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Lake Pocotopaug in Connecticut's River Valley Region is relatively unknown to most lake explorers. The 516-acre lake is entirely private and a delight to the lakefront property owners who live there. Less than 25 miles southeast of Hartford, Lake Pocotopaug has been a desirable address since the early 1800s. The name Pocotopaug is said to mean "divided pond" in one of the local Native American tongues. A narrow spit of land extending from the northeast shore does appear to partially divide the lake. Local legend tells of a great chief being forced to sacrifice his daughter to the waters to save his tribe from drowning. Although likely a fanciful tale, there have been no reported drownings in the lake for over 250 years.
The area around Lake Pocotopaug was settled early; by 1743, a small dam had been built at the Pocotopaug Creek outlet to run a forge where iron pots, kettles, waffle irons, and coffee mills were made. The swift-running little stream proved quite productive to local business, and several more businesses were developed downstream through what is now the City of East Hampton. The most successful business turned out to be bell-making, particularly sleigh bells. A local businessman named William Barton developed a new process for casting the bells in one piece, creating bells with such clear tones that tons of sleigh bells were shipped down the Connecticut River packed in sugar barrels. Soon all types of bells were being made in East Hampton, from ship bells to church bells to chimes, and East Hampton was known across the country as 'Belltown USA'. A descendant of one of Barton's apprentices, William Bevins, still has a bell factory here.
By the late 1800s, visitors were arriving by train from New York City to stay at resort hotels that had been built around the shore. Lake Pocotopaug was noted for clear water and excellent fishing. Only 100 miles from New York City and Boston, many wealthy families built homes along the shore. Generations of New Englanders have grown up spending summers at Lake Pocotopaug; the five mile shoreline is nearly fully residential development. Two islands near the southwest shore, called the Twin Islands, were also developed. One is home to a resort property yet today. As is common with lakefront property, the homes have increasingly become upscale and the area more affluent.
The township of East Hampton contains the City of East Hampton and the villages of Middle Haddam and Lake Pocotopaug. There is no public access to the lake; visitors to the town park, Sears Park, must have residency paperwork and an access sticker. There is a swim area at the park as well as a boat launch, play area with swings and slide, volleyball, tennis and basketball courts, picnic tables, grills, bathhouse, shelters and Sears Park Pavilion for community events. The lake is used for all types of boating. Waterskiing and tubing are allowed, but pontooning, sailing, canoeing and kayaking appear to be the most popular. Speed is limited to 40 mph. In winter, ice skating and ice boating are popular pastimes. And fishing in likely the most enjoyed sport. Walleye are purchased for planting by the city; white perch, yellow perch, bluegill, pumpkinseed sunfish, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, chain pickerel, carp, American eel, bullhead and white catfish are also caught. Lake Pocotopaug holds recent state records for largemouth bass and catfish. There is a marina located at the lake with boat rentals, and at least one local restaurant is provided with dock space for visitors to arrive by boat.
In the past few years Lake Pocotopaug has suffered from heavy algae blooms that have concerned residents and state environmental officials alike. This concern has resulted in several ongoing lake studies, education of residents on better lawn fertilization practices, and several active groups dedicated to restoring the lake to optimum health. Although Pocotopaug Water Power Company appears to be the current owner of record of the dam, it doesn't appear that they are maintaining any activities over the water levels. Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection has taken responsibility for the dam in an effort to alleviate the algae problem. A plan is in the works to lower the water levels in winter to reduce stratification of the water and improve healthier chemical balances. And one of the lake user's groups, Friends of Lake Pocotopaug, holds several fund-raising events annually to pay for costs associated with lake clean-up. Their annual Princess of the Lake Boat Pageant has proved very popular as boat owners try to outdo their neighbors' creativity in decorating their boats. Water quality testing is beginning to show results as property owners learn to take better care of their lake.
There is a wealth of activities in the East Hampton area. Many visitors enjoy the Air Line State Park Trail - a 13-mile trail linking the areas of East Hampton, Colchester, Hebron and Lebanon. Designed for walking, hiking, horseback riding, biking and cross country skiing, the trail connects to a portion of the Salmon River State Forest and with Raymond Brook Marsh. The Salmon River State Forest provides nearly 6,000 acres located in the towns of Hebron, Marlborough Colchester, East Haddam, and East Hampton. Included in the forest area are 1,300 acres that are leased from the United States Government. Portions are open for fishing, hiking and hunting. Raymond Brook Marsh is a Wildlife Management Area containing a large wetland acreage and abundant wildlife and birds. A few miles north of Lake Pocotopaug, Meshomasic State forest allows for camping, fishing, hunting and hiking. Less than 30 miles from the lake, Dinosaur State Park at Rocky Hill exhibits fossilized dinosaur tracks in a covered exhibit, along with gardens showcasing many of the plants that existed at the time the huge animals walked Connecticut. And, of course, Hartford has every imaginable amenity one would expect in a large and modern city. Museums, nightlife and shopping are only 25 miles away from the lake in Hartford.
Vacation rentals are plentiful around Lake Pocotopaug. Besides the resorts and standard city lodgings available in East Hampton, many private residences are available by the night, week or seasonal lease. Connecticut is famous for its quaint bed-and-breakfast establishments and country inns - many are furnished with exquisite antiques and offer specialty meals. And real estate is also available for sale, often with lakefront or lake views. Lake Pocotopaug is well worth a visit. Perhaps you will fall in love with the lake and its neighborhood charm. Come and see what you're missing!
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