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SANDS OF TIME: The Grand Ol Fish Fry 5-5-15

SANDS OF TIME: The Grand Ol Fish Fry

Wicked Local Pembroke
May 5, 2015

By Brett Robinson
Co-Curator, Pembroke Historical Society

Posted May. 5, 2015 at 5:06 PM

Mark your calendars--this Sunday, May 3rd from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.--for the 39th Annual Grand Ol Fish Fry!
For thousands of years Native Americans harvested herring, and lived in harmony with the cycle of the adult herring swimming inland to Furnace and Oldham Ponds, spawning--or laying--eggs there, with the new hatchings swimming back down Herring Brook and the North River to the sea. The new adult herring repeat the process the following year.
In the 1640's, the first settler Robert Barker canoed up the North River with Delor Davis. He and others explored a small stream now known as Herring Brook. They survived by catching and eating the herring. Eventually, Barker built a house near Herring Brook for his family. The Barkers were essentially the first family of Pembroke, and the herring was a key part of that. Decades later, in the 1720's, the nation's first machine-made iron nails were constructed at a mill powered by the flow of Herring Brook. Other mills followed suit.
But the herring always took precedence. Every spring, the mills had to open their dams to allow the passage of the fish, which were caught and sold at a profit and added to the town's coffers. But in the 1950's, beavers were introduced to Great Cedar Swamp to dam up the waters and create ponds for waterfowl for duck hunters' sport. The herring numbers were seriously depleted and they eventually realized the herring couldn't run because dams blocked the streams.
So, in 1972, the town appointed Thomas Reading as Herring Superintendent. He and his crew cleaned Herring Brook of underbrush and debris and trapped the beavers. The Historical Society is now in possession of a taxidermied beaver (which used to be on display at the library) said to be the last beaver trapped by Thomas Reading. While clearing the stream and subsequently creating the park, they also uncovered the huge rock, a glacial erratic, known as Indian Rock. What Pembroke child hasn't climbed up on that rock? The Historical Society also has on display many Native American artifacts found at the Herring Brook in the 1960's.
In 1977, the Pembroke Historical Society held its first Grand Ol Fish Fry. A unique annual event, it was once written up in Yankee Magazine. The Historical Society's biggest fundraiser of the year is a community event with food and fun for the whole family. We have t-shirts for sale, which sum up how important the herring have been to the town of Pembroke. The saying is: "Herrin' Up, Herrin' Down, Herrin' All About the Town! Herrin' Be Pembroke's Joy And Pride. If It Hadn't Been For Herrin', Old Pembroke Would Have Died." Interesting that the ancient cycle of spawning fish, which fed the people of this land for thousands of years, is now used as a venue to bring the community together, and to help fund the preservation of the history of Pembroke.

See you at the duck races! "Pembroke 2000: A Century of Change" by Ed Quill cited for research in this column

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