Lauren R. Stevens: The four Newton boys and the three Vermont lakes

WILLIAMSTOWN — For those living in northern Berkshire County who feel somewhat deprived of recreational lakes, the Deerfield Valley in nearby Vermont offers Somerset, Whitingham and Sadawga, all attractive and all with history. Cue the four Newton brothers.

In the 1880s their quest for pulpwood for their Holyoke paper company — and soft and hard wood long logs — sent them into the remote upper Deerfield from their mill in Readsboro, on the Vermont/Massachusetts border. To get there, they constructed a railroad, named for its end points, the Hoosac Tunnel & Wilmington — and remembered fondly as the Hoot, Toot & Whistle or Hitch, Twitch & Wiggle. The Newtons extended narrow gauge logging lines from it, including to the town of Somerset.

As part of their pulpwood operation, in 1889 they dammed a Deerfield tributary to raise the level of a small pond six feet in the village of Sadawga, part of Wilmington. A bog, instead of being flooded out, rose with the new waters and still exists as a floating island in the 200-acre pond.

Everyone agrees that the village was named for the pond, which is supposed to have been named for Chief Sadawga. The chief may have maintained a hunting camp there, been the last Indian to live in the vicinity, have swum underneath the floating island or even been able to hold his breath conveniently long enough to swim under the island, depending on the source consulted. In any case, he has been celebrated at various community affairs. Brigham Young, the Mormon leader born in Sadawga, seems to have been less celebrated locally.

In the early 20th century the value of electricity came to surpass the value of logs. The Newtons sold their interests by 1906. Henry Harriman and Malcolm Chace, intrigued by the Deerfield's 1,800-foot drop between Stratton Mountain and the Connecticut River, founded the New England Power Company. They used the logging railroad to haul and dump the earth to construct a dam, flooding the town of Somerset and creating the 6.5 mile long Somerset Reservoir in 1911-14. The 16-mile shoreline remains uninhabited and the lake, mostly by loons.

Then they flooded out the Newtons' Mountain Mills sawmill operation, damming the river farther down to create the largest water body entirely in Vermont, Harriman Reservoir, also known as Whitingham Lake. Whitingham is 8 miles long, its 28-mile shoreline also unoccupied. Like Somerset, it is still owned by the power company. Sadawga is now owned by Vermont. All three lakes have public boat launches. Somerset's, it should be noted, is up 11 miles of gravel road and motor boats are limited to 10 miles per hour.

NEPCo.'s holdings fell eventually to US GEN New England and then, in 2005, TransCanada Corporation. Last April ArcLight Capital Partners, a renewable energy investment firm, purchased, through its affiliated Great River Hydro, 13 power stations on the Connecticut and Deerfield rivers plus water storage reservoirs and including all in all 30,000 acres open to the public for recreation.

At least, that's how it looks from the White Oaks. (For further information, see William Gove's "Mountain Mills, Vermont and the Deerfield River Railroad," in The Northern Logger and Timber Processer [sic], May 1969.)

A writer and environmentalist, Lauren R. Stevens is a regular Eagle contributor.


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