Branford residents know a lot about Branford– something easy to see from the quick answers to Branford Patch photographer column, So it didn't surprise me that several people chimed in with their knowledge about the lake's early names.
's initial e-mail to me on the subject mentioned the name Lonotononket, which reader translated in his comments as "Tear of the Great Spirit." Both the name and translation are confirmed in the book Legendary Connecticut: Traditional Tales from the Nutmeg State by David E. Philips. In the early documents about the town's borders, the lake is referred to as the Great Pond, and is mentioned as the far west edge of the Branford settlement. knew about that name, as well as its later monniker: Furnace Pond. The iron works– the first such furnace in Connecticut, according to John Carter in his article about Connecticut's early iron industry– was founded in 1651 by John Winthrop the younger. While that particular foundry petered out in 1678, the industry remained thriving on the lake's shores through the early 1700s, when (according to local legend) it gained the attention of a New London resident named Gurdon Saltonstall.
Saltonstall was born into a family of politicians in Essex, MA in 1666. His great grandfather, Sir Richard Saltonstall, began the family tradition of political involement. Gurdon Saltonstall, however, pursued a calling in the church, earning his master's degree, presumably in divinity, from Harvard in 1687. He became a minister in the Congregational Church in New London the next year, and served as the minister to then Connecticut Governor Fitz-John Winthrop. Their friendship led Saltonstall to become Winthrop's secretary and agent, involving him deeply in Connecticut politics. Though he never ran for office, after Winthrop's death in 1707, Connecticut's General Assembly elected Saltonstall as the next governor. He began in office in 1708.
Saltonstall was responsible for bringing the first printer to the Connecticut colony (an announcement held in the Library of Congress shows his use of a printer to proclaim an early Thanksgiving celebration). He was a firm supporter of the British Crown, and under his governance the relations between Connecitcut and England were friendlier than they had been previously. He was also involved in moving a small college in Saybrook to New Haven, where it took on the name of its primary benefactor, Elihu Yale. But while he made many positive contributions to Connecituct history, he was often criticized in his role as governor, in part because of his demand for respect of authority and in part because of the increased financial debt he caused for the state. These criticisms were taken personally, and Saltonstall reportedly threated to resign from his position multiple times unless people in the General Assembly fell in line.
Saltonstall married Elizabeth Roswell– his second wife– in 1690. The Roswell family owned quite a bit of land on Furnace Pond, and a manor house was built there, most likely by Saltonstall. (Grandson Roswell Saltonstall, who is buried in Branford's Center Cemetary, lived in a mansion on the lake, so there certainly was a building there. The attribution to Governor Saltonstall as the builder and first resident comes out of local legend, however, and I've not yet found the historical documentation to confirm it.) The story is told in Legendary Connecticut that Saltonstall, who was viewed as a bit of a self-important dandy, built the manor next to the iron works, hoping to increase his wealth by an association with the foundry.
But while Saltonstall had hoped for an idyllic location, he soon found himself beset by the geese that frequented the lake's shore– and made their home in his beautifully manicured gardens. A battle ensued: Saltonstall was known for trying (and typically failing) to chase the geese from his lawn, and local residents often gossiped about the situation. His reputation grew so ridiculous in the area that a local ferry ferry-woman– who either accidentally, or for the sake of mockery, grounded her raft in mid-stream while transporting Saltonstall across– abandoned him by jumping into the water, flapping her arms and honking like a goose. (Saltonstall could easily have waded across himself, goes the legend, but he was not inclined to ruin his expensive shoes.)
Whether or not the battle with the geese is true, Saltonstall's impact on the New Haven area was honored by the renaming of Furnace Pond after the governor. And as Michael Hayes, Editor of Killingworth-Durham-Middlefield Patch said in response to last week's article, regardless of the history, the lake is an amazing place!