Cunningham Pond | Elizabeth’s Gift
They even had their own pond. “My dad made it,” she smiles broadly. “It’s a little pond, but there are beavers.” Glorious, but the real reason her father created it was because there was nowhere else to swim. “When I was a kid, we’d drive past Dublin Lake, and there would be people swimming and having a wonderful time,” she recalls, “but we couldn’t go there because we didn’t live in Dublin.”In fact, just about every single town in the Monadnock region had its own swimming pond, except Peterborough. Jaffrey has three, and Harrisville’s namesake is boldly positioned in the center of town. Water everywhere, but not a pond in Peterborough. Except, coincidentally, just down the street from Leathers Farm, where Liz Thomas eventually settled for good in the 1980s with her own family. Cunningham Pond was so lovely, so unspoiled, so pristine, that it was the town water supply. Untouchable.
Which brings us to the crossroads of this story, where dogs, books, ponds, and Peterborough all converge.
Liz Thomas wrote the best-selling Hidden Life of Dogs. And when you write a best-seller, “you get a ton of money all at once,” she says bluntly. That meant paying a huge tax. Faced with “giving it to the Feds or giving it to the town,” Liz Thomas and her husband, Stephen, cast about for alternatives. Unbelievably, Cunningham Pond, which was no longer the public water supply, had come up for sale. They jumped on it: “We offered full price plus a dollar, and we got it.”
They thought everyone would be happy when they offered it to the town. “It was voted down two years in a row,” she remembers, shaking her head. “They said it would be a hangout, or too expensive, or too crowded, or too this or that. And the third year it was being debated, somebody said, ‘I’m sick and tired of talking about it—I want to go swimming!’ And they voted for it!” There was one stipulation: There had to be a dog beach. “Dogs bought it; they had to be able to swim in it. It’s in the deed,” she emphasizes. “I always thought Peterborough needed a good place to swim, but dogs should have their own place, too.”
What is it you want? Liz Thomas had once asked of her dogs, and she listened to the answer. Then she asked a town the same question and gave us more than we knew we wanted. Which is why, when you pull into the parking lot of the Lawrence K. Marshall and Harold B. Thomas Recreation Area and flash your resident sticker, you have two choices: a broad, sandy beach off to the right, punctuated by a Nantucket-style cottage, or a smaller, rougher beach straight ahead. It’s more boisterous at the second place, and chances are one of these beachgoers will shake all over you at least once.
“I’ve been a selectman here for 15 years,” Liz Thomas says. “The town does surveys to see what people like and don’t like about the town. And Cunningham Pond is among the things they like most.” She reaches down to scratch Sheilah’s ears: “I was at the beach one day, talking to a grownup, and I felt something tapping my knee. I looked down.” Her eyes fill with tears. “It was this tiny little kid. He looked up at me, and he said, ‘Thank you.'”
Annie Graves is a frequent contributor to Yankee. In summer she can often be found swimming at Cunningham Pond, thankful for Elizabeth Marshall Thomas’s gift. anniegraves.com