Kenoza! O’er no sweeter lake
Shall morning break, or moon-cloud sail,
No lighter wave than thine shall take
The sunset’s golden veil.
— John Greenleaf Whittier, Kenoza
Whittier wrote this poem for the dedication for a beautiful lake in Haverhill, Massachusetts that was to be named Kenoza Lake. Kenoza means “lake of the pickerel” in the native Algonquian language, and in 1859 the locals formalized the name. There is irony in Native American place names living on when the people who’s language was being used for those names were swept away, but that’s everywhere in the world. The names always betray the past if you dig deeply enough.
Whittier was an abolitionist, and likely saw the plight of the Native Americans who once lived here with a sympathetic eye. He once lived just a couple of miles away from Kenoza Lake in a quiet farmhouse. His farm looks very much the same today as it did then. Importantly, Kenoza itself also remains pristine, today a protected reservoir that supplies drinking water to the City of Haverhill. That lends a timelessness to the lake and surrounding land that’s impossible not to feel as you walk the grounds.
The land has transformed over time. It was once deep forest, became farmland (like so much of America in colonial times) and eventually returned to forest again. That the land wasn’t developed required some luck. Dr. James R. Nichols, a wealthy scientist who made his fortune developing chemical fertilizers, acquired the farmland and set about building a castle for himself on top of a hill with views of three states. He called the place “Winnekenni”, which means “very beautiful” in Algonquian. Walking the property, today maintained by the City of Haverhill as parkland and a natural buffer for the reservoir, feels like you’ve been transported back to another time.
There is a network of trails throughout the the park, and you can manage a great step count by doing the entire loop around the lake. They range from gravel roads to single track paths squeezed on both sides by abundant undergrowth(including, alas, poison ivy). The trails are well-marked and it’s very difficult to get lost, as you always have the lake to show you your progress. We encountered plenty of walkers, horseback riders and mountain bikers on the trek around the lake, but never felt it was overcrowded. Indeed, on the single track we saw only one other person, a trail runner who quickly distanced himself from us.
Reservoirs, like graveyards, are time machines back to the days they were established. The lay of the land remains largely as it was then, and offers an opportunity to hear the whispers of history. It’s relatively easy to imagine how this place looked for Dr. Nichols or John Greenleaf Whittier because it’s largely that same place today: timeless, and beautiful.