West Hill Lake was originally ringed with laurel, the steep rocky slopes ideal for vast thickets of it. In the early 1800’s, on Loon Island, an island on the west side named after long-vanished birds and itself now mostly flooded by the raised height of the lake, Alpheus Spencer took advantage of this resource and New Hartford’s proximity to the multitude of clock factories in the Naugatuck Valley. He operated a small shop there on the island, making pins for clocks out of laurel wood. It is probable that he also made other items, such as pipes or spoons. Afterwards, the building was used as a hunting lodge. In 1864 the Greenwood’s Company dammed the lake, flooding Loon Island.
Why Mountain Laurel? Laurel is a brittle wood, so it is ill suited for anything that requires flexible wood or bending loads. But it is closely grained and incredibly heavy (about 63lbs to the cubic foot, for comparison Sugar or Rock maple, usually considered one of the heaviest woods, is only 42 lbs). This makes it ideal for use in small tools that are prone to wear. It is rarely over four inches in diameter, so it can only be small pieces. Other common uses were for spoons (an alternate name is Spoonwood) and for pipes, made from the root burls.