A Little History of Bungay Lake

By JoAnne Riley

Some people call it Greenwood Lake, but the old-timers call it Bungay, and with good reason: the name is drenched with history.

The name Bungay had its origins with the Earl of Bungay, who at one time occupied Bungay Castle on the Waverney River, which seperates Norfolk and Suffolk Counties in England. The English town of Bungay reportedly dates back to to the year 1160, but even earlier, in 1140, Bungay Castle was the scene of historic strife. Ancient records say the castle was seized in that year by King Steven, after a bitter struggle, and later was taken by Henry XI. The town of Bungay still exists, even though the it was nearly wiped out by fire in 1688. Back in 1930, Bungay, England, located 20 miles from Attleborough, and 113 miles from London, boasted 3,100 residents.

According to records kept by the Massachusetts Department of Public Works and now kept by the Division of Waterways (DEQE), Bungay Lake, also known as Greenwood Lake, was created in 1794 when the owners of a sawmill built the original dam. There was not a lake at this time, but a spring fed river. I am a little confused because there are so many names mentioned, and so many documents to look at, but piecing it together, I think I an come close to give the owners of property on Bungay Lake a basic idea of what happened so many years ago.

Seventeen ninety-four was the beginning of a process of many changes that would eventually become Bungay Lake.

The Starkey family owned the land at the fish hatchery, and to make 100 years go by faster, through the process of children and grandchildren getting the land thorugh wills, etc., brothers and sisters of Andrew Starkey put the land together and had a great deal of land, about 90 acres. Andrew decided he didn’t want the land anymore, and sold it to John New in 1751. Mr. New was a stonecutter by trade. In 1784, John New deeded to Andrew Starkey, and others related to him, the right to flood part of Mr. New’s land by damming the Bungay River, which ran through New’s property before it crossed into Starkey’s land. This is the first reference to the use of the Bungay River, and in other documents I have read, a dam was there 100 years before it was destroyed. It seems that this is the second dam in existence today. In the area of the fish hatchery, there had been a huge say mill, gunsmith shop and stonecutter shop.

When Andrew Starkey died on 1798 (remember the land was deeded back to him by John New), he gave all the land to his widow, Sibbel. They had a daughter named Deborah that never married. When her mother died, Deborah inherited it all. In 1809, Deborah sold all but 6 acres of the land to Alanson Bishop. Deborah Starkey dies at the age of 91 in 1849. At the time of her death, the remaining 6 acres were left as an endowment for the care of the town poor. A deed of 1812 mentions a triphammer shop on the land that Alanson Bishop purchased. He was a blacksmith, and must have bought the land to build another shop on the Bungay River. This shop is mentioned in a deed of 1828. A map was found that had a date of 1928 that showed a bulge in the Bungay River along the area of Mansfield Road near the sharp curve, at the fish hatchery.

In 1828, all the land that was mentioned was sold to a group of Reparian Manufacturers (lower) incorporated as the Reservoir Company (an 1829 deed for for flooding privileges over the land of Jacob Skinner partly in Attleboro, partly in Mansfield, call it the Commonwealth of Mass. Manufacturers Company). These men, over the course of 100 years, sold off the land around Greenwood Lake in various parcels. Years and years ago, there was evidence that the Greenwood Lake Association did look back to the title of all the parcels of land dating back to 1828. There was no mention as to how the land was used. None of the houses of today, or the camps, were there then. so there was quite a few years when the land had no dwellings on it. As for the man-made features from the Swamp Pond area back to the interior of the lake, the mystery still remains today.

In all the research and names that have been mentioned, land being passed from one person or another, it seems to be quite clear that with all the new businesses that were developed (blacksmith shops, stone cutting, etc.), the lake that we know of today was definitely formed by a group of manufacturers. These manufactures probably built up the dam that is here today, creating the lake. That there has always been some kind of damned pond from at least the date of 1795, when a map was found with “Starkey’s Pond” on it in this area, and in 1809 a deed called it Bishop’s Pond. Later maps called it Bungay Reservoir after it was enlarged.

In one reference, a U.S. Topographical map was found and there was no trace of a Bungay River at all! This map was dated 1885-87. But in many parts of the documents, the referred to the lake as a “meadow”.

The conclusion, I seem to find, is that it all began by a stonecutter named John New, who was mentioned earlier. He made many gravestones, and was a talented and respected man in the this area. If you would like to see John New’s stone carvings, some are located behind the Congregational Church in Attleboro. These stones are dated 1760-1790. Almost every stone there is by John or James New.