By SOPHIE DUNCAN/ecoRI News contributor
PROVIDENCE — On a recent Saturday, students from Sophia Academy, neighbors, community members and Brown University students gathered at Mashapaug Pond’s Community Boating Center to celebrate the opening of “Mashapaug’s Neighbors: Stories from Beyond the Pond” — a cell-phone audio tour.
Hidden in the Reservoir Triangle neighborhood, Mashapaug Pond has become the focus of local watershed activism through the Urban Pond Procession, which raises awareness about pollution in urban ponds.
Parts of Mashapaug Pond are being remediated of waste dumped into it by the former Gorham Manufacturing Co., which at one time was one of the largest silver manufacturers in the world. Due to stormwater runoff and elevated temperatures during the summer months, toxic algal blooms have interfered with pond recreation.
As part of a class focusing on oral history and community memory, several Brown University students spent the semester putting together an exhibit about Mashapaug Pond’s complicated history. Each student in the class conducted two oral history interviews to contribute to the exhibit. A group of Brown students also trained sixth-graders from Sophia Academy to conduct oral history interviews for the tour as well. Some of the students also contributed artwork to the exhibit.
“This project engaged my students on so many levels,” said Rachel Sohl, a sixth-grade teacher Sophia Academy. “While they interviewed their subjects, I could see them starting to view their city in another way, as one full of natural beauty and history come alive. It was especially great for them to hear older community members talk about their younger years — so many of the joys of childhood never change, and it was exciting to see the barriers between the generations slip away as the stories uncovered common ground.”
Since Alvarez High School now sits on the former manufacturing site, students from the South Side high school also were interviewed. Brown University student Irene Rojas-Caroll, who interviewed the Alvarez students, said, “The audio tour and archiving project made a point of picking up the voices of people who aren't often included in any kind of media.”
Susan Feeley, a neighbor who attended the May 4 event, enjoyed how the tour introduced her to new memories of a familiar place. “This was the first time I'd experienced an audio tour in my own neighborhood, so it was a novelty to learn about these familiar places from the point of view of people I'd never met, who knew this part of town long before I arrived here,” she said. “As I stood at the tour stops listening to the stories they told, it was so much easier to imagine streets, houses and communities as they were then.”
There are 10 tour stops around the pond. The stops are marked with signs created by the Steel Yard. The tour is a cell-phone audio one and each stop provides a phone number to call. Calls can be made at any time. The tour will be taken down in October.