near the center of the pond. It’s dark from the rich tannins that release from chemical actions from the settled, acidic silt and slowly decaying organic matter. In centuries to come, the pond will evolve to a peat bog. Deering Pond continues collecting flowage from the surrounding ridges, forming a 26-acre pond with a west shore outlet known as Branch River, a headwater of the Little River.    

A railroad was built through a boggy, southern area of the pond in 1871, separating the pond from 2 other parts. It was in this area that a flat car used to haul construction materials was left overnight and sank into the bog, where it now sits about 14’ deep under the Rail Trail. A covered bench and placard, installed as an Eagle Scout project, commemorates the spot. The separation caused by railroad bed formed an unusual wetland, a large part of which is a vernal pool, all now protected by the Mousam Way Land Trust. Called “CMP at Deering Pond Reserve”, this protected land materialized as part of wetland mitigating requirements when Central Maine Power Company built distribution lines and a substation on Stanley Road to connect with the transmission line crossing Deering Ridge Road in Shapleigh near the Sanford border.     

Various local families, including the Carpenters, came to own the land. It was eventually bought by Mrs. Ira Russel, who donated it to the former Nasson College, which designated it as The Russel Environmental Study Tract. It served as a wildlife preserve and outdoor laboratory, complete with floating laboratory. In 1983, Nasson closed, the land was sold at auction to the Hall Educational Foundation, which sold much of a large strip along Deering Neighborhood Road to PATCO, a local construction company, which built houses there. The remaining land was donated to the newly-formed Mousam Way Land Trust.  

1. The Natural History of Deering Pond, by Dr. Gordon S. Johnston, Professor of Biology, Nasson College, August, 1973.  

Editor’s note: Did you see something unusual last time you were out in the woods? Were you puzzled or surprised by something you saw? Ask our “In the Woods” columnist Kevin McKeon. He’ll be happy to investigate and try to answer your questions. Email him directly at:  

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