Stumps from partially submerged trees peek out from Hamilton Pond. The pond has a lower-than-usual water level because of a dam collapse near Stony Brook. ISLANDER PHOTO BY SAMUEL SHEPHERD

Pond water level low due to collapsed dam

The dam between Stony Brook and Hamilton Pond recently collapsed. Residents who use the pond for recreation fear the collapse could be detrimental to wildlife if not addressed. MDI Biological Lab owns the property around the dam and said they are “concerned about the reduced water level.” IMAGE COURTESY OF JOHN DARGIS

BAR HARBOR — A stone dam at the outlet of Hamilton Pond, originally built to reserve water in the pond for use by the fire department, has collapsed, causing a lower-than-usual water level.

The dam, placed where the pond meets Stony Brook in the southwest corner of the pond, is on a parcel of land owned by the MDI Biological Laboratory. The lab said that it is aware of the dam’s collapse.

“The MDI Biological Laboratory is concerned about the reduced water level in Hamilton Pond due to the partial collapse of the dam, and is also aware of the concern among members of the community,” lab President Kevin Strange said in an Friday email. “We are working to identify a solution.”

A 1998 book published by the lab, “A Laboratory by the Sea,” includes a much older history of the dam by J. Wendall Burger. It tells the story of William Hamilton, a wealthy dairy farmer who owned land in Salisbury Cove and Hulls Cove.

Hamilton owned the property around Hamilton Pond. The pond had been known variously as “Beaver Pond” and “Hamilton Lake” before the construction of the dam.

“At that time there was a small brook [now called Stony Brook], which ran behind the houses on the old highway,” Burger wrote. “Beaver swere [sic] common on the dam on the Island. As is their wont, the’ built a dam.”

“This gave Hamilton a good notion, erect a permanent dam for a pond, which would serve the useful purpose of providing the Bar Harbor Fire Department with a source of water,” Burger continued. “This utilization later proved wise.”

Island fire departments regularly use “dry hydrants” connected to Hamilton Pond water in fighting fires, most recently in Salisbury Cove in December.

Burger’s writing covers the period from 1898-1951, but does not provide the year of the dam’s construction. The timeline suggests the dam was built between 1921 and 1951, well before the MDI Biological Laboratory acquired the property in 1968.

“Easements were secured from all property owners, and Hamilton erected a dam at a place where the brook disappears down a jungle of rocks and thicket into an extensive marsh,” Burger wrote. “With the collapse of the Hamilton empire, maintenance of the dam fell to MDIBL and the Town.”

The pond, near the intersection of Route 3 and Norway Drive, is used for skating by residents and visitors alike.

Jim Elk, who lives nearby, said he tried to drill holes for ice fishing this winter, but the pond was only a two-and-a-half feet deep. He said that the collapse of the dam was sudden.

“The pond is four feet lower,” Elk said. “[The dam] has been eroded away. Something catastrophic must have happened over the fall or this winter.”

Elk said that he hopes the issue is addressed before the low water level begins to affect wildlife. Burger’s writing says that the pond’s “main animal occupants seem to be catfish and large voracious leeches.”

Resident John Dargis, who frequently walks his dogs along Stony Brook, said that he has noticed the dam falling apart for the last decade.

“It must’ve had something to do with the heavy rain we had,” Dargis said. “It seemed to wash out.”


Samuel Shepherd

Samuel Shepherd

Samuel Shepherd is a University of Maine graduate and a former Bar Harbor reporter for the Mount Desert Islander.
Samuel Shepherd

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