Phil Edmonds

Mashapaug Pond

[So, I wanted to ask you about Mashapaug pond, which is this big freshwater pond in the heart of Providence very close to where you live. And I know that you’ve had some connection with the pond in the last few years. I was wondering if you could tell me of when the first time you visited the pond was and just paint for me a picture of how you see Mashapaug pond.]

Edmonds: Well this pond it’s a very hidden pond. Most folks in Providence, except for the neighbors of the pond, don’t even know it’s there because it isn’t very visible at all. When I first found the pond, it was the areas which where there wasn’t houses, all over grown on the banks. Yes, totally.


Mashapaug Pond Community Boating Center.docx

Research paper written by a Brown student on the community boating center next to Mashapaug Pond.

[When was this?]

Edmonds: Gee I don’t know. Probably in the eighties. Then after that, sometime in the nineties they restored a boathouse, or they built a boathouse I think for canoes. Further down they made like a small grove, a small park, which isn’t hard to use because, you know, it is so hidden. But as far as I know, it’s the last remaining natural pond in the whole city. Whereas Roger Williams park ponds are man and woman made. Mashapaug is a natural pond. And I’m pretty sure, it’s the last one. In the 1800’s there were loads of ponds all over Providence. Even Elmwood avenue area there was where St. Joe’s hospital is. All the area around Fort’s Elementary school, Buckland Street that was all swamps and ponds. And ponds in the other areas of the city were filled in for roads and houses and everything else.

[Have you ever had conversations with people who live in your area about the pond? Do you know what people’s perceptions are?]

Edmonds: No. No. Yes, because I live over a mile from the pond. And I don’t know many people around the pond. The few people I know who live next to the pond they don’t seem to have any interest in the pond. They are, you know “Oh it’s there. “ you know.


[And how should one act in face of something that one knows is a gradual process, that isn’t a quick solution, something that takes years to build on? What has been your experience with this?]

Edmonds: Yes. You know, patience. And the knowing that the, any mile starts with the first step. And then when you’re dealing with the powers that be you have to have a lot more patience but insistence also, you have to stay at it! Making connections, making the circle wider. Having more people involved, all kinds, and then when many people are talking about the same thing you know that’s a huge step right there. And it’s happening, you know, slowly. Well I hope someday, before I die, to swim in that pond and not come out with a rash on me. 



[I guess as a person I’m often, I find myself perceiving things not just with my eyes these days but feeling things with a lot different senses. I was wondering if in some ways, if you could describe to me maybe smells and colors and sounds that you would hear walking around Reservoir Avenue, Elmwood Avenue, near the pond.]

Edmonds: Well when you’re close to the pond, you often hear, I mean, traffic. There’s always some hum of the city noise because it is right in the city. But when you go to the edge of Mashapaug pond. You are just amazed at how huge it is. I forget the length of it. But, it’s a huge pond and even though the waters are polluted, it’s a beautiful pond. Let’s see, I have seen heron, I mean different birds, I‘ve seen these huge black fish in the water about two feet long. And I’ve looked it up they might be called splake fish. But I’m not sure, I forget. It is still a place for wildlife obviously because there’s a lot of trees around it. And what I find out from, yes, Holly was which is very interesting, hundreds of years ago it was the winter grounds for the Narragansett. That’s where they lived for the winter, which is fascinating and Holly just allowed … Actually now she has just finished up a book, working with the Narragansetts, two ecologists, with the pond as the focus. Ever been there? To Mashapaug pond. Ever been there?


Mashapaug Pond contamination sign

A contamination sign around Mashapaug pond, one of the projects of the Urban Pond Procession.


[I was wondering if you have any last reflections based on all of the conversations we’ve had. Any way that you see what we’re doing, in terms of our project and what you think can be done with this? What you felt during this process of reflecting on everything.]

Yes. What you’re doing with this project is a number of small steps, which helps people to be aware of the pond. And all the steps will lead to cleaning up the pond, which is a long time from now. And, not only that but for a lot of the children of the children, in the, you know, I’m sure over time they’ll have a much better appreciation for nature over time. And making that connection with the pond will be a major source for that. And yes, one other thought I had was this group, you know Urban Pond procession, well after the first year it grew from a small core of people, second year-more young artists going to come, in their like early 20’s, mostly women who work with the arts with their area schools, you know after-school programs and in the schools, after-school programs and youth art groups. And in the past for a couple of years you have a core, I’d say a good twelve people most of them artists, and, yes, they’re very compassionate about this project. And they put much time into it every year. So that’s great to see.