This Massachusetts lake with a hard-to-spell name was once a premier resort destination

Webster, Ma. 11202,  Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg. Story about it's name and pronunciation and its residents.    -- Library Tag 12072002 Outtake
Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg in Webster, Massachusetts. –The Boston Globe, File

It’s a tongue-twister of a name: Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg.

The famous lake in Webster, Massachusetts, has long attracted attention for being perhaps the longest one-word place name in the United States, according to the Webster Lake AssociationFormed by glaciers in the last ice age, the lake stretches three miles long and is comprised of three ponds linked by connecting channels. People who live here are proud of its history, but nobody can quite agree on how exactly it should be spelled — or what the lengthy name really means.

The spelling “got longer as history happened,” explained Richard Cazeault, a born-and-raised Webster resident and co-founder of the Webster Lake Association. There are three different versions of the name, each with a varying number of g’s.

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“You can never get anyone to agree to the number of g’s that belong in the name,” he said.

The 45-letter spelling with 15 g’s remains the most popular, said Carla Manzi, a Webster resident and editor of oldewebster.com.

On Google Maps, the name is truncated to Lake Chaubunagungamaug, and the town has its own trouble with misspellings of signage for the lake.

An undated photo of the sign on Route 12 for Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg. —The Boston Globe, File

Ken White, a member of Chaubunagungamaug Nipmuck Council, which represents the clan of the Nipmuck tribe that originally settled near the lake centuries ago, said local legend has it that its name means “the boundary place.” It was considered a neutral ground even in times of conflict because every tribe fished from it, the 75-year-old said.

One of the legends, he said, is that the Mohegans fished on one side, the Narragansetts on the other, and the Nipmucks in the middle. Another legend claims the Nipmucks fished on one side of the lake while the middle was “left for the creator to replenish the fish.”

That legend, he pointed out, is similar to a popular — but invented — translation of the word Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg: “You fish on your side, I’ll fish on my side, and nobody fishes in the middle.”

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While it may be catchy,  Cazeault and Mazi said that meaning is a fake translation made up by Webster Times editor Laurence Daly in a 1921 newspaper article. It later became a popular myth, even though the journalist admitted that he invented it.

A move by the state in the 1960s to shorten the name sparked local outcry, and a poem was written in protest. The lake has also inspired several songs, including one by Broadway star Ethel Merman.

The boat landing at Beacon Park in 1895. —Webster-Dudley Historical Society

The first settlers arrived in town around 1630. The water supply of the lake and nearby French River drew Samuel Slater, known as the “father of the American factory system,” to the area from Rhode Island to start his textile mill. The town was founded in 1832.

From the late 19th into the early 20th century, Webster became a vacation destination. Resorts were built along the lake’s shores, offering visitors picnic areas, restaurants, and steamboat rides.

Beacon Park in about 1895. —Webster-Dudley Historical Society

One resort, Beacon Park, had a Ferris wheel, a water slide, a carousel, and a boardwalk.

The advent of the automobile changed everything, according to Cazeault. People no longer had to depend on the railway for transportation to their vacation destination, and Webster’s draw as a resort town started to go downhill in the ’20s and ’30s. By the end of World War II, it had largely collapsed.

Today, the lake’s 17-mile shoreline is largely a private residential area with plenty of recreational activities, including water tubing, pontoon boating, and jet skiing, said Jason Piader, the current president of the Webster Lake Association.

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“It’s a natural treasure to the people of Webster and to the entire central Massachusetts region,” he said.

Beacon Park Resort in 1925. —Courtesy Of Paul Macek, James Morrison / OldeWebster.com
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