Holding Ponds were Source of Fish Bait  
Thursday, June 16, 2011

Response to Peter Slota’s inquiry about a couple of holding ponds at the foot of Tufts Hill Road in Dudley has been nearly unanimous: a source of fish bait. Even Mr. Slota’s guess was on target.

“A guy that lived on Eddy Street in Webster raised shiners from the location,” says Ronald M. Mayes, owner of the Liberty Club Restaurant in Webster and a well-known area sportsman.

“I can’t remember his name, but he sold them mostly to ice fishermen during the winter, and worked at Cranston Print Works Co.”

My recollection placed construction of the shiner pools at about 1950 and their demise to the 1955 flood.

“The flood probably took its toll, but there’s probably shiners still in there today,” suggests Mr. Mayes.

Barry Thompson bought into the bait sales but questioned my timeline.

“It was probably somewhat later, because I remember them well,” Mr. Thompson said, “and I was only 7 years old in 1955.”

Retired Webster DPW Director Francis J. “Lolly” Walkowiak identified the late Fred Cozzens as the developer-operator of the Dudley shiner pools, offered a different take on its demise, remembered other locations used to raise bait, and added information, starting from his early years with the Webster Highway Department, long before the town’s work agencies — roads, water, sewer, parks, cemeteries and tree warden — were consolidated into a DPW.

Mass. Highway assumed responsibility for highway drainage on Dudley’s Route 197 at some point, and managed things quite well, but shied away from maintenance of private property. “That’s what I heard,” said Mr. Walkowiak. The shiner pools couldn’t absorb runoff from Tufts Hill, he added.

Anthony “Old Man Butch” Wladyslawski built stone walls for the Webster Highway Department in those days, and Mr. Walkowiak, new to highway work, was his helper. Headwalls to several brooks in Webster’s Upper Gore were washed away during the 1955 flood. The future roads super was hard-pressed to grade stones fast enough for “Old Butch.”

“He wanted me to keep up with him, so he’d say in Polish, ‘We’re not building a church here,’ meaning it wasn’t a big project.”

A fellow named Lechert had a shiners pond on the Frederick Young farm near the Douglas line, and others did likewise in the same general vicinity, said Mr. Walkowiak. “I learned a lot from Old Man Butch,” he added.

“Seems to me I once heard that those ponds down at the bottom of Tufts Hill were built to raise fish bait by Freddie Cozzens of Eddy Street in Webster,” emails Charlotte Brisbois, now of Colorado Springs, Colo.

Ms. Brisbois, once of Webster and later of Dudley, partnered with Esther Stocklin of Webster in local history research over many years. Alexander Zackiewicz of Gainsville, Fla., was a neighbor to Mr. Cozzens and might be able to add to the fish bait story, concludes Ms. Brisbois.

George D. Martin, whose West Main Street property is adjacent to the former bait pond, mentioned the location on a visit to Dudley Town Hall, reinforcing reports that Mr. Cozzens developed the fish bait business.

The late Alphonse Russo, who ran a bulldozing business in the years after World War II, cut the shiner ponds for Mr. Cozzens, says his son, electrical contractor Robert J. Russo of Killdeer Island, Webster.

“My father actually made ponds for a lot people in some of the rural areas around here.” Mr. Russo says. “They were mostly for fire protection.”
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Telegram & Gazette

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