by A. Richard Miller
visits since 070120; last updated 070216.

What's in a name? The Cochituate Rail Trail and Cochituate State Park commemorate an ancient name upon our land -- the name of Lake Cochituate (which the rail trail skirts) and, more recently, of a nearby village in south Wayland. Each of these commemorates a once-well-known Indian settlement at the outfall of our lake. It has its stories.

According to a modern USGS study report, "Pond-Aquifer Interaction at South Pond of Lake Cochituate, Natick, Massachusetts", by Frieze and Church, "Cochituate means swift river in the Algonquin language (Wilbur, 1978) and refers to Cochituate Brook (Schaller and Prescott, 1998), which connects the lake to the Sudbury River."

That's close, but it's incorrect. Cochituate means, "the torrent", or "the place of rushing water". But Cochituate Brook is not that, and certainly wasn't when Indian canoes plied its waters, deepened by the dams of beavers. And no lake, including Lake Cochituate, is or was a place of rushing water.

When I moved to Lake Cochituate in 1968, I wondered about its name. Answers did not come easily. When I found the Natick Dictionary, Eliot's great collaboration with the Natick Praying Indians, even it came up short. The answer finally came from an old history of Framingham and Middlesex County, "Middlesex County and Its People; A History", by Edwin P. Conklin, 1927. 
The "torrent" was the lake's outfall, between two hills at a western corner of Lake Cochituate's North Pond. At least four dams have been built there over the centuries. Even before the first dam was built, water rushed over the natural lip; that was the "torrent" in question. Above it, on the higher of the two hills it flowed between, was an Indian village which, as late as 1800, was still visible as a raised earthern berm encircling about an acre and a half. This was the remains of the fortified village of Cochituate, last inhabited by some of the Natick Praying Indians who had survived their awful winter internment on Deer Island in Boston Harbor. They were still weak and recuperating when, in 1677, marauding Mohawk Indians attacked and marched off sixteen young men. A Mohawk chieftain later apologized "for this unauthorized action of his headstrong young braves" and sent wampum belts as a settlement. But the young Natick Praying Indians, just as educated as their white neighbors, were never heard of again.

Cochituate (the fortified village) might have remained one of our most cherished archaeological sites. But it suffered another tragedy when, in the mid-1950s, the Massachusetts Turnpike was constructed just south of the site. About 35' of elevation was bulldozed and removed from Cochituate's high hill. And with it, even the underground remains were removed - without a trace left, except its history, and those who know it.

The name of Cochituate lives on in the lovely Lake Cochituate, in the Wayland village of Cochituate, and in Cochituate State Park. Now it also lives on in the Cochituate Rail Trail.

More local history:
Kettleponds: Walden Pond and Lake Cochituate
Natick Praying Indians