Sometimes a street gets a woman's name because of a directional habit, or sometimes because a developer wants to name a street after his wife or daughter, but I'm aware of only a few roads that memorialize women based on their own merits. (It doesn't seem fair, but let's not open up that whole gender-equity can of worms.) One of those roads honoring a woman in her own right is in Waterford, out by the reservoir.
I used to think, as I was driving down Route 85 past the Baptist Church and the turn into Lakes Pond Road, what a strange name 'Lakes Pond' was. I figured nearby Lake Konomoc was the lake being referenced, but it still seemed odd. Did the lake possess a pond? How would that work? I'd never heard of Mrs. Margaret Reed Lake, the woman behind the sign.
There isn't a lot known about Margaret Lake. Even the 19th-century New London historian, Frances Caulkins, although complimentary in her remarks about Margaret, wasn't able to uncover much information. We do know that Margaret was the first European woman to set foot in Pequot Plantation (New London). She was with John Winthrop Jr.'s advance party, doing groundwork for establishing a settlement. It was 1645, one year before the founding of New London. Margaret must have had a ton of courage.
In 1635 Margaret had come to Massachusetts as a widow, with her daughters, Hannah and Martha. A woman emigrating without the protection of a husband or father sounds incredibly plucky, but Margaret's sister was married to John Winthrop Jr., the founder of New London and later the governor of Connecticut. Having a celebrity brother-in-law must have afforded Margaret as much security as any European in this wilderness was likely to have.
Caulkins speculates that while Margaret was with Winthrop's advance party, she may have camped out in a tent or, more probably, stayed at Fort Saybrook. Whatever the circumstance, she was undoubtedly uncomfortable, sometimes terrified, and depending on her personality, possibly having fun.
John Winthrop had left his family back in the comparative safety of Massachusetts. So why was his sister-in-law on this trip? If John advised Margaret not to come, she obviously didn't listen. Perhaps she felt it was okay to take some risks, that this was her time for adventure. Maybe she was an unconventional woman and felt free from societal constraints for the first time. Margaret didn't leave a diary and we don't know. But she seems to have been a widow who hadn't collapsed under grief and who still had plenty of zip.
At summer's close, Margaret went back to Ipswich. When she returned to New London in 1647, she found that progress had been made, but that conditions were still primitive. Although she wasn't the head of a household, Margaret was assigned a building lot and some meadow land. Later the town awarded her 300 acres of land on a "plaine" by a lake.
Margaret's lake eventually became known as Lakes Lake, then as Lakes Pond, and finally as the reservoir Lake Konomoc, named for nearby Konomoc Hill. After the Lakes Pond Baptist Church was established in 1844, baptisms were conducted in the lake until its use as a public water supply understandably ended that practice.
At some point Margaret returned to Ipswich to be near her daughter, Martha, and died there in 1672. And that's it - just the flimsiest sketch of an unattached woman in a man's world, commanding respect and apparently living her life in a manner above reproach.
Caulkins' book, "History of New London Connecticut," describes several colonial real-estate transactions in which Margaret Lake is the only woman in a list of men, leading me to believe she wasn't your average 17th-century female. Margaret's powerful political connection mandated deference, but still, she must have been a dynamic woman. Margaret's an enigma, but she's easy to admire.
Carol Sommer of Waterford is a self-proclaimed history nut. She writes a monthly history column inspired by local street signs.