The sheet of water in the north western part of the town was called Wonksunk-munk, or Wonksunk-a-mug, by the Indians before the place was inhabited by white settlers. In the early records of the town, at the time of its survey for home lots and highways in 1734, this is referred to as “a large pond called by the Indians, Wonksunk-a-munk.”
Daniel Shepard who came from Farmington in 1738, in 1748 removed to the east shore of the lake and was, so far as known, the first white settler on its banks. His farm in this vicinity comprised 48 acres, more or less, and his dwelling was situated not far from the farm now owned by Joseph and J. Henry Merrill, farther north, and on the west side of the road. He died August 18, 1784. He had a son and a grandson who bore his name, and other descendants who remained for many years dwellers near the lake. From this family came the name “Shepard’s Pond” which was for years the local designation of the sheet of water. As the Shepard family removed from the neighborhood, and gradually ceased to be identified with it, the name of “West Hill Pond” came into common acceptation. After all these changes would it not be well to call this beautiful lake by its original name, Wonksunkmunk?
The origin and meaning of this name has remained buried in the obscurity of some old Tunxis tradition. Dr. Trumbull, who has published a volume on Indian names, gives this one no satisfactory meaning. There is a legend that an old Indian Chief by the name of “Sunk-a-mug” once lived hereabouts, and was buried on Pike Island, near the present residence of Frederick Merrill. From him the lake may have taken its original apellation, but this can be at the best, only conjecture.
Some sixty years ago, Hiram Driggs and William Hart, (father of Truman Hart), carried a chain on the ice and measured the lake, which is a mile and a half in length, and a half mile at its greatest width, while seventy-two feet is the deepest known sounding. Loon Island, near the western shore, now nearly submerged, formerly had an area of a half acre, and some fifty years ago there was a building upon it, erected by Alpheus Spencer for a shop in which he made clock pins of ivy or laurel wood. It was afterwards used as a hunting and fishing lodge for the accommodation of those who visited the place in quest of game. The building was afterwards removed to Eaton Hill and a dwelling made of it.
Wild geese, ducks and loons abounded here, and the waters were well stocked with pickerel, perch, suckers and bull-heads. About sixteen years since, black bass were introduced into the lake, and for three years the catching of them was prohibited. It was thought, by some, that the bass would exterminate the pickerel, but such has not been the case, the latter, being a quicker fish in their motions than the bass, are still abundant in their old haunts.
A steam saw mill was built on the west side of the lake in 1864 by Horace F. Merrill, and about one hundred acres of land were cleared. The mill was burned and the land, now covered with a thick new growth, is one of the best blackberry fields to be found. So far as is known there was never a person drowned in the lake. About thirty years ago, Augustus Tyler, now of Colebrook, broke in while fishing on the ice, and was rescued in an exhausted condition by Luther Barrett who heard his cries while passing.
In the summer season, the thick groves on the shores of the lake are the most beautiful resort imaginable, and are frequented by fishing and picnic parties from far and near.
In 1880, there were no less than forty-seven boats on the lake, most of them to let by those who had summer lodges on the shores to accommodate pleasure parties. There are several private boat houses, owned by citizens in town,—among these is one belonging to the authoress, Mrs. Julie P. Smith. So clear is the water, that objects are visible to a great depth, and Truman Hart relates that once while hunting from a boat, he dropped his rifle, and diving twenty-two feet, pulled it up by main strength from the bottom where it had lodged. “Sucker Brook,” sometimes called an inlet, is only a connecting link with a swamp lying near on the west shore. The outlet of the lake is “Pond Brook,” which empties into Morgan river near the Paul Roberts place, now owned by Aaron Lane.
In 1864, the Greenwoods Scythe Co. purchased the right to dam this outlet, to compensate the Greenwoods Cotton Mills for water used during the months of June, July and August, when by terms of agreement, they (the Scythe Co.) were debarred from using the water from the Greenwoods pond. When the Greenwoods Co. bought out the Scythe Co.’s works, they took this privilege, and in 1876, for safety, at an expense of $1,200, put in a permanent stone bulk-head at the outlet of the lake. This raises the surface of the water nine feet, thereby submerging Loon Island. The Greenwoods Company have [sic] a gate about twenty-four inches square, by which they draw the water in case of exigency, when their Otis reservoir fails to furnish sufficient extra supply. A gate-keeper remains in charge of the outlet. When this nine feet of water has been exhausted, the springs will not again fill the basin, but it must remain in its lowered condition until heavy rains or melting snows restore the needed supply.
Camp Workcoeman is located in the hills of northwest Connecticut in scenic New Hartford and Barkhamsted. The camp consists of approximately 427 acres on the shore of beautiful West Hill Pond, possibly the cleanest in Connecticut.
Established in 1924, it is one of the oldest continuously operated Scout camps in the country. For 97 years, thousands of Scouts and Scouters have had unforgettable Scouting experiences at Camp Workcoeman. This fine tradition of Scouting continues today.